Day nine of the ‘Blogging from A-Z Challenge’. I’m now at number 990 and thinking about instinct. How much of what we do is instinctive? How much of what we think we think about before doing is a patterned behaviour which has been laid down across the millennia of human history? How many of the conscious actions we take are in fact subconscious natural impulses, inclinations or tendencies? How much of what we do is done without any thought at all and is just a reaction?
I wonder. Just as when I started this small experiment into handedness I found myself reaching out with my right hand without thinking, I am wondering how much of the rest of my behaviour is automatic. I’m told I think too much but do I really think that much at all?
Alex Vermeer puts it nicely. We have this amazing ability to think without thinking. Not literally think without thinking but thinking without thinking that we’re thinking.
This is a vitally important part of our biology. We simply could not function without the thinking process that bypasses our conscious thoughts. Imagine trying to do anything if you had to work it out every time. Trying to be left-handed has meant that I have had to stop, work out what to do and then proceed with caution. If this were the same for everything that we did it would be like learning from the start. We would regress to being a new-born baby. Thinking about the things we need to do just to stay alive would occupy all of our brain resource, not to mention the involuntary acts that our body carries out, such as the beating of our heart, or the reflex actions, such as the closing of our irises in bright light.
Anything beyond the simple would be beyond our ability to calculate. Catching a ball, for example, would be nigh-on impossible.
It would seem that while we could not live without these autonomous and background processes they present us with two interesting conundrums. Firstly, what are we thinking about that should really be automated or instinctive? Secondly, what are we doing automatically that we should really think more about? I suppose that this adds a third puzzle. Can we do anything about it?
Trying to be left-handed has shown me that instinctive and autonomous behaviour saves me a lot of time to get on with things that may be more important yet how do I decide the relative importance of the things I do? I have always tried to be conscious of some of the habits that I may fall into. I try to make sure that I change what I can. I don’t like to park in the same spot every day or sit in the same chair when I go to a meeting for example. I don’t even like to wear the same jacket or shoes for two days running. I think I’m frightened of falling into some sort of Groundhog Day rut yet when I stop to think about it my life is already filled with routine. I could not exist without it.
Trying to be left-handed has shown me how much of what I do I take for granted.