Human Instinct

Ratings: 7.09/10 from 23 users.


Human InstinctEvery one of us possesses an armory of instincts which keep us alive. We are often barely aware of them, but they act every day to protect us from danger and keep us fit and healthy.

In the first programme of the Human Instinct series we explore how this most basic of instincts means we're all born to survive.

The instinct to have sex is one of the most potent we possess. It’s vital if we are to produce the next generation. In the second programme we find out what it is about the way we look, the way we smell and what we possess, that can attract the ideal mate.

We’re always competing, even when we least expect it. The will to win is an instinct that’s kept our species alive. In the third programme we discover why coming out on top feels so great and why losing feels so bad.

A 200,000 year old jawbone tells the story of an elderly woman who was kept alive thanks to the kindness of her companions.

From this first known example of human compassion to modern day heroes, the final programme in the Human Instinct series explores the most complex of instincts. The instinct to put others first.

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29 Comments / User Reviews

  1. David T

    Looks Interesting, Thanks for the post.

  2. wald0

    Wasn't what I expected, mostly stories of people that were caught in extreme situations and thier instincts kicked in and saved the day. I was hoping to see something that tried to explain scientifically the mechanism through which we pass on these instincts, where and how they are stored in the brain, etc. This was kind of boring to me, but I have some kind of stomach virus so maybe its just my mood.

  3. Teresa Wedges

    "Thousands of generations before any humans cultivated crops (around 10,000 years ago)."

    That's preposterous. These were regular people like us...billions of them. And they couldn't figure out how to plant corn???? They couldn't figure out how to get the flip outta the Sahara????

    Either we're wrong about what they did, or we're wrong about how long people have been around. Cuz people are kickass and there's no freakin way people could be around for 200,000 years and accomplish nothing!

  4. Geoffrey Grekin

    Nah nah...
    The instigator of change is crisis...., Humans will continue the way they are until a crisis emerges,
    Prior to the 10,000 years ago there was no need to plant any corn because humans lived easily on foraging for food, they had a minimal population and lived in ever moving camps.

    Apparently, after the decline of the ice-age, the Sahara desert in Africa grew, humans gradually coalesced in fertile areas (Egypt, Mesopotamia) and to support large population, agriculture emerged, and consequence so did complex hierarchies. it was this transformation that lead to the dawn of civilization. which lead to writing (resource management, accounting), higher populations from sustainable affluent food resources, and no need to continue migrating by building permanent structures.

    This is what history suggests happened.

  5. Tyler Stanley

    ... wow

  6. Mojo Farmer

    Exponentiation: every new invention/discovery will facilitate and halve the time you'll spend to get to your next invention.

    But we had to start somewhere.

    We're kickass nowadays because we have lots of inventions that help us invent more and faster. And planting the first corn wasn't really a step that would have immediate results for the next invention. Although it did have a huge global influence.

    That's why you might think we've always been knowing, inventing and discovering at a fast pace... but this is true only for these last couple 100 years.

  7. Teresa Wedges

    What about the pyramids??? Their baffling longevity and complexity of construction suggest an unfathomable spike in human achievement, not predicated by known "invention/discovery". And "exponentiation" from the Pyramids to the present should have us exploring other galaxies...

    I have no clue to be honest. I just want to understand what happened that completely changed mankind's experience on the earth.

  8. equidae

    The pyramids (I assume you mean the Giza pyramids in egypt) are only about 5200 years or so old. At the time of their construction copper was the primary and essentially only metal in use. Their old, but before you could ever have something like them, you need the ability to feed and clothe the huge workforce needed to produce them. Necessitating of course agriculture. And agriculture, or at least what we are able to positively identify as agriculture began around 7,000 BC in Egypt. Though only on a small scale. The crops these earliest egyptians subsisted on however, were inefficient, prone to both disease and pestilent insects, and they lacked the extensive irrigation, durable and or sophisticated tools, and simple accumulated know how to support a substantial society. Hence the reason why it took over 4,000 years after the creation of agriculture to support a society able to produce the pyramids.

  9. Stefan Kengen

    The trouble with this series is that it is perpetuating a long believed fallacy, namely that there is such a thing as instinct. Calling something instinct is just man saying "I don't understand it, so I'll just give it a name and move on". It is a religious mentality, and it keeps us from progressing.

    The real observation is that nothing in nature is self activating, and that no animals feed their young out of neither instinct nor compassion, but out of environmental interaction, humans included. This is easily provable, but given little regard, even in the scientific community, because it suggests that we are not so special after all, that life is not sacred, and that it has no meaning.

    If you really want to know something about your world, if you have a genuine interest, then you will employ a scientific approach to everything you do, and maybe get a step closer to what is real and what matters. To you, that is, which is ultimately what keeps you alive.

  10. His Forever

    I tend to agree with this assessment.

  11. from_the_bleachers

    There is so much about ancient civilizations that has been lost in time that it's near impossible to asses their cultures properly. Then there is our misinterpretation of ancient findings and finally the establishment, the people that want you to believe what they want you to how they want you to.
    Ancient people were very resourceful and creative, but since we have but a modest amount of info about them and keep finding things that "don't fit" into the modern day establishment's conclusions, it's easier to make them out to be idiots without any real sense of technology.
    Most people today don't know how to plant corn or many other crops, in theory perhaps, but not in practice.. go figure..

  12. thekingbeyondthegate

    I'm afraid I disagree. I do not see the logic of saying that ascribing something to instinct is the same as saying "I don't understand it." The fight or flight reaction is instinctive; it automatically comes from instantaneous release of chemicals with the awareness of danger. We know that the optic nerve plays a massive role in this, we know the chemicals released and the effect they have. In what way is that saying we don't understand it?

    Secondly you said that "no animals ...bla...bla... out of instinct, but out of environmental interaction". That is a nonsensical statement: instinct can obviously be a result of environmental interaction, take the example of the release of adrenaline. They are not mutually exclusive by any means.

    I do not mean to be insulting but your whole comment seems to have little cohesion. You make a lot of statements, some of which you say are "easily provable", yet you don't offer any reasons, reasoning or evidence. Your words appear to be meaningless waffle. Instinct has nothing to do with life being sacred or meaningful.

    Instinct is merely the scientific observation that from birth animals have the ability to react to situations built into their genetics from years of evolution. This does not suggest sacredness, nor lack of understanding.

    The advice you offer at the end, perhaps as an alternative to instinct, is a scientific way of looking at the world. Enjoy teaching babies and non-sentient animals that they have no instinct just science.

  13. thekingbeyondthegate

    I see. You don't seem to understand that you live in the luxury of hindsight of thousands of years of innovation. You can conceive of farming, you can conceive of windmills, you can conceive of ships. These things had never been invented before and so they had to actually be conceived first.
    That is like saying Aristotle is an idiot because he didn't think of the big bang.
    How many inventions today do you look at and think: oh that's such a good idea, I can't believe I didn't think of that!

    You're doing the same thing on a different time scale: having seen the invention you're saying "I can't believe they didn't think of that"

  14. Placeboaddict

    I totally agree with you.

    Comparing human mechanisms directly with animal's, and deducing them to be leftovers from the evolutionary past, is the exact opposite of proclaiming something sacred.

    The environmental interactions (survival of the fittest), are the source of them. No/bad instincts(compassion is a general instinct to) for your environment, and you'd be eaten or starve, ensuring the bad genetic sequence/mutation would die out slowly while favoring the adapted. In this perspective, species dying out due to environmental changes make sense, the other way around it simply doesn't work.

    Stefan... Get with the program dear fella. The only ones idolizing our race is another leftover from ages past: Religion. Genetics is the topic of the day, swapping components from plants to animals and back again.

    Truthfully, we are little more than manifestations of surplus energy in our solar system. Enjoy every second.

    - The part about the scientific method made me giggle. Do much research at Efterslænget? ;-) Had to be said, sorry.

  15. Placeboaddict

    So true and cool name! XD

  16. PaulGloor

    I agree, with both responses here.
    The basic hardware evolved into the human body to help us survive attributes to our instinct. They are usually the first things we learn to use or respond to. Either specialized organs, nerves, chemical responses or neural hard wiring interacting with information provided from our environment determines our basic instincts.
    Like eating when you are hungry, it is a basic instinct and triggers a host of responses like heightened sense of smell (at least for me it does).

  17. PaulGloor

    Hostorical estimates of the worlds population around 10,000 years ago (8000bc) are around 5 million.
    To put that in perspective, Boston 4.5 million, Washington, D.C. 5.3 million, Atlanta 5.3million, Miami 5.4million, Houston 5.7million Philadelphia 5.8 million (based on 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimates)

    The development of agriculture was not a specific requirement to sustain populations At that time;
    In Europe, populations are still not cultivating crops but have settled into gather and follow rather than wide range hunting.
    In the middle east, people have started to cultivate crops and domesticate animals.

  18. AlfBeta

    I do like TDF

  19. wald0

    You are absolutely wrong. Science freely admits instincts exist because they do. Its nothing magical or mysterious and in no way implies a sanctity of life or anything remotely like that. It is a scientific observation that creatures have genetically passed on responses to certain stimuli. Babies are afraid of heights, they immedialtely close thier hand around anything that touches thier palm, they feel driven to suckle, etc. All of these reactions to stimuli are immediate, not learned. A baby doesn't have to see another bay suckle to know it is something they need to do, nor do they need to someone fall to know it could hurt them.

    The problem is that psuedo science has exploited this concept and attributes very complicated learned responses to instinct. This is what gives people the impression that thier is some supernatural power at hand. It simply makes no sense that such complicated environmentally dependant reactions would be genetically encoded, so people attribute it to the supernatural or god. The reality is that they are learned behaviors. Our instincts only cover very very basic situations like fight or flight, falling, spitting out bitter foods, the desire to stay away from decaying things, sexual attraction, etc.

    If you would like further scientific information about instincts just google it. There is tons of research available, even experiments you can do at home. The research online, or at least the research on certain sites, is peer revued and the experiments are outlined so anyone can scrutinize thier methods. The BBC and PBS both have ligitimate research posted. If this isn't good science then what is?

    We can't expect them to say o.k. here is the portion of the brain that controls instincts or here is the portion of DNA that passes it on, we just do not know that much about the human brain or DNA yet. We don't even know where normal memories are stored or how, much less where or how instinct is passed on and stored. Science just has not been able to figure these things out yet but, they will. We have new technologies that are making huge break throughs in brain research everyday.

  20. avd420

    Spiders don't teach there young to make webs. Flies calculate the projectory to dodge a hazard to the hundredths of seconds, are you telling me they decide this by considering each route and then making a choice?

  21. avd420

    There is much more to farming than just droping a seed in the ground. And don't be so naieve to think that if you were around ten thousand years ago that you would realize plants came from seeds in the first place.

  22. TomR

    I don't think snakes are an innate fear, perhaps animals with threatening features are, which would include spiders and scorpions, etc. Having a particularly strong reaction of fear towards a specific such creature is a socialized trait. I have no fear of snakes at all, and rather enjoy them, but spiders and some other insects will bring out immense fear, especially when in an enclosed space. If these fears were instinctual, you may wonder why our cave living ancestors were so afraid of snakes and spiders when they had to share their habitats.

  23. FreemonSandlewould

    Uh Yeah they are Tom. What are you one of those reptile loving people who keep a boa constrictor as a pet? Strange folks who prefer the company of non mammals

  24. Diddi Ingi

    Everything is obvious... in hindsight. It's cheap to criticize someone who hasn't figured out the answer to a puzzle, after you have SEEN the solution.
    Plus, when you have billions of humans - spread much farther over time and space then they are today - it's completely understandable that they wouldn't have technological breakthroughs every day. The greatest innovation happens in collaborating groups of people - thus where population density + leisure time is high enough.

    Aren't you also forgetting that it took a great many generations of cultivation to get e.g. corn in a properly edible form?

    We've seen how strongly conservatives can fight to keep things the same... I would think that the xenophobia of hunter-gatherers was more than enough to keep too much change (and innovation) at bay...

    People are indeed kickass.... at doing great, intelligent and innovative things.
    Unfortunately our capacity for acts of incredible ignorance, evil, stupidity and violence seems significantly greater.

    BUT... in the end we are definitely wrong about many things. Huge swaths of our past are completely hidden to us - other parts are just obscure. Most people are also fairly ignorant of real, present affairs.
    We have a fairly good idea about some things but I'm convinced that one of people's greatest mistake nowadays is over-certainty in so many uncertain matters.

  25. Oz

    That toilet scene with the fake turd, how come there were no men in that? This is not scientific!

  26. Stone

    Not quite, instinct is a self preservation or species preservation type behavior that the animal does not have to learn from it's environment.

    We Do understand, For instance; why do babies know heights are dangerous? It's instinctual, we understand that it keeps the baby safe.

    Yes we do not understand specifically how instinct is passed from one animal to its offspring, nor do we understand exactly how the brain processes the behavior or how it is different to non instinctual behavior.
    We do understand the concept of instinct and using the term is perfectly valid for sharing ideas during communication. Instinct does exist, your jumping into a language trap when you say otherwise. You see instinct exists as a word that has been chosen to express a scientific concept so that we can make it easier to communicate ideas. Words don't have mass, neither do ideas but they both exist as human creations.

  27. Jonathan Peterson

    An important question is not being asked. What would instinct have to be to direct traffic in the human body and mind while adapting to a constantly changing environment. Instinct is not some chains of molecules it is real time intelligent operations that can stop time in special circumstances where an accident is about to happen to increase survivability of host by directing actions. This knowledge hides itself from its host. We don't get as many choices as we thought we did. But better info makes for better decisions. We have been deceived about some facts on hand to protect status quo and a lot more than that. Equality between all citizens under all laws is an unalienable right, now equality is defiled and ignored by the group (330M). Instinct is blocking comprehension in most members of the group. Instinct program exercises authority over its host by not allowing risks to status quo operations which are always fragile in reality. We can't find it if we don't know what to look for. A far advanced artificial intelligence program attached to DNA in some hidden way. It is there we can't find it yet. How about some single cells in a super collider? Look for something unexpected I would hope. Science is a creation of God who wrote the code for a.i. to operate life forms survival during animated existence. Beliefs aside someone or something created instinct program it did not write itself into existence. This is good for science to make some adjustments in current beliefs about creation of life. Elder Jonathan L. Peterson

  28. Jon

    There is a heirarchy of needs that determines human motivation and response. Individuals can be categorized according to the need stages where the most basic can be referred to as animal instinct and the highest is self actualization.

    Maybe the spiritual occupies the top most layer and this is best referred to as intuition rather than instinct.

    Christianity elevates humanity by making the lowest layer of need abominable and a task for progress. The family plays an important role in elevating the need issue by care and responsibility of adults to children. Social differences are likewise given focus for action in charitable works for the betterment of the community. Such effort to raise the living standards in effect helps mitigate animal instincts. If people will allow animal instincts to dominate societies then this would lead to crimes of passion and chaos which are no different from the law of the jungle.

    Maybe this is what is meant by the challenge to overcome our physical nature. Thus the conflict between the desire to satisfy our body and the struggle to fulfill the Will of God, which is purely spiritual.

  29. Abby

    Actually I think the fact that you find these "threatening features" threatening are innate. Why would babies be afraid of snakes and insects if they are too young to have such socialized traits? Also why would you be socialized to fear insects but not snakes if they hold the same kind of stigma for being frightening? They may have had to share their habitats with these creatures, but our ancestors who have learned to avoid the poisonous insects and snakes are the ones who have passed on their traits.

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