In my previous blog, I had discussed the duality of good and bad. I had pointed out the irony of our compulsion to decide what is good and what is bad, even when we don’t know how to define good and bad. In this blog, I would take up another duality that is at the heart of the earlier duality of good and bad. In this blog, I would discuss the duality of reason and instinct. This duality refers to the method by which we decide things, including the decision of good and bad.

To be honest, there is no clear cut distinction between reason and instinct except for the fact that our instinctive responses are unanalysable. When we think about the situation that we are facing, the factual details are available for both these modes of thinking. However, we can analyse the method that reason uses to arrive at a conclusion. However, in the case of instinct, we can never find out, either before or after we arrive at a conclusion, what was the method used by our instinct to arrive at that conclusion. We simply know the answer but never the method. Perhaps, our minds are capable of deciding without the help of any known logic.

Those who are familiar with the topics of artificial intelligence and machine learning would realise that our minds seem to use methods not available to computers. The question that I would discuss here is not about the exact nature of our instinct, but what happens when we know that we have two opposite modes of thinking available to us. More importantly, when do we allow our instinct to dictate our behaviour and when do we allow reason to tell us what to do. I am sure most of you would agree that there is no fixed pattern of when we act instinctively and when we act rationally. I think there is some rationale behind our apparent random choice of instinctive versus rational behaviour. This rationale perhaps points towards the deeper levels of reality and how our minds perceive it. The tragedy is that we don’t have any idea about this rationale.

Psychology tells us that we resort to instinctive responses when we are faced with extreme situations or when we are required to respond instantly. Our rational behaviour happens only when we act proactively or deliberately. Therefore, it appears that Nature does not trust our ability think in the times of crises and it takes over our behaviour by activating our instinct. At the same time, Nature wants us to use our thinking abilities to make progress. Thus, what decides our mode of behaviour is not ourselves but the circumstances of our lives. This is the root cause of our dilemma. Though, we have two modes of thinking, but we don’t have a say which mode of thinking would take control of our minds. Depending on the circumstances of our lives, we keep on switching from a reasoned behaviour to an instinctive behaviour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we have an ability to reflect on our own behaviour. Therefore, we often find shortcomings in our past behaviours. In fact, I think regretting our past behaviour is an almost universal experience. All of us, sometime or the other, have regretted the way we have behaved in the past. This is because, in hindsight, we are able to evaluate our behaviour which we couldn’t evaluate while it was happening. Therefore, it is possible that in a given situation, we end up choosing wrong mode of behaviour. The real problem is that we have no control over our choice of mode of behaviour. As a result, we end up with an unjust situations in life without being really responsible for them.

However, there is one redeeming feature of this duality of instinct and reason. Our instinctive reasoning (whatever it is ) is uncannily correct. While our logical and rational behaviour works well because the world that we live in is regular and broadly predictable, our instinct reflects the the way the world behaves in a manner that is beyond logic. Therefore, it is possible that Nature, in its wisdom, has incorporated both modes of thinking in our minds. Maybe, Nature is trying to figure out which mode of thinking is more suitable for life. Maybe, we are ‘ work in progress ‘ models of evolution. What matters is that, whatever may be Nature’s reason for providing us with these two modes of thinking, we end up with the unfair situation of being saddled with this duality and yet without being in control of it.

This is perhaps the crux of human existence. We are imperfect and yet we manage to survive, thrive and even excel. We may be riddled with this conundrum of the duality of instinct and reason. Yet, we are able to make reasonably good moral choices in our lives. We may be imperfect, but we have a potential to overcome our imperfections. More importantly, it is this duality of instinct and reason that enables us to transcend our shortcomings. It is possible that maybe either the instinct or the reason, singly by themselves, are not adequate for facing the vicissitudes of life. Therefore, Nature must have its own reason to impose this duality upon us. However, being unaware of Nature’s reasons, we are destined to face the consequences.

In my next blog, I would discuss the duality of past and future. This is important because our past and future dominate our minds in our present moments.


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