On Instinct

Philosophers, Mystics, and Metaphysicians all do Evolution a disservice when they claim cognition and consciousness to be a uniquely human trait. Or, in Nietzsche’s own words:

Nachdem ich lange genug den Philosophen zwischen die Zeilen und auf die Finger gesehn habe, sage ich mir: man muss noch den grössten Theil des bewussten Denkens unter die Instinkt-Thätigkeiten rechnen, und sogar im Falle des philosophischen Denkens; man muss hier umlernen, wie man in Betreff der Vererbung und des “Angeborenen” umgelernt hat. So wenig der Akt der Geburt in dem ganzen Vor- und Fortgange der Vererbung in Betracht kommt: ebenso wenig ist “Bewusstsein” in irgend einem entscheidenden Sinne dem Instinktiven entgegengesetzt, – das meiste bewusste Denken eines Philosophen ist durch seine Instinkte heimlich geführt und in bestimmte Bahnen gezwungen. (Jenseits von Gut und Böse)

After having looked long enough between the philosopher’s lines and fingers, I say to myself: by far the greater part of conscious thinking must still be included among instinctive activities, and that goes even for philosophical thinking. We have to relearn here, as one has had to relearn about heredity and what is “innate.” As the act of birth deserves no consideration in the whole process and procedure of heredity, so “being conscious” is not in any decisive sense the opposite of what is instinctive: most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts. (Walter Kaufmann, translator)

Or, to put it another way, our conscious awareness is but the tip — the sensitive tip? — of a cognitive iceberg: most cognition is beyond conscious control, and just beneath cognitive awareness.

But although we cannot see it, the iceberg keeps us afloat.

Can you, perhaps, feel it?


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