Thinking As Instinctive Behaviour

One of the difficulties explaining planetary geomorphology and geology is making sense of gravity, that extremely weak force that drives the universe and cosmos. It is gravity that powers the various forces on the Earth’s surface, gravity that drives glaciers to flow down slope, gravity that pushes water to flow to downhill towards lakes, oceans and seas. It’s gravity that keeps us on the Earth itself.

So it is believed, except as a recent English Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, in his book Our Cosmic Habitat, muses, some contemporary aliens might have already answered questions such as:

What happened before the Big Bang? What causes gravity and mass? Is the universe infinite? How did atoms
assemble—on at least one planet around at least one star—into beings able to ponder these mysteries? These questions still baffle all of us. Rather than the “end of science” being nigh, we are still near the beginning of the cosmic quest. (

I’m not going into the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of this cosmic quest but point out that from geological field experience using geophysics to find specific bodies of interest, say using gravity theory to locate sub-surface iron ore deposits, often ends in failure, suggesting that there’s something amiss with the theory, here Newtonian Gravity.

Part of the problem in solving these departures from theory lies in how we think, how we react to new data. This led me to recognise two modes of human reaction to new data that contradict the pre-existing theory or paradigm – either outright rejection of the new data for not fitting the prevailing theory, or acceptance of the contradictory data with the realisation that the theory might actually be wrong.

The difference is simply that between the religious and scientific mindsets.

For the religious, authority is absolute by definition, and so cannot be contradicted; new data that does is summarily dismissed.

For the scientific, experience is the absolute and if it contradicts theory, it is the theory that has to change; new data is thus accepted at face-value and a stepping stone to possible new scientific insights.

Underpinning these two human reactions to stimulus, for this is essentially what it’s all about, is the role of thinking.

Thinking is essentially the recollection of memories and arranging them in patterns. Incessant repetition of these patterns leads to them becoming embedded or fused into the brain as dogma, and when these patterns become almost automatic and subconscious, leading to an unawareness that one is intellectually enslaved by the beliefs in our
brains, then such a mind is best described as religious.

The religious mind is thus a mind trapped in the morass that is memory. It thinks, but its thinking is essentially robotic because all it can do is recall its memories and rearrange them into familiar patterns. It could be described as a fossilised mind, and if taken to a logical conclusion, Pavlovian in essence. It’s thinking patterns are essentially
instinctive and predictable, and when new data or stimuli appear then such a mind reacts instinctively by rejecting the intrusion of these new data; what is termed cognitive dissonance.

Ludvig Von Mises wrote, (I think in his Opus, Human Action), that the difference between the human and animal is that the human is able to abstain from instinctive behaviour; that it has will power that an animal hasn’t.

This contrast in human action is the same as the difference between the religious and scientific modes of thinking. Religious minds seem unable to contradict learned behaviour, their beliefs. And when the religious involve themselves with natural philosophy, or science as it is nowadays called, then science turns into religion which then becomes institutionalised as Big Science, a technologically sophisticated religion.

About Louis Hissink

Retired diamond exploration geologist. I spent my professional life looking for mineral deposits, found some, and also located a number of kimberlites in NSW and Western Australia. Exploration geology is the closest one can get to practicing the scientific method, mineral exploration always being concerned with finding anomalous geophysical or geochemical data, framing a model and explanation for the anomaly and then testing it with drilling or excavation. All scientific theories are ultimately false since they invariably involved explaining something with incomplete extant knowledge. Since no one is omniscient or knows everything, so too scientific theories which are solely limited to existing knowledge. Because the future always yields new data, scientific theories must change to be compatible with the new data. Thus a true scientist is never in love with any particular theory, always knowing that when the facts change, so too must he/she change their minds.
This entry was posted in Hare-brained theories, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thinking As Instinctive Behaviour

  1. fabio says:

    About Von Mises’ claims, to abstain one’s instincts is only a part from the influence if the culture in our biological side. Because that Freud made a distinction between “Trieb” and “Instinkt”


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