First, I wish to further define two words. The first of these is “instinct.” Instinct is one of those words used so imprecisely as to render it meaningless. The Monarch butterfly flies southward each winter because of instinct. In this case instinct is taken to somehow involve nothing on the butterfly’s part. That a baby who has just learned to crawl will avoid crawling on a glass table because of an instinctual fear of falling. There is nothing that has happened in the mind of the baby. “Oh that’s just instinct,” we say as if that actually explains it all and nothing else must be said to complete an understanding. Or perhaps it is a shortcut term that means there is a reason that is quite technical, scientific, and already proven and those scientific proofs written fine in large books exist in some great library … oh … somewhere.
There is a reason for instinct and a useful explanation may be found in the theory of evolution, but it is only partial. Those with good “instincts” survived while those without did not. Instinct arises from sensory input being processed by a biological computer and that sensory input has been compared to a catalogue of memories labeled as dangerous and those areas of the catalogue have been filled either before birth or after it. In some cases those memories are a part of our ancestral heritage –before birth. A very curious and interesting thing. “Instinct” stands in place of a phenomenon for which we don’t understand, but we are sure there must be a reason somewhere.
I have personally raised chicks from eggs and have taken them out for their very first adventure in the grass. I had a screen cage with an open bottom and I would turn the still yellow chicks loose under it to tromp around in the grass and pick at small insect creatures and eat them. All of those small tennis ball sized chicks milled about randomly gobbling insects without a mother to teach them what was edible and what was not. Instinct. Okay. Now what is really interesting is that I notices something else. I came to notice something really curious. Occasionally, all of the small yellow feather balls would become immobile, all at the same time and they would stay that way for some 15 or 20 seconds and then they would behind their weaving and orbiting about again. Perhaps it was the second time that I took a batch of chicks out for their first look at grass and earth and sunshine that I discovered the reason for their simultaneous immobility when the shadow of a large bird crossed the pen. Soon I could predict their seizures by watching the paths of pigeons, crows, blue jays or hawks passing overhead. Baby birds who never learned from their parents or even saw them for that matter, somehow “remembered” that larger birds flying overhead were a danger to them.