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part of being wild is to react naturally and swiftly.
A good set of instincts allows an animal to take some
things for granted, giving them time to tackle other important
issues such as finding food or attending to a particular
danger. If instincts can be learnt, then repeated learning
should drive a successful thought or skill deeper into
the subconscious until it can be assumed, eventually to
the point of becoming an instinct. An animal would probably
be unaware of this process. A key feature of instincts
is that it is behavior that produces a result, for a reason
to which the animal is blind (Epstein, 1982). Instincts
seem to become a ‘gut feeling’, which at times
can be difficult to ignore and trace. Some of our own
skills and behaviors can seem so entrenched and personal
that at times they would seem to be inherited. For example,
ascents, feelings of disgust, and beliefs are obvious
examples of learning, even though they might feel naturally
embedded in us. They become a part of an animal’s
psyche for which there is no alternative. Learning and
training on a wide range of fronts can develop our beliefs,
skills and sporting abilities until they become instinctive
or as easy as ‘second nature.’
example of instinct learning clearly occurs in birds as
imprinting. Fledglings go through a period when their
minds are highly receptive to imprinting with certain
beliefs. This process is so powerful that they can even
imprint to see a human as their parent, when any hint
of objectivity should instruct them otherwise. The fledgling
becomes blind to its instinct.
mammals, a similar imprinting of instincts might occur,
but more slowly, and apparently with the capacity for
future change and modification. Changeux and Danchin (1976)
discovered a suitable candidate for the parsimony of instinct
learning. They described a process of ‘selective
stabilisation’ that acted on the uncommitted neural
pathways that occur within the cerebral cortex. The repeated
stimulation (= learning) of certain pathways leads to
their consolidation and entrenchment as the path to take
in future interactions. The more often a pathway is selected,
the more deeply it becomes a part of the personality or
behavior of the animal. With time and repeated use, it
could become assumed and buried deep within the subconscious
as an instinct. Other parallels are that the structure
of the neural pathways ‘evolve’ through a
natural selection of those proving to be most useful (Llinas,
1987), not too different to the natural selection happening
on physical adaptations. De Bono (1969) provided another
model of this learning process that could be interpreted
as leading to instincts. He modeled the mechanism of mind
as similar to a plate of gelatin being shaped into a series
of gullies and pathways through the drops of hot water
that represented stimuli. These gullies could eventually
become instincts. De Bono (1969, page 256) also provided
the useful recognition that if we are not careful, the
development of such an assuming (instinct based) mind
could produce delusions or ‘self-perpetuating patterns
that seem uniquely true’. While Crook (1987, page
390) notes that ‘reality is essentially an attribution
of the mind, which can become illusory’. We could
add, that such a risk is especially more likely to occur
if the instinct learning animal loses touch with the reality
check so conveniently provided by the wildness.
During instinct learning, it would be very important to
keep instincts well grounded in reality. Learning an irrelevant
tangent would be detrimental. If selective stabilisation
occurred in the presence of a wilderness, then honest
and direct feedback interactions should occur and lead
to the production of quality natural instincts. Instincts
within a niche are sensible and highly useful. If a niche
changes however, then old instincts can become a problem.
Unyielding instincts can harm survival when conditions
change, because an animal might be programmed to give
the wrong response despite the new circumstances. There
must be a balance between what instincts or reflexes are
inherited (those that will always be useful), and those
that are best left to learning through attunement and
consultation with the wild niche, as a way of keeping
If it is an adaptive advantage to be wild, then there
should also be a motivation, desire or reward in animals
to be that way. Animals should want to be wild, because
of its enormous benefits. Instantly, many people will
say they do not feel any desire to be wild. However, it
is important to separate primal or biological desires
from the controls we now place on ourselves through our
current belief systems and learnt disgusts. If wildness
is seen as the source of human evil and selfishness, then
instinct forming processes that aim to give us wildness
will fill us with disdain. Nevertheless, it is important
to look at how the animal in us acts. If wildness is simply
a state of attunement or integration into the natural
world, then wildness may in fact be a way of making animals
more pleasant and responsible within their system.
this theory is correct, the most fundamental motivation
in an animal should be to be wild, which by using the
spin of attunement, means animals must have a desire for
attunement or interaction. A more informative name for
wild desire is that it is an interaction desire (Cookson,
1999). The goal of attunement is to have as many interactions
as possible released from the same quantum of effort.
Parsimony of the mind is attractive because it offers
a given mental effort an escalating range of possibilities
The seat of the interaction desire is the pleasure center
in the hypothalamus. This organ appears to have more control
over animals than it deserves or can be explained if its
role was simply to fill the needs of sex, hunger and survival.
In rats, monkeys and other animals, stimulation of this
region by implanted electrodes has been shown to override
all other desires such as sex and hunger, even to the
point of death through starvation (Routtenberg, 1980).
A reason has not really been forthcoming, and its power
has been thought of as a design fault or primal extravagance.
But if the primary aim of the pleasure center is to deliver
wildness, then its function and adaptive advantage is
explained, and the level of importance evolution has placed
on wildness can now be appreciated.
pleasure center can operate as the organ that seeks wildness,
by following one simple principle. It gives us a feeling
of pleasure if we can gain greater perception for reduced
neural effort. In other words, it will give us pleasure
if for one neural effort we can interact or see a wider
range of interactions than before. The pleasure center
has all the hardware necessary to act in this fashion.
Effort and stimulation to the cerebral cortex (main site
for instinct learning) is directed through the stage gate
of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus and its pleasure
center can see the effort of what goes in for what comes
out. The pleasure center system also has its connections
spread deeply throughout the cortex (Routtenberg, 1980),
so it can amply measure the breadth of interaction (number
of cortical neurons that were stimulated) for each burst
of energy pumped into the cortex. The more cortical neurons
stimulated from the same quantum effort, the greater must
be the parsimony and therefore the skill and attunement
of the mind.
arrangement and role for the pleasure center also explains
why we enjoy a wide range of parsimonious achievements
in the mind, such as understanding, achievement, problem
solving, realization, inspiration, enlightenment, and
music. Pleasure for parsimonious achievement is needed
to steer the instinct learning process of selective stabilization
into the realm of wildness where instincts must be attuned,
efficient and inspiring.
These observations show that evolution has placed great
store in the need for an animal to become attuned to the
natural world, to the level where it can be said to be
wild. Even if wildness is not the state you think is suited
to our species, we need to recognize its place in the
wellbeing of other animals. The question to ask is whether
an understanding and perception of this level of organization
for the mind could benefit human culture today. This is
a field being tackled by ecopsychology (Roszak et al.,
1995; Winter, 1996). The discussion in this paper suggests
that wildness is the best psychiatrist you could ever
want to meet.
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