Instinct and intelligence


We find in ourselves the same alternating examples of intelligence and stupidity. Fever, as even children are now aware, is merely a reaction, a defence which our organism sets up by a combination of many ingenious and intricate measures.

There is call, therefore, for a certain suppleness, a perpetual accommodation to circum stances that change every moment; and here, as in ourselves, it at once becomes very difficult to discover the wavering line of demarcation between instinct and intelligence.

On the other hand, is there any one of us who has watched ants at work and has not been struck by the imbecile incoherence of their combined efforts? From what we know in other directions such a statement would scarcely seem justified. We are apt to judge all things from the high horse of our logic, as though it were certain that no other logic could exist-a logic perhaps diametrically opposed to the one which is our sole guide. The question engaging us is none the less more important than it appears: for if we knew more about the instinct of the insects, about the limitations of this instinct and its relations with the intellect and with the Anima Mundi, we should perhaps gain some knowledge, the data being identical, of the instinct of our own organs, wherein probably lie concealed almost all the secrets of life and death. Great experts explain it by technical phrases, which, closely examined, reveal nothing at all.

His argument that instinct is a mere continuation of the work by which life organises nature is either a manifest truth or tautology, for life and nature are, in their essence, different names for the same unknown; but none the less this too-evident truth, in the development given to it by the author of Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution, is often very attractive. Here we have the explanation of one mystery among many: it leads us to understand why the queen bees, for instance, which for thousands of years have done nothing but lay eggs, have never worked, never visited a flower, gathered pollen or sucked nectar, can yet give birth to workers which emerge from the cell with all the knowledge their mothers have lost since prehistoric days; workers which, from the moment of their first flight, know every secret of orientation, of gathering booty, of rearing nymphs, as also of the intricate chemistry of the hive. They know everything because the organism of which they form a part, of which they are but a cell, knows all that it is necessary to know for selfmaintenance. They seem to scatter widely in space; but however far they may travel, they always remain connected with the central unity to which they have never ceased to belong.

If some god to-day were to toss with other eternal gods for the probabilities of our destiny, on which side would the most far-seeing place their stake? In theory, yes: but in fact, all that we see around us is only matter, all that we perceive is only matter-and what hope is there that our brain, which itself only is matter, can understand anything other than matter? In the doubt which assails us, why not choose the hypothesis that is less discouraging?