Allan Kardec

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Instinct and Intelligence

11. What is the difference between instinct and intelligence? Where does one end and the other commence? Is instinct a rudimental intelligence or a distinct faculty, - an exclusive attribute of matter?

Instinct is occult power which incites organic beings to spontaneous and involuntary acts in relation to their conservation. In instinctive acts there is neither reflection, contrivance, nor premeditation. Thus the plant seeks air, turns itself towards the light, directs its roots towards water and the nutritious soil; the flower opens and closes its petals by turns, according to its needs; climbing plants wind themselves around supports, or cling to them by their tendrils. It is by instinct that animals are apprised of that which is useful or injurious to them, that they are directed, according to the season, towards propitious climates; that they construct, without preliminary lessons, with more or less art, according to species, soft places of rest and of shelter for their progeny, machinery by which they snare their prey by which they are nourished, that they handle dexterously weapons of defense with which they are provided; that the sexes are brought together, that the mother produces offspring, and that the little ones seek her breast for nourishment. With man instinct rules at the outset of life. It is by instinct the infant makes his first movements, that he seizes his nourishment, that he cries to express his wants, that he imitates the sound of the voice, that he tries to speak and to walk. With the adult, even, certain acts are instinctive: such are spontaneous movements to escape a danger, to remove one’s self from peril, to maintain one’s equilibrium; such are, also, the blinking of the eyelids to temper the brilliance of the light, the mechanical opening of the mouth to breath, etc.

12. Intelligence is revealed by voluntary, reflective, premeditated, united actions, according to the fitness of circumstances. It is incontestably an exclusive attribute of the soul.

All mechanical action is instinctive; that which denotes reflection and contrivance is intelligent. One is free; the other is not.

Instinct is a sure guide which never deceives; intelligence, solely because it is unrestrained, is sometimes subject to error.

If the instinctive action has not the character of the intelligent one, it reveals, nevertheless, an intelligent cause, essentially provident. If one admits that instinct has its source in matter, it is necessary, also, to admit that matter is intelligent, - surely wiser and more foreseeing than the soul, since instinct does not deceive, whilst intelligence does.

If one considers instinct to be rudimental intelligence, why is it, in certain cases, superior to reasoning intelligence - that it makes possible the execution of things that the latter cannot produce?

If it is the attribute of a special spiritual principle, what becomes of this principle? When instinct is effaced, this principle must also be destroyed. If animals are only endowed with instinct, their future is without issue; their sufferings have no compensation. This would be in conformity with neither the justice, nor the goodness of God. (Chap. II, n°19).

13. According to another system, instinct and intelligence have one and the same principle alone. Having arrived at a certain degree of development, this principle, which at first had only the qualities of instinct, is subject to a transformation which imparts to its free intelligence.

If this were true, for the intelligent man who loses his ability to reason, and is guided exclusively by instinct, his intelligence would regress to its primitive state; and, upon recovering his ability to reason, his instinct would, once again, turn back into the state of intelligence; this cycle would repeat itself, alternatively, for each bout of rage encountered. This is not admissible.

Incidentally, intelligence and instinct are frequently present, side-by-side, in the same action. For instance, upon walking a man’s legs move in an instinctive way; mechanically, he places one foot before the other, without thinking of it. However, when he wants to accelerate or lessen his pace, lift up his foot, or deviate it in order to avoid an obstacle, there is calculation and combination involved; he acts here with a deliberate purpose. The involuntary impulsion of the movement is the instinctive act; whereas the calculated direction of the movement is the intelligent act. A carnivorous animal is compelled by its instinct to gain nourishment from meat; but the precautions it takes, its foresight of possible eventualities - which varies according to the circumstances - in order to capture his prey, are acts of intelligence.

14. Yet, a last hypothesis, which, however, is perfectly allied to unity of principle springs from the essential provident character of instinct, and agrees with that which Spiritism teaches us concerning the connection between the spiritual and the corporeal world.

One knows now that discarnated spirits have the mission of watching over incarnated ones, of whom they are the guides and protectors; that they surround them with their fluidic effluvia; that man acts often in an unconscious manner under the influence of these effluvia.

One knows, besides, that instinct itself, which produces actions without the aid of reason, predominates in children and in general with those persons whose intellect is feeble. Now, according to this hypothesis, instinct can neither be an attribute of the soul nor of matter. It does not belong properly to any living being, but must be the effect of the direct action of invisible protectors who supply the deficiency to imperfect intelligence by inciting them to necessarily unconscious actions for the preservation of life. It is like the leading-string by which one supports the infant learning to walk; and, in the same manner, as one discontinues gradually the use of the string in order that he may learn to stand without help, the spirit-protectors leave their protégées to themselves when the latter can be guided by their own intelligence.

Thus, instinct, far from being the product of a rudimental and imperfect intelligence, is ever the result of an unknown power in the plenitude of its strength supplying knowledge to a feebler understanding, impressing the latter to act unconsciously for his own good in a way impossible to him were it not for this impression; or it may be that a being of riper information, becoming temporarily trammeled in the use of his powers, - the first takes place with man in his infancy, the second in cases of idiocy and mental affections.

It has passed into a proverb that there is a God for children, fools and drunkards; for children, fools, and drunkards are always kept from harm. This belief is truer than one would think. This God is none other than the spirit-protector who watches over the one incapable of protecting himself by his own reason.

15. In this set of ideas one must go still farther; for this theory, however rational it may be, does not solve the difficulties of the question.

If one observes the effects of instinct, one remarks, in the first place, a unity of view, and, as a whole, a certainty of results which ceases to exist when instinct is displaced by free intelligence. Moreover, in the appropriation of instinctive faculties, so certain and so constant in the needs of every creature, one recognizes a profound wisdom. This unity of sight could not exist without a unity of thought. Consequently, by the multiplicity of acting causes, or by following the progress which is always accomplished by individual intelligences, there is between them a diversity of operation and of will wholly incompatible with this so perfectly harmonious a unity produced since the beginning of time, and in all places with a regularity and mathematical precision never at fault. This uniformity in the result of instinctive faculties is a fact which forcibly implies unity of cause. If this cause were inherent in every individuality, there would be as many varieties of instincts as of individuals from the plant to man. A general uniform and constant effect must have a general uniform cause. An effect revealing wisdom and providence must result from a wise and provident cause. A wise and provident cause being necessarily intelligent, cannot be exclusively material.

As we find not in created beings, incarnated or discarnated, the necessary qualities to produce such a result, it is necessary to go higher, - that is, to the Creator himself. The reader is referred to the explanation given of the means whereby one can conceive of providential action (chap. II, n°24). If one imagines all beings permeated with the divine effluence, severely intelligent, he will comprehend the provident wisdom and unity of sight which presides in all the instinctive movements conducing to good of each individual. This solicitude is so much the more active as the individual has fewer resources within himself, due to his possession of intelligence. This is why it shows itself in a greater and more absolute degree in animals than in men.

In the light of this theory one understands that instinct is always a sure guide; the maternal instinct, the noblest of all; that which materialism lowers to the level of attractive forces of matter, finds itself re-enthroned and ennobled. Reason readily perceives that it is not desirable that it should be delivered over to the capricious action of that intelligence known as free will. Through the maternal organism God himself watches over his newly born creatures.

16. This theory, however, does not destroy the role of the spirit-protectors, whose concurrence is a fact proved by experience; but it is necessary to remark, that the action of the latter is essentially individual, that it is modified by the qualities proper to the protector and his charge, and that it never has the uniformity and generality of instinct. God, in his wisdom, himself conducts the blind; but he leaves to free intelligence the work of guiding clear-seeing ones, that each may be responsible for his own acts. The mission of the spirit-protectors is a duty voluntarily accepted, and which is for the guardian spirits a means of advancement according to the manner in which they fulfill it.

17. All these analysis of instinct are necessarily hypothetical and no one of them is sufficiently authentic in character to be given as a definite solution. The question will certainly be solved some day, when many will have attained to a power of observation revealing truths yet beyond our grasp. Until then it is necessary to submit these diverse opinions to the crucible of reason and logic, and wait until more light breaks. The solution which approaches the nearest to the truth will be necessarily that which harmonizes the best with the attributes of God; that is to say, to sovereign goodness and justice (see chap. II, n° 19).

18. Instinct being an unerring guide, when spirits resort to outward intelligence in the primary periods of their development, they are confounded sometimes by effects. There is, however, between these two principles a difference which it is necessary to consider.

Instinct is a sure guide, and always a good one. At a given time, it may become useless, but never hurtful. It is weakened by the predominance of intelligence.

The passions in the first expressions of the soul have this in common with instinct: they are guided by an equally involuntary force. They are born more particularly to supply the needs of the body, and depend more than instinct upon the organism. That which distinguishes them above all else from instinct, is that they are individual, and do not produce, as does instinct, general and uniform effects. We see them, on the contrary, varied in intensity of nature according to individual development. They are useful as stimulants; that is, until the awakening of the moral sense, which, in the case of a passive being, transforms him into a rational being. From this moment they become not only useless, but hurtful to the development of the spirit, whose upward progress they hold back; they are weakened by the development of reason.

19. The man who would constantly act instinctively might be very good, but would let his intelligence sleep. He would be like a child who would not quit his leading-strings, refusing to use his limbs. He who masters not his passions can be very intelligent, but at the same time very impure. Instinct annihilates itself; passions are governed only by the effort of the will.

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