That Thing Called Instinct: Thinking Through Survivors in ‘I Survived’

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Cerebral_lobesA gunman abducted Scott and his best friend Michael while in a shopping mall in New York in January of 1994. When the abductor pulled his gun’s trigger, Michael succumbed to shotgun wound to the head, while Scott, in some twist of fate, survived the bullet aimed at him. Scott, survivor from episode 68 of “I Survived,” credited inner voice or that thing called instinct for his survival.

Instinct is one of the most credited surviving agents in the last three episodes of the new season of “I Survived.” It was one of the then 16-year-old Kerri’s (episode 66) shields when she faced the threat of rape. It impelled the then nine-year-old Jeanette (episode 67) to keep everything her abductor touched for forensic purposes, and once again, another survivor from episode 68 elevated instinct in his story of survival.

Defining Instinct

For Scott, instinct was the inner voice from his guardian angel that prompted him to tilt his head precisely when his abductor shot him to the head while rushing to speed off his jeep. This variant of definition, however, brought confusion to the then 18-year-old Scott. Why would his guardian angel protect him from danger while Michael’s let him die?

While Scott’s point of view may be valid, it cannot give a coherent answer to the said question. Perspectives, which consider instinct as a matter-of-fact reaction of the brain when under stress, answer Scott’s query in a more fathomable manner.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, instinct is a snap judgment born out of human’s rapid cognition when he/she is faced with complex condition. For Gladwell, instinct works like an internal computer utilizes by the brain when it is bereft of time to ponder upon all available options. While every human has the capacity to employ instinct, not everyone is successful utilizing it.

For American psychologist and philosopher William James, instinct is both an element of perception (observation) and cognition (understanding). It is a product of a person’s understanding of the impact of a certain observation to the tension at hand. Instinct works in premeditated event but is not always functional. It can cloud judgment and can lead to inflexibility.

Instinct and Its Arena

While Scott, Gladwell, and James defined instinct from three different perspectives, they all gave credence to its utility in unexpected circumstance. They all agreed that instinct could work in a situation where in a mathematical equation, a philosophical theory, or long-winding citation had little to no use. This proved to be true in the cases of Kerri, Jeanette, and Scott.

Ironically, from day one in first grade to our last few days in college, instinct has not been accorded its duly deserved recognition. In school, we are taught about the importance of taking time, pondering, and rational and scientific opinion, but are rarely encouraged to practice snap judgment. In fear that it will lead to gender, appearance, and race stereotyping, students are not given enough guidance to harness instinct’s pragmatic use, in a stage of development where in they are in their prime for learning. Yes, instinct has its shares of danger, but as Gladwell put it, it can be educated and controlled and can be as effective as the lengthy, methodical way of arriving at a solution.

Whether instinct is perceived as the inner voice from a guardian angel, a pure mental activity, or a product of melding between perception and cognition, one thing is certain: it has the capacity to deliver favorable result in a do-or-die situation. As for me, instinct is a reminder that humans are wonderfully made. We have a mind, which is adaptable to the need of a given situation, either for solving the distance of an intruder to a house’s perimeter, finding the perfect feet per second in hitting back at a tormentor, or just plainly ignoring the nuisance of precision and letting common sense take over. What can be as jaw dropping as that? I can only thank my creator for making me as I am!

 

Works Cited:

Fletcher, Ronald. Instinct in Man. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1957.

Gladwell, Malcom. Blink. New York: Hachete Book Group, Inc., 2005.

 
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Photo Credit: Zwark

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