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Where Are You Headed? -- Writer's Poke #422

Newly-hatched green sea turtles immediately head toward the ocean. How do they know to do that? The answer is “instinct,” but then the question becomes, “Where does instinct come from?" Is instinct encoded in the green sea turtles’ DNA? Could scientists, for example, somehow manipulate the green sea turtles’ DNA so that it headed away from the ocean? 

The green sea turtles aren’t the only animals born with an innate knowledge of what they need to do to survive. Another powerful example that comes to mind is the salmon, which may travel a thousand miles or more to spawn in the same location as it was born. First, how does it recall specifically where it was born, and what compels it to swim past a gauntlet of obstacles to reach its destination? Again, instinct, right? But again, where is instinct located? 

Human beings are animals, too, of course, and we have instincts. But do we have anything like the instincts of green sea turtles and salmon? Unlike these and other animals, we obviously have the advantage of learning what we need to know. That advantage may also be a detriment, however, as our ability to learn may cover and even block our natural instincts. Might we, in fact, learn that following our instincts is “wrong” or “sinful” or “animalistic”? 

Humans sometimes seem to acknowledge their animal natures, but for the most part, they attempt to hide behind the idea that they are more than animal. Perhaps that is true, but in claiming to be more than animal, is it wise or even necessary to ignore the amazing gifts we, like the green sea turtles and salmon and our other animal cousins, possess?

What about human instinct?

“Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Keep thinking about this and similar things. That may be a major difference between humans and other living things.


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