The Adaptation of the Survival Instinct

The Adaptation of the Survival Instinct
DualityIncarnate
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Posted Jan 9, 2010 - 1:41 AM:
Subject: The Adaptation of the Survival Instinct
In a normal person fear becomes a steady constant. A minor fear of everything enables us to recognize the danger in the world around us, which in turn keeps us alive. This fear is contingent on the threats around us, however it is human nature to keep ones self out of harms way and thus threats are eliminated whenever possible. Here in lies the transformation from the survival instinct into greed.

Greed is the newest variation of the survival instinct, the difference being knowledge. The survival instinct doesn’t understand threats like economics, politics, or mental state. These modern threats are indirect, not damaging lives but acting as explanations as to why lives are damaged. Thus a simple compulsion to survive can no longer be used to dictate our lives, unequipped to deal with the complex scenarios created by an intellectual world.

Using material possession we have created a physical barrier between us and all conceivable threats, complex and simple. The most universal example of this being the urge to own property, preferably a house surrounded by a decent plot of land which is then encompassed by a fence, sense of security achieved. Systems like rights and law enforcement form additional layers of protection. Now money is thrown into the mix and suddenly there is no possible means of guaranteed survival except to have a pile of money so big that not even the greed of others could destroy it.

Alas we are all ill fated. Not even the innumerable layers of defense we have barricaded around ourselves can provide relief from our mortality. We can push the life span as far as we want but eventually every clock stops ticking. Yet greed will not bare such an unavoidable destiny. One man screams death and another screams eternity, who do the people fallow? Countless are bought, their greed forcing them to deny the only threat left undefended and ignorance steals times thunder.

Time… time is our only true remaining adversary. However time is merely a figment of our imagination, created by man as the only possible expansion beyond the now. We use time as an assurance, a bullshit excuse to think that the world around us is consistent and predictable. Ironic in a way, that this figment of our imagination represents not only our sole source of knowledge (essentially our means of protecting ourselves) but also our inevitable end.

Greed tells us that we must have more; more time, more money, more systems of protection, and more stability. However this consistency we seek is unattainable, contradicting the chaotic nature of a world where the only true constant is change. Greed can not endure change, the survival instinct will rise again.

Only that which exists on both sides of this coin will remain unchanged, only the driving force can endure both rise and fall. Fear is unavoidable, no matter the scenario. Fear is a result of change, or more precisely the knowledge that change is inevitable. Our intellect can calculate innumerable possible outcomes to any given scenario and with this awareness comes uncertainty. With each new development we learn of more possible outcomes and the fire is fueled.

However while knowledge is the fuel of fear it is also our only weapon against our fears. Thus as a person grows their fear and strength grow in unison. It is in this balance that we find a chaotic harmony which all life must endure.

jsidelko
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Posted Jan 9, 2010 - 6:16 AM:

Welcome!

For thousands of years our ancestors were shaped by natural selection to maximize survival in a fairly constant environment. The explosive change in the past one hundred years has left us maladapted. Our desire for food, clothing and shelter which was adaptive for the environmental deficiencies in the past are now maladaptive in a world of surplus (in more affluent parts of the world).

Melmoth
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Posted Jan 9, 2010 - 4:36 PM:

I've once written a small essay on change, and the fact that nothing on Earth ever remains the same. The argument you put forward that our constant search for 'more' of everything cannot be satisfied is true, in the sense that we search for conflicting values. Once--for a human--survival is no longer difficult, or a point of worrying, the hunger for something else sets in. The danger lies in the fact that anything we obtain outside the means to survive, pose a danger to that same survival. Think of cigarettes, and alcohol. People willingly and knowingly poison their bodies, and the survival instinct does not react. The mind deems itself safe, and instinct is disabled by this sense of safety. This is possible in the modern Western world, as is proven by the increasing average age of death, and the number of seniors.

None of this, however, means the survival instinct no longer exists--at least in the current generation, not discussing future evolution--in the minds of people. This can easily be experienced personally, by going to a part of the world which is not safe, and with lower living standards.
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Posted Jan 9, 2010 - 8:58 PM:

I like this forum already.

In both surplus and deficiency there is danger, however as the dangers are different so to are our means of defending against them. In a world of little you must be mobile as to make use of a larger territory. Becoming sedentary was a commitment to maintaining a surplus which created a much more complex threat. It's at this turnover point that man began to use higher thought over the survival instinct.


To Melmoth:
Is dormancy really worthy of noting as existence though? If an instinct is kicked back into the background it can most assuredly rise again, but it is only when that instinct is needed it bears major effect on our body chemistry. (and in turn personality and so forth) A big part of the survival instinct is a hormone cocktail that enables us to do what is necessary to survive despite the indirect threats our actions present, thus when the instinct is dormant those hormones are not effecting us, at least not in the same way. I'd imagine the long spans that people go without experiencing these peak points would dull the underlying activities of the survival instinct as well.

As for the toxins we freely ingest, I'd say those are an integral part of the transformation I spoke of. They represent a point where the survival instinct is so dulled that the mind seeks other dangers in taunting rebellion against our mortality.
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Posted Jan 10, 2010 - 3:34 AM:

Though this is quite interesting, it all begs the question, what exactly is this 'survival instinct'?

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Posted Jan 10, 2010 - 4:50 AM:

Survival instinct can certainly be lulled asleep by a secure environment. Contrastingly, it may also be disabled or temporarily missing because of circumstances that cause a person to loathe his own existence in such a manner that surviving is deemed worse than not surviving, thus bringing in the aspect of suicide; the one situation where survival instinct is ignored, or absent.

That leaves a number of possible black/white situations, based on the environment:
1. Survival is the top priority. Daily actions consist of gathering means to survive, and protecting oneself from harm. The instinct to survive is very much active.

2. Survival is more or less guaranteed. Means to survive are surplus and readily available. The mind starts seeking ways to activate the dormant survival instinct.

3. Survival is unwanted. The instinct is absent or ignored, and a person no longer seeks to avoid perishment.
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Posted Jan 10, 2010 - 9:06 PM:

DualityIncarnate says:

In a normal person fear becomes a steady constant. A minor fear of everything enables us to recognize the danger in the world around us, which in turn keeps us alive. This fear is contingent on the threats around us, however it is human nature to keep ones self out of harms way and thus threats are eliminated whenever possible. Here in lies the transformation from the survival instinct into greed.

"Fear being a steady constant" describes an abnormal psychology. It is not "a minor fear of everything" which keeps us alive: selectively learned fears (Parents make the first selections for us, later on we add others, based on our unique experience) protect us far more than any generalized, indiscriminate fear.

Is there really a survival instinct?



Animals have instincts to breed, to seek food, maintain homeostasis, etc. using their various physical properties. Birds fly south in the fall, fish leap out of the water to catch insects, everybody mates in the spring, and so on. Specific instincts keep an animal alive (much of the time)

but 'survival' seems too general a program for instincts to achieve.

"Greed is the newest variation of the survival instinct"

"Survival instinct" is at least lightly loaded, whereas "greed" is a heavily freighted judgemental term. Is a squirrel snarfing up all of the bird seed in the feeder being greedy? Or is the squirrel merely making the most of a plentiful food supply? As loaded as "greed" is, it is at the same time imprecise. At what point does a Wall Street banker cross the line between 'successful' and 'greedy'?

"we have created a physical barrier between us and all conceivable threats, complex and simple. The most universal example of this being the urge to own property, preferably a house surrounded by a decent plot of land"

First, owning a house on a plot of land is hardly protection against any and all conceivable threats. Such a supposition is the product of an insufficiently vivid imagination. The urge to own property (fence and all) is hardly universal. It is, in the United States at least, a fetish of the middle classes and a tool of the ruling classes. Mortgages are powerful instruments of exploitation and control.

I could go on, but I would urge you to think this through a bit more thoroughly.
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Posted Jan 11, 2010 - 1:15 AM:

Never have I had my words so thoroughly challenged, I really like this crowd.

So it seems I made some improper word choice. Since these aren't the proper descriptions, and I admit I've fallen short on what the correct choice would be, let me explain what I think the meaning of greed and survival instinct are at least in reference to these writings.

I think greed is a relative term describing peoples unceasing need to have more than everyone else, rather than just more. You see, someone else having more that you poses an indirect threat, even if it's just a threat to your mental state.

Survival instinct I'd say is a select group of hormones our body releases when we feel threatened. It describes that feeling you get when a girl shoots you down as well as when someone tries to kill you. It's the hormones our body releases to help us defend against threats to our basic requirements of living: food, water, shelter, and sex.

And you're right Bitter Crank, this wasn't too well thought out. I just had and idea and wanted to see how far I could take it.
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Posted Jan 13, 2010 - 5:32 AM:

To me, "survival instinct" would be the the inability to force yourself not to breathe, or stop your heart by willpower alone. It is the most basic biological machinery that keeps us operating. As for food, water, shelter and sex, I think they may be higher order instincts because, no matter how unpleasant, it is possible to refrain from them through willpower alone.

Greed is also difficult to pin down, but if i was to try, I would say greed is unethical consumption, or consumption that causes harm. In the case of the Wall Street Banker, he is successful if he makes his money in an ethical manner within an ethical system. If, on the other hand, he is fraudulent in his business practice or the system as a whole is considered harmful, then he is greedy to profit from it.

Not sure if these definitions will hold water...
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Posted Jan 14, 2010 - 3:03 PM:

While survival instinct is activated in immediate fight or flight situations, it is dubious that it is the prime motivator in situations that require decisions made in less immediate circumstances. I think the whole concept of "survival instinct" has been overblown and misconstrued in order to provide psychological cover for many unethical and morally dubious decisions that are driven by conscious choice and subject to in depth considerations of social standing, family, etc.

To claim that greed is a "survival instinct" is disingenuous at best.
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