Monday, July 02, 2007

Acquired Competence or Instinct?

“How Hardwired Is Human Behaviour?” asks Nigel Nicholson, professor of Organizational Behaviour at London Business School in a Harvard Business Review article (July-August 1998). The theme of the article analyzes aspects of evolutionary psychology and its implications on “how the human mind came to be constructed”. It contends that the evolution of the human mind through the ages leaves behind ‘traces’ of the dominant psychology of the era, and how those behaviours manifest themselves in current day organizations and society in general.

So, it contends for example, that the reflexes developed by the human mind as a requirement of the physiological situation during the Stone Age are still remnant in our minds today, and that we are born with these qualities, pre-programmed into our brains.

After being introduced to this article and subsequent discussions on the same in the classroom during an Organizational Behaviour course, I have been trying to resolve conflicts in my mind about this. Its implications bother me, as it does not gel with my personal views on one the fundamental tenets of philosophy; epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, which studies man’s means of cognition. “Is reason a faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses – or is it fed by innate ideas, implanted in man’s mind before he was born” asks Ayn Rand on epistemology. And, being a strong believer in the advocacy of ‘reason’, as a basis of understanding, the idea of being hardwired seems incorrect to me.

Photograph courtsey Amartya De

I watched the tribal dance show put up at the Singapore National Zoo today, and observed reactions of the audiences’ fascination of the performer, who (during the show) accurately managed to puncture balloons from a distance by shooting darts through a ‘pea-shooter’. It got me wondering if this concept of ‘hardwired brain’ also extended to the realm of ‘skills’. Are we naturally gifted with certain kind of survival skills or does man have to gain these through the employment of sensory stimuli to a rational exercise of practice?

It also got me wondering if the audience would appreciate the performer being naturally gifted with these hunting skills, or if he had gained the same through practice. Personally, I believe it should be the latter, appreciation for competence gained through the application of reason, rather than it being available as an innate pre-programmed instinct.


1. “How Hardwired Is Human Behaviour”, Nigel Nicholson – HBR July-August 1998
2. “Philosophy: Who Needs It”, Ayn Rand


Blogger By Chance said...

Reality Shows sell better than Soaps...what sez the Spark ??

Anonymous said...

My children are so well trained, that even when alone their sports are always serious.. In view of the complete identity found between the peculiarities of the dream-work and of the psychic activity forming the psychoneurotic symptoms, we shall feel justified in transferring to the dream the conclusions urged upon us by hysteria.. But the Colonel remained motionless and statuesque, with folded arms.. The two gurgled out some sounds which were intended for words and doged behind the bedroom door.. How do you reconcile that with your theory? The dream is as follows:-- I want to give a supper, but having nothing at hand except some smoked salmon, I think of going marketing, but I remember that it is Sunday afternoon, when all the shops are closed.. I--I didn't tell you--when I was on the other side, you know--it was rather dangerous--well, as I was saying--it looked--oh, it didn't look at all like this.. If Cady dodges, it ain't any business of mine.. Ellsworth were willing.. Madam, said Titbottom to my wife, whose heart hung upon his story; your husband's young friend, Aurelia, wears sometimes a camelia in her hair, and no diamond in the ball-room seems so costly as that perfect flower, which women envy, and for whose least and withered petal men sigh; yet, in the tropical solitudes of Brazil, how many a camelia bud drops from a bush that no eye has ever seen, which, had it flowered and been noticed, would have gilded all hearts with its memory.. He could feel it, if he could not see it, and he laughed aloud.. The brunette matron continued to stare at the shade in the exact spot upon which her gaze had been before directed, and she never quivered an eyelash.. If, in addition to our knowledge, we wish to be contented with a minimum perfectly established, we shall say that the dream gives us proof that the suppressed, material continues to exist even in the normal person and remains capable of psychic activity.. In despair I went to a great merchant on the island, and asked him to employ me.. There's the rattan in the corner: I'll bring it to you myself.. It gives a man lots of confidence to know he's good-looking, he remarked, taking all the room in front of the mirror.. A large proprietor, and an easy man, he basked in the tropical sun, leading his quiet, luxurious life.. 's brother mentioned in a former dream.. Nancy's head's red, red as a woodpeck's.. And the gentlemen repaired to the counting-house, where the six thousand dollars were paid, and the deeds of the property delivered. The crowd gazed after him with undisguised admiration of this new evidence of his pluck...

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