Drive and Instinct

Food for Thought

Why are we conflicted about what we want to eat? On the one hand, we want a cheeseburger deluxe full of cholesterol, and on the other, we want a salad full of vitamins. One way to think about it is that these two sides of ourselves are represented by our drive and instinct, respectively. Drive runs towards death, while instinct runs towards life. Instinct is easier to understand, so I’ll start there.

Sometimes we don’t feel 100%, and our bodies crave certain types of food. If we listen to our bodies carefully, we can instinctively know what we need to eat in order to fill what we lack. That bowl of salad in the photo tasted great, and I think it’s because my body really needed it. Instinct, in this manner, is biological, and it helps us live a healthier life.

Drive, on the other hand, is our death wish. In some sense, it’s biological too, but it’s more accurate to say genetic. We are genetically programmed to die because, without death, natural selection cannot work. We need to pass on our genes and then die. From this point of view, it makes sense that there is a drive within us to self-destruct. To know whose genes have a selective advantage in today’s environment, we all need to take risks to test our abilities. The advantageous ones survive and pass on their genes while the disadvantageous ones perish and stop passing on their genes. For this mechanism to work, we must have a drive to engage in risky behaviors, which is also why we culturally respect those who take risks.

This drive kicks into high gear in high school. Both boys and girls engage in risky behaviors to prove their worth to their peers, although the forms differ depending on gender. At this age, they just want to prove that they are willing to take risks, so they often do the dumbest things, but over time, they become more intelligent and capable of discerning which ones are meaningful and which ones are not. Really dumb ones die young, before they procreate, by taking pointless risks, and that’s good for evolution.

Drive is what pushes us to live a full life, our full genetic potential. In this sense, it’s just as important as instinct even though they conflict head to head.