How do autonomous animals fit into the order of the world? All things behave according to their structure. Since there are vast numbers of things, their interconnections are infinitely complex. Animals, though ignorant of themselves and their environment, find their way with marvelous precision through the labyrinth of reality. They seem to possess, as Fabre believed, an innate sense of the harmony of the universe. The same cannot be said of man. Life seems to have chosen two different methods of entering the world and developing itself. One method is instinct; the other intelligence and will.
All living beings, except man, possess a kind of innate knowledge of the world and of themselves. This instinct forces them to fit themselves completely and securely into the natural order. They are not free to make mistakes. Only beings endowed with reason are fallible and, consequently, perfectible. Insect communities prospered as well ten thousand years ago as they do today. In the higher animals such as anthropoid apes, elephants and dogs, instinct is surrounded by a fringe of intelligence. But, in the fundamental acts of life, intelligence is always eclipsed by instinct. Unlike a woman, a bitch never makes a mistake in caring for her puppies. Birds know when to build their nests; bees know the proper diet on which to rear queens, workers and drones. Since instinct is automatic;, animals are not free to live according to their own whims as men are. They adapt themselves as blindly and as precisely to their environment as the cells of our organs do to the physicochemical conditions of the blood and the tissue fluids. The animal and its environment could almost be compared to a perfectly balanced physical system. When our ancestors were still wild animals, instinct was their supreme guide.
By slow degrees, the advent of consciousness brought about the dissolution of instinct. Undoubtedly a fringe of instinct still surrounds the human intelligence. But it is not powerful enough to give us a firm grasp of the external world and to suit our behavior to its conditions. Man cannot, like the wolf, find his way in a dark forest without a guide. Neither can he distinguish friend from foe or the living from the dead at first sight. He is liberated from the automatism of tropisms and reflexes. He is free; he has acquired the privilege of being able to make mistakes. It is for him to choose his own way among all those offered, and to make himself follow the one he has chosen. All he can now rely on to direct his life is the conscious effort of his mind. And mind, as a guide, is less sure than instinct. Man still does not know how to behave. He has never succeeded in building an enduring civilization. One might say that consciousness has not yet evolved to the point where it is capable of ordering our collective life as efficiently as instinct governs the collective life of ants. No task, therefore, is more important than to increase the strength of the mind. Mind (or spirit, if we prefer the term) is at once intellect and feeling, reason and heart, logical and nonlogical activity. To adapt ourselves to reality we need feeling quite as much as intelligence. Intelligence grasps the external world and the interrelation of things, but does not drive us to action.
Intellectual activity consists of observing, remembering, comparing, judging and experimenting. First it makes an inventory of things; then it analyzes the influences these things exercise on each other. Thus it studies the influence of diet on health, of warm weather on the putrefaction of food, of bad temper on domestic harmony and numberless other relations of cause and effect. Knowledge thus obtained is the only reliable kind we have. We have to initiate ourselves into the essential nature of our body, our mind and our environment; to make contact with concrete reality. We have to learn what to eat, how to work and how to rest. We have to learn how to behave toward our families, friends and fellow workers; how to cooperate with our neighbor. Only from the data of observation and experience can we derive any notion of how to fit ourselves into the scheme of things. Thus it is the duty of each one of us to acquire this necessary knowledge of ourselves and our environment.