Are Instincts Hardened Routines? A Radical Proposal
Routines and instincts are similar in terms of function and structure: 1) With respect to function, they economize on scarce decision-making resources, such as cognitive faculties, by making actions, within limits, inflexible vis-à-vis fluctuating environmental stimuli. As inflexible patterns, they are units that can be transferred via inheritance or social learning. 2) With respect to structure, routines are simply the detailing of the more abstract underpinning instincts. If so, the similarity of routines and instincts amount to homology rather than simple analogy. So, instincts and routines are constituents of the same phenomenon. This behooves to have a single theory that explains their formation. But the literature largely lacks such a theory. Pointedly, natural selection theory, which can explain instincts, cannot explain routines because they arise during ontogeny. This paper proposes a solution, a radical one: the rational choice approach. The radical proposal can, first, show that routines arise on the basis of rational choice. If routines are ultimately hardened instincts, the proposal can, second, show that instincts arise also on the basis of rational choice. While this solution invites Lamarckism, it offers a single and simple account of routines and instincts—as account that meets Ockham’s razor.
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