A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”
Replies the scorpion: “I am a scorpion, it’s my nature…”
This metaphor which enjoys many interpretations (from “altruism won’t work” to “ruthlessness is key for success”) serves as the perfect example for how the humain brain works. Or in other words: Don’ try to control your instincts with logic.
Sorry Mr. Spock
When briefly looking at the brain’s architecture the above seems obvious. Brain scientists would tell us that the brain basically consists of three parts: the brainstem, the cerebellum, and the cerebrum.
First part (and the youngest in the evolution) is the cerebrum, composed of two hemispheres, left and right, and with a surface, called the cortex. It represents logical thinking, learning ability, weighing pros and cons, thinking in terms of “what’s in for me?”. Star Trek Mr. Spock’s mindset.
Second part is the cerebellum, located under the cerebrum and responsible for muscles, movements and coordination.
Third and oldest part is the brainstem including midbrain, pons and medulla (sometimes referred as the crocodile part). It is the automated center for breathing, heart rate, sleep cycles and connects the other brain parts to the spinal cord.
Not going into details of brain anatomy, one thing remains constant: when outside information hits the eyes, the reptilian brain is always the first to process the information. Since the brain works energy efficient, and is considered to be “lazy”, it will only give the other brain parts a go, if and when the information processed is either new and exciting or dangerous. So even Mr. Spock is not solely logical.
Does Logic Work Over Instinct?
Consider two examples:
If once a Caveman went around the corner spotting a wild beast, he instantly either attacked or started running. No time for logical examination of the situation. He would be dead otherwise.
Let’s take Cassandra, the 21-year old daughter of project manager Joe being harassed by Joe’s boss Frank at the yearly family & friends barbecue of the company. Joe, the proud father’s instant reaction would not be something like “admittedly it’s my boss, and if I speak up against him or intervene, it will hurt my career”. Not really. Joe would instantly feel the need to teach him a lesson he won’t forget.
So much for logic over instinct.
Cavemen With Smartphones
Have you ever made a personal or business encounter and you felt within seconds that it could work out positively? Have you ever accepted a business deal because of many logical reasons, although it did not feel right and in fact it failed later on? Sounds familiar?
Gut decisions reinforced and backed up by logical assessment are the ultimate decision factor in business and private. You can never go wrong with it. In the above metaphor the frog only saw the scorpion’s, his natural foe’s logical argument (“Because if I do, I will die too.”). If he had listened to his survival instinct (and paying tribute to the reptilian brain), he would never have accepted the deal and therefore would have stayed alive.
Or with Richard Bransons famous words: feel it or forget it…