The hypothesis of instinct, as Gregory Bateson has pointed out (in Steps to an Ecology of Mind), is really a "black box" theory--a non-explanation in which modern science deposits all that it does not understand about a given subject and then agrees to call it an explanation.

Barfield, of course, understands instinct in Anthroposophical terms as the product of "superindividual wisdom." "If we really look at nature--if we really observe without the tabu at the back of our minds--," he explains in Speaker's Meaning, "there is nothing whatever to suggest that she has 'no inside.' Indeed, there is everything to suggest the contrary. The concept of 'instinct,' however it is taken, alone implies as much. For instinct cannot be understood, cannot honestly be conceived, otherwise than as a superindividual wisdom at work in nature" (SM 112).

In Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning, he professes his conviction that "animals have more participation than human beings, and what participation they have is obviously original. . . . They have a group soul. . . . When you see all these birds suddenly decide to leave the roof and fly round and round, it can't be that one of them says 'Come on chaps, let's go then.' It's obviously some kind of mental experience common to them all."

See in particular "Subject and Object in the History of Meaning" (SM 92-118).