If we observe plant and animal life, we may see that it conforms to certain natural processes in what are instinctive and well-defined ways. The animal acts as it does because it follows the programming built into its very being. There is no confusion or mental conflict at work in the animal as it carries out its assigned tasks. On the other hand, human beings are capable of being aware of the drives that motivate them, through the capacity of mental insight and self-reflection. That is not to say that all human actions are governed by this capacity; to a great degree, the human individual still is governed by instinct and pre-determined drives that mirror those at work in the animal consciousness. Yet this is a distinctly human characteristic and it leads to both a drive toward realization of new and higher forms of action, and a sense of intense dissatisfaction for those who are awake to this need yet find that the animal-consciousness still governs much of their response to life.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The subhuman life of animal and plant is not subjected to this necessity of knowledge nor of that which is the necessary accompaniment of knowledge, a conscious will impelled always to execute what knowledge perceives. By this exemption it is saved from an immense amount of error, deformation and disease, for it lives spontaneously according to Nature, its knowledge and will are hers and incapable, whether conscient or subconscient, of variation from her laws and dictates”
There are those who preach that the entire problem of man is the very fact of the development and reliance on the power of mentality, as thereby man has left his natural being and imposed many artificial constraints and directions on his nature, thus creating the dissatisfaction and imbalances that would disappear if he would just “return to nature”. Yet this approach fails to recognize that the mentality is itself a development of Nature and a further expression of the will of Nature in the evolution of consciousness. .
“It is, we may say, Nature become partly conscious of her own laws and forces, conscious of her struggle of progression and inspired with the conscious will to impose a higher and higher law on her own processes of life and being. In subhuman life there is a vital and physical struggle, but no mental conflict. Man is subjected to this mental conflict and is therefore at war not only with others but with himself; and because he is capable of this war with himself, he is also capable of that which is denied to the animal, of an inner evolution, a progression from higher to higher type, a constant self-transcending.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 147-148