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The Folly of Intuition

 
 
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 12:45 pm
I am always amazed at how common people advise us to "follow our intuition". There is a persistent belief in popular culture that our subconscious has some sort of mystical power to know without knowing.

The obvious problem with this is that our intuition is very often completely wrong, sometimes disastrously so. Intuition is what we know without conscious thought or careful reasoning. It drives our prejudices, it informs our fears and causes irrational behavior from road rage, to bad relationships.

Of course, there is a reason we have a subconscious. If the first warning our genetic ancestors had they were about to be devoured by the carnivorous cat a few yards away was a faint rustling of grass, the ability to act without thinking was a pretty big evolutionary advantage.

But when there is time to sit down and think critically with a carefully consideration of the facts, using our conscious reason is clearly better than a quick intuition. The idea that our minds will block information available to our subconscious from the rational decision making parts of our brain is ridiculous. This would be a pretty big flaw in our brains with no evolutionary advantage.

I wish people would use their conscious rational minds more. I with they would take time to carefully consider evidence before making a reasoned decision. But people seem to want to believe there is some magic "subconscious" with superhuman powers who can make decisions for them without any thought.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 9 • Views: 5,024 • Replies: 67

 
Mame
 
  5  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 12:57 pm
I disagree. Whenever I follow my intuition, I make the right move. When I second-guess my intuition, I then have to rely on my rational mind and don't always make the right decisions. Just because a decision is rational doesn't make it the right one for you at that time.
rosborne979
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 01:13 pm
@maxdancona,
Intuition is also a good "tie breaker" when everything else has been considered and nothing stands out as the preferred answer. But I agree, it's not a good replacement for analytical thought.
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Lustig Andrei
 
  4  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 01:15 pm
Completely disagree with Max. Completely agree with Mame. If a particular course of action intuitively seems right, then it probably is right. Logic and rational planning have absolutely nothing to do with the eventual outcome. Feel it, do it. Don't overthink it.

Any Zen Budhist will tell you that.
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Setanta
 
  4  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 03:55 pm
It is perhaps the case that what is referred to as intuition is the result of subconscious processes which do in fact examine the available data, weigh it, and provide an answer without our being aware of the process.
Lustig Andrei
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 04:11 pm
@Setanta,
Okay. I'll drink to that.

Another vente espresso, barrista!
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maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 04:50 pm
@Setanta,
Self awareness of the process is key. The advantage of the conscious process of examining available data, weighing it and providing an answer is precisely that we are aware of the process. We can question each step, account for our own biases and to look at different viewpoints.

There is no advantage to being unaware (outside of the need to make an urgent decision without taking the time to think).

That fact that intuition is done outside of our awareness makes it quite susceptible to biases, both our own or the biases of others. Religions are based on what feels right. Arguments against evolution and global warming and vaccines are all based on gut feelings.

The world is full of examples where intuition has led people very badly astray.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 04:54 pm
@Mame,
Mame, to me not "second-guessing" a decision is a separate issue. It is important to be able to make a final decision and follow through with it. This is what self-confidence is about.

Going through the process of considering evidence and questioning initial impulses before coming to a reasoned final decision is still important.
PUNKEY
 
  2  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 05:19 pm
See: "third eye" of the chakra.

Yes, I believe in intuition. After all the facts are in, one can come to a conclusion. But intuition can help to seal the decision.
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maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 06:47 pm
It is interesting that people are saying that they see intuition as part of the final decision making process. For me it is the opposite.

When I use my intuition, it is constitutes the first step of a thought process. I acknowledge my first impulse and then use it as a basis for looking at facts, asking questions and considering alternatives.

Intuition might be a jumping off point, but for important things I want to end up making a rational, conscious decision.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:08 pm
@maxdancona,
The key to what? Have the courtesy not to dictate to me as though you know the truth beyond question. One of the greatest failings of humanity is that people do not question each step, account for their biases and look at different viewpoints. You are ascribing to conscious decision making a reationality which my experience tells me is rare to non-exitstent.

The world is full of examples where "rationality" has led people very badly astray.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:22 pm
In 1865, the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé published a paper in French (for he was then teaching in Francophone Belgium) suggesting that the structure contained a six-membered ring of carbon atoms with alternating single and double bonds. . . . The new understanding of benzene, and hence of all aromatic compounds, proved to be so important for both pure and applied chemistry that in 1890 the German Chemical Society organized an elaborate appreciation in Kekulé's honor, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first benzene paper. Here Kekulé spoke of the creation of the theory. He said that he had discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail (this is a common symbol in many ancient cultures known as the Ouroboros or Endless knot). This vision, he said, came to him after years of studying the nature of carbon-carbon bonds.

Source at Wikipedia

Not all useful solutions to problems are served up by the conscious mind.
Mame
 
  2  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:23 pm
@maxdancona,
You should read The Gift of Fear. All about trusting your instincts/intuition. Come back after you've read that and we'll talk.
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:43 pm
@Mame,
There is a big difference between rational fear and irrational fear. That difference is reason. Fear that isn´t based on reason and evidence is a bad thing.

People with dark skin face this all the time where ¨intuition¨ of people around them put them on edge. This is damaging as anyone who has faced prejudice will tell you.

If I can´t tell what my fear is based on, it is almost always based on prejudice. If the subconscious part of my brain had some legitimate reason for making me afraid, what is the purpose of it keeping this reason a secret from me?
maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 09:52 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta,

Maybe the snake was an inspiration, I have already accepted that intuition can be the start of rational thought, but the snake vision wasn´t the end. Kekule´s paper was based not on visions, but on reasoned argument and evidence that is the backbone of science.

There are lots of examples in science where intuitive ideas were accepted until rational thought and evidence proved them bogus. This was Aristotle´s folly which lasted until Galileo. Then there was the Musica Universalis, and the four humors and countless other examples.

Science is the worst example you could possibly use. In science reason, evidence and careful thought always triumph over impulse and intuition.
engineer
 
  3  
Reply Sun 29 Apr, 2012 11:11 pm
I think the question of intuition versus considered rational thought depends on the nature of the question being considered. I belive that for complicated problems with many variables, intuition is the brain's way of simplifying a complex problem down so that a quick decision can be made and often leads to bad results. President Bush was famous (infamous) for saying he made decsions based on "gut feelings" and I personally find his gut to be less feeling than I would prefer. I find when engineers make decisions based on intuition the results are less than optimal. On the other hand, I find intuition generally works well in personal interactions. If you get the feeling someone is giving you a line or something is not right you are probably on to something.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  2  
Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 03:23 am
@maxdancona,
I'll just point out that you're the one who claimed that personal experience is a valid form of scientific evidence, which, of course, it is not. Now you're quibbling between inspiration and intuition, which i suspect is because you cannot admit that you may not understand everything which is going on in the human brain. I submit to you that the conscious mind is a selective sample off what is going on inside the brain, because you would be deafened into paralysis if everything which goes on in your head were shouting for your attention at the same time.

You have no basis upon which to group impulse with instution. You are displaying a preferential bias for your own, narrow understanding of thought processes. I may be wrong about intuition, but that doesn't make your simple-minded description of thought correct.
Frank Apisa
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 04:06 am
@maxdancona,
Not really sure it is an "either" "or" situation.

Mostly, I think we take a look at all alternatives and then simply choose the one that "feels" best.

I suspect I use both sides of that coin almost every time in my decisions.
0 Replies
 
djjd62
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 05:20 am
i rarely, if ever, let facts or information get in the way of my intuition
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maxdancona
 
  1  
Reply Mon 30 Apr, 2012 05:53 am
@Setanta,
There is a scientific question here (meaning it can be tested in a way that is measurable and repeatable).

Are people more correct when they stick with their intuition? Or are we more correct when they take time to consider our answers using reason and evidence? (This is the question we are debating, right?)

Of course this research has been done. It turns out that intuition is quite often measurably wrong and that reasoned thought makes it much more likely that you will get the correct answer.

You can read about this yourself -- http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1572

Interesting points.

-- People do better on tests when they reconsider and change their initial answers.
-- On average when asked how many murders there are in a year in Michigan people will intuitively make guesses with a median 100. When asked how many murders there are in Detroit people will guess a median of 200. Pointing out the fact Detroit is in Michigan will lead to a better "intuition".

The purpose of intuition is to make quick decisions when there isn't time for reasoned thought. The science says the same thing that I am saying. When there is time for careful thought, reason does much better than intuition.
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