What is intuition? Is it usually wise to follow your intuition?


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What is intuition? Is it usually wise to follow your intuition?

What is Intuition?

You sit at home late on a Friday evening, and concern for a friend strikes suddenly making you call only to confirm the feeling that your friend is depressed. Knowing your friend is in crisis is a phenomenon many people experience known as “intuition.”

Intuition is the feeling or thought formed from beliefs, opinion, experience, and other subjective reasoning. All people experience intuition, with some utilizing it more than others while many seek to control this phenomenon. Knowing your friend is in crisis is a powerful form of predictive ability.

Some individuals tend to rely on intuition and appear to have success with this ability. However, gut feelings and other forms of intuition may mask experience or other forms of knowledge about a given situation. For example, a businessperson who appears to operate on gut feelings about investment may have success attributable to experience derived from similar experiences. Similarly, a businessperson may take a risk adverse approach to investment, which lends itself to safer investments. In either case, the businessperson appears to be using intuition successfully when they are actually making more calculated decisions.

The ability of the mind to know something without conscious thought seems to fly in the face of many well-structured philosophies and critical analysis processes intended to improve thinking. One theory somewhat explaining intuition is Recognition-primed decision (RPD) model. This theory assumes a person intuiting is comparing multiple actions and challenges to actions quickly due to experience, formulating possible outcomes and choosing the likeliest. However, this does not explain how intuition happens in individuals who are not experienced in a particular situation such as believing something bad is happening at work only to discover the company is laying everyone off.

Intuition is often given too much credit, as in the case of the businessperson, and overconfidence in this phenomenon turns to serious misjudgments.

The Wisdom of Following Intuition

In many instances, intuition can have devastating results such as investing. Speculative investing often comes down to gut feelings concerning the viability and future worth of ideas such as autonomous vehicle technologies, which appear to be a good investment as artificial intelligence continues automating many common tasks. However, speculative investors are often wrong and sink money into technologies companies that fail. Investment in MySpace might have seemed like a good idea but ultimately the company did not become the success hoped despite being one of the largest and most popular social media sites prior to Facebook. Every year investors lose millions perhaps billions of dollars using gut feelings to gamble on startup companies.

Relying on intuition is a gamble in many instances since the process of intuiting is still largely unknown. This gap in understanding of intuition gives rise to the issue of superstition which often impacts intuitive thought.

Superstition vs Intuition

Intuition can be misinformed through a common belief system known as superstition. B.F. Skinner researched superstitious behaviors, studying people’s impact of belief on a person’s actions and how this reinforced behavior (Morris & Maisto, 2002). Skinner experimented with a pigeon in a cage given food randomly and over time, the pigeon began repeating behaviors performed prior to food being provided. Somehow the pigeon linked actions with the reward of food despite there being no connection.

Superstitious behavior works in the same manner as people link random often inconsequential actions with outcomes thus giving the appearance of intuition. For instance, if a salesperson believes the old wives tale that an itchy palm means money is forthcoming, then going to work and making a sale is then erroneously attributed to intuition. The person did not know they were going to make money but instead believed or hoped based on superstition which the random sale reinforced belief. Sadly, the many wrong assumptions based on this thinking are often never considered in relation to the few instances of being correct.

What is intuition?
Black cats are still considered the harbingers of bad luck in many places in the world because of superstition.

Intuition is considered phenomena for the good reason that its mechanics are not fully understood at present. Yet, the power of intuitive thought is clear as it provides predictive capability and often fast answers to situations. Not understanding this thought mechanism makes intuition an unreliable method of deduction, and for certain if we desire to understand and use it more effectively, we need to recognize when we are relying on superstitious or irrational beliefs.

Intuition & Superstition In The Context of Experience

Philosopher David Hume developed Empiricism, a philosophical approach emphasizing the necessity of experience and observation when forming knowledge and beliefs. Hume argued all knowledge is ultimately derived from sense experience, and there exists no innate knowledge or ideas independent of experience. He also argued that knowledge is always subject to revision and correction based on new evidence. In the context of Empiricism, experience fuels both intuition and superstition.

Superstition and intuition are both forms of assumption, with intuition based on rational observations (experience), while superstition forms in irrational or unfounded assumptions. Hume argued superstition results from our tendency to associate events that occur in sequence, and to infer a causal connection between them, without any rational basis. He also argued that superstition is a result of our tendency to rely on authority, tradition, or custom, rather than on our own reason and observation.

If you see a black cat and something bad happens, intuition might warn you the next time you see a black cat. This intuition becomes superstition when passed along to other people who adopt this fear of black cats as a tradition or customary belief. As such, neither intuition nor superstition is reliable since they are based on assumptions and we should seek to verify our intuition with observable evidence and to avoid superstition. 

Hume’s Empiricism can help us to avoid superstition by encouraging us to question our beliefs and practices, and to seek empirical evidence to support or refute them. Hume’s Empiricism can also help us to avoid overconfidence in our intuition, which is often influenced by superstition, and to be more aware of the limitations and sources of our knowledge. Hume’s Empiricism can thus help us to develop a more critical and scientific attitude towards the world.

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

Photo by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash

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