"My instinct tells me ..."
"It's got a bad vibe."
"It just feels right."
Intuition is unreflected understanding or preference. It doesn't result from cogitation or meditation, but is a rough-and-ready response to a situation.
Infants and animals work predominantly from this sense of intuition. Adults, however, having a cogitating organ, have a choice whether to behave intuitively or whether to take a considered approach.
Women are generally believed to have a stronger sense of intuition.
What is intuition? What is its basis? Is it trustworthy?
If one understands the mental apparatus to be working at various levels, intuition can be usefully considered as subliminal processing of data. There is a vast reservoir of accumulated knowledge in the human brain, which manifests itself as subconscious reactions. This reservoir is formed both genetically (patterns at birth) and culturally (after birth).
Intuition leads to an affective pull or push towards a situation. One can intuitively feel ill at ease, and intuitively feel as if everything "clicks" and that one should go ahead.
The conscious brain and the hidden layers work in tandem to help our survival and propagation. These hidden layers are part of our collective intelligence formed over eons of responding to situations and circumstances. The neo-cortex, on the other hand, is more structured and algorithmic.
Perhaps a useful way to understand our responses is the following ladder of structural thinking, each successive rung more structured than the former:
- Verbal Thought (Language and Thinking)
- Written Thought (Planning and Calculating)
When one of these rungs is insufficiently informed, we feel unsure of ourselves. But usually, in times of uncertainty and ambiguity, it feels more satisfying to go with the lower rung (e.g. intuition instead of thought, a gut feeling about the market instead of following a trading algorithm), since the lower rung is more affective in nature.
Each of these rungs can lead to erroneous or sub-optimal responses, but it is important to realize that each of these rungs is a part of a spectrum of internal processing, and is based upon a certain body of accumulated knowledge which must have had validity at some point to have become part of our brains.
Intuition can be wrong because it is too diffuse and considers the variables in a fuzzy way, and structured thought can lead to ludicrous conclusions because it could be too discrete and leaves out significant variables.
An example is Diet Planning. Intuitively, one chooses foods based on taste and freshness (in general). Given that our taste centers evolved to favor fatty and sweet foods, this subconscious preference may not be healthy in modern times. On the other hand, conscious dieting may not consider the importance of taste and variety and may feel like a punishment. A good diet will taste good, and will also be low in calories. It is obviously foolish to advise someone to ignore taste and just "eat to live", and it is equally foolish to recommend someone to "live to eat".
In many other fields, however, our intuitive understanding may be very valid. A woman intuitively knows when a man is interested only in bedding her, and a man intuitively knows when he is being sold something in the garb of polite talk.
To disregard intuition is to handicap oneself and to limit oneself to the use of only conscious, structured thought. It is to assume that one's structured thought has reached such heights of efficiency that one no longer needs the collective intelligence coded into one's brain. That all beliefs, morals, the sense of conscience, the various affective memories, are not needed any more. The perils of this approach can only be imagined. In an extreme case, one may lose the plot completely and not know right from wrong, healthy from unhealthy, or become a social misfit, etc. Since structured thought can, given suitable assumptions, justify any proposition which is not inherently contradictory, a fully rational human being can become dangerously manipulative and self-serving in a way which is immune to being corrected. On what basis can you criticize a person who doesn't believe in anything other humans believe in? He will just say: "Mind your own business". The only sensible response (for a stranger) to such a person is to leave him/her alone, and the worst possible response to such a person is to emotionally invest oneself in him/her. I pity those (e.g. family members) who have no choice but to live with such a person and suffer the callous indifference.
On the other hand, to disregard structured thought is to live as an infant.
The media today is relentlessly demolishing our intuitive feelings of what is right and wrong by presenting the "wrongs" (the things our parents say are not to be done: smoking, promiscuity, drugs, drinking, gambling, driving fast and recklessly, eating unhealthy food) in a confusing way which looks "cool" and pleasurable. No wonder parents are highly stressed to be constantly course-correcting their children from dangerous behavior.
Exacerbated by media presence, it is the disease of modern times to disregard tradition as unequivocally unhealthy and stale, and to only "think for oneself" and be "on one's own". By presenting some outdated traditions as "sick", it is portrayed that to completely reject one's legacy is the only sensible way to live.
The knowledge of history and culture which could supplant intuition and lead to reasoned moral behavior is hard to impart and imbibe, and who has the time and the mental bandwidth? Affective rewards and punishments ("you will go to hell if you have sex before marriage" is an easier device to use).
In this way, the rejection of intuition (which is nothing but culture and conditioning) is related to amorality and narcissism.
Intuition is a very significant part of what makes us human. It is an inner compass which tells us if we are going right or wrong. If this faculty frequently leads to mistakes for a certain person, then perhaps it needs a re-tuning, rather than a rejection. An analogy would be the steering wheel of a car. If it is not working well, it needs to be fixed, rather than to be thrown out.
Intuition is the accumulated and distilled experiences of other human beings working through us. Yes, they could be wrong and we could be in a unique situation. But one would be foolish (not to say arrogant) to always only trust and depend upon oneself.