Intuition: Its Powers and Perils by David Myers

  1. To plumb the disparate discoveries about intuition – the powers and the perils and how we can use it to better our lives. To bring awareness that our intuition could benefit from some correction, in realms from sports to business to spirituality, makes clear the need for disciplined training of the mind. Intuition works well in some realms, but it needs restraints and checks in others. The biggest truth about learning is that its purpose is to unlock the human mind and to develop it into an organ capable of thought – conceptual thought, analytical thought, sequential thought
Key Takeaways
  1. Intuition
    1. The capacity for direct knowledge, it is experiential, emotional, mediate by vibes from past experience, self-evident, for immediate insight without observation or reason, perception-like, rapid, effortless
      1. Compared to deliberate thinking which is slow, rational, critical, analytic, mediated by conscious appraisal, justified with logic and evidence, differentiated
    2. If intuition is immediate knowing, without reasoned analysis, then perceiving is intuition par excellence. Human intelligence is more than logic, more than ordering words, more than conscious cognition
    3. Intuition is nothing more, nothing less than recognition, simply analyses frozen into habit. Intuition sometimes compresses years of experience into instant insight. Hence the importance of filling the brain/body/soul with positive information, ideal situations, getting quick/accurate feedback and learning/iterating towards the ideal
  2. The Powers
    1. We know more than we know we know. The autonomic nervous system responds with measurable perspiration and sped up pulse when a loved one’s face is shown, the body displays recognition although we may not react. What the conscious mind cannot understand, the heart knows
    2. Everyday perception – instant parallel processing and integration of complex information streams
    3. Automatic processing – absent-mindedness but allows you to focus on the big stuff. So much of who what we do/perceive is never conscious. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them
    4. Young children’s intuitive learning
    5. Brain can rationalize and create a story about anything. When the two minds are at odds, the left brain acts as the brain’s press agent, doing mental gymnastics to rationalize unexplained actions. If the right brain commands an action, the left brain will intuitively justify it. Humans have a quick facility for constructing meaning. Beneath the surface there is much intelligence, and above the surface there is much self-delusion
    6. We are much more influenced by barely perceptible background noise than we like to believe. Priming is the awakening of associations. Implanted ideas and images can automatically – unintentionally, effortlessly, and without awareness – prime how we interpret and recall events. Sometimes we intuitively feel what we do not know we know. The subliminal influence experiments further support the reality of unconscious information processing.
    7. Micro-thin slices often reveal much about people – everything evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second of seeing it. Intuitive first impressions can be telling, especially when feelings rather than reasons guide behavior. Gut-level feelings not only predict some behaviors better than analyzed feelings, but they can also better predict the judgments of experts. Sometimes it pays to listen to our hearts. Our automatic, implicit attitudes regarding someone or something often differ from our consciously controlled, explicit attitudes. Our likes and dislikes, our preferences and prejudices, are partly unconscious, partly conscious.
    8. Dual attitude system – often our gut guides our actions and then we rationalize them
    9. Emotional intelligence – the ability to perceive, express, understand, and manage emotions. Emotionally intelligent people are self-aware. They cope with life without letting their emotions get hijacked by dysfunctional depression, anxiety, or anger. In pursuit of long-term rewards, they can delay gratification rather than letting themselves be overtaken by impulses. Their empathy enables them to read others’ emotions and respond skillfully – knowing what to say to a grieving friend, when to encourage a colleague, how to manage conflicts. They are emotionally astute and thus often more successful in careers, marriages, and parenting than are those academically smarter but emotionally denser.
      1. Comprised of: emotion perception, emotion understanding, emotion regulation
    10. Bodies hold an enormous amount of wisdom – thanks to our neural shortcuts, our storehouse of emotional memories, and our conditioned likes and dislikes, our bodies accumulate and express our adaptive intuitions
    11. Social intuitions – mere exposure effect, spontaneous trait inference, moral intuition, contagious moods, unconscious mimicry smoothes social interaction, empathic accuracy, poor at detecting lies
    12. We have two minds – two ways of knowing, two kinds of memory, two levels of attitudes. One is above the surface, in our moment to moment awareness; the other is below, operating the autopilot that guides us through most of life. We see the work of those downstairs cognitive laborers in the social intuitions they slip into our awareness, and also in our developing expertise and creative inspirations. Through experience we gain practical intuition – subtle, complex, ineffable knowledge that aids our problem solving
      1. Nonconscious learning – what you know, but don’t know you know, affects you more than you know
      2. Learned expertise – experts’ knowledge is more organized than novices’
      3. Tacit knowledge – street smarts, practical intelligence, knows how (rather than knows that, explicit knowledge/expert)
      4. Physical genius
    1. 5 components of creativity – expertise, imaginative thinking skills, venturesome personality (can handle ambiguity, risk, persevere), intrinsic motivation, a creative environment (humans sharpen other humans)
      1. You have to really think about nothing but that problem – just concentrate on it. Then you stop. Afterwards there seems to be a kind of period of relaxation during which the subconscious appears to take over, and its during that time that some new insight comes
      2. You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind
      3. It is by logic we prove but it is by intuition that we discover
    2. Heuristics – perceptual or mental cues that usually work well but occasionally trigger illusions or misperceptions
  3. The Perils
    1. Often we don’t know why we do what we do
    2. Misreading our own minds – Many of life’s big decisions require intuiting our future feelings. Often our intuition is on target but we often fail in predicting an emotion’s duration and intensity. The human treadmill – duration of feelings low as we adapt quickly. Nothing you focus on will make as big a difference as you think
    3. Mispredicting our own feelings / behavior / hindsight bias / self-serving bias / overconfidence- Humans are often bad at predicting our own future behavior – look to a person’s past for better accuracy. Beware illusory, blind spots, complacency. Humility/Realism. So, despite our impressive capacity for thinking without awareness, for social intuitions, and for intuitive expertise and creativity, our intuitions sometimes mislead us as to what we have experienced, how we have changed, what has influenced us, and what we will feel and do. There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self. Asking people to explain their past actions or to guess their future actions sometimes gives us wrong answers. By being mindful of the limits on our self-knowledge, we can restrain our gullibility and motivate ourselves to think critically, to check our own and others’ intuition against reality, and to replace illusion with understanding.
    4. Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself – Ludwig Wittgenstein
    5. Memories are fallible – reconstruct them as we remove them from storage – current moods, views, emotions all paint the past
    6. At the center of our worlds, more pivotal for us than anything else, are we ourselves. Whatever we do, whatever we perceive, whatever we conceive, whomever we meet will be filtered through our self. When we think about something in relation to ourselves, we remember it better. Ergo, memories form around our primary interest: ourselves
    7. Illusory correlation – perceiving relationships where none exist (caused by desire to explain, even if no correlation)
    8. Belief perseverance – the more we examine our intuitions and beliefs and explain how they might be true, the more closed we become to challenging information. We never truly change our beliefs. However, the solution lies in explaining the opposite. Imagining and explaining why an opposite theory might be true – why a cautious rather than a risk-taking person might be a better firefighter – reduce or eliminates belief perseverance. To open people to a different idea, don’t just argue your point. Instead, get them to imagine why someone else might hold an opposite view. Indeed, mindful of our fallibility, perhaps we would all do well to recall Oliver Cromwell’s 1650 plea to the Church of Scotland: “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, consider that ye may be mistaken.”
  4. Sports Intuition
    1. Hot hands / streaks not as random as you think – expect them to happen
    2. Investment Intuition
    3. Loss aversion, endowment effect, sunk cost, anchoring, overconfidence (greatest for most unpredictable events), diversification, sustainability (surviving is the number one goal)
  5. Clinical Intuition
    1. Vulnerable to illusory correlations, hindsight biases, belief perseverance, self-confirming diagnoses
    2. Must monitor the predictive powers of your intuition. Beware the tendency to see associations you expect to see. Recognize the seductiveness of hindsight, which can lead you to feel overconfident (but sometimes also to judge yourself too harshly for not having foreseen and averted catastrophes). Recognize that theories, once formed, tend to persevere even if groundless. Guard against the tendency to ask questions that assume your ideas are correct; consider the ideas and test them, too. Better yet, harness the underappreciated power of statistical prediction. Actuarial science strengthens clinical judgment, or at least offers a second opinion. Actuarial science also helps protect practitioners from malpractice suits, which might otherwise allege that the clinician made aberrant decisions without attending to relevant research
    3. To sift true intuitions from false, sense from nonsense, requires a scientific attitude: being skeptical but not cynical, open but not gullible. By testing clinical intuition – discerning its wisdom and fallibility, and learning when to undergird it with actuarial science – a hard-headed process promises to pay kind-hearted dividends.
  6. Psychic Intuition
    1. A particular specified event or coincidence will is very unlikely; some astonishing unspecified events will occur is certain (which is why remarkable coincidences are noted in hindsight, not predicted in with foresight)
  7. Risk
    1. Perceived risk is not equal to actual risk. We exaggerate some and under play others – availability heuristic, lack of control, short-term effects
    2. Remedy – weigh the costs and benefits, communicate risk transparently, communicate risks as feelings
  8. Other
    1. The opposite of a great truth is also true
    2. How we perceive others reveals something of ourselves
    3. The secretary’s intuition on new hires is often on point
    4. Direct parental nurturing has surprisingly little effect on kids’ personalities and tastes
    5. Nature abhors a vacuum and human nature abhors chaos. Show us randomness and we will find order, pattern, clusters, and streaks. The tendency to impute order to ambiguous stimuli is simply built into the cognitive machinery we use to apprehend the world – illusory coherence, superstition, folly. Random sequences seldom look random, because they contain more streaks than people expect. We are descendants of skilled pattern-detectors. True to our legacy, we look for order, for meaningful patterns, even in random data.
    6. The irrepressibility of expressiveness is why, in seconds, we can typically gauge how outgoing someone is
    7. Interviews aren’t great predictors. Someone’s past track record is their best predictor. Structuring interviews with examples of past job relevant behaviors enhances its reliability and validity and, hence, its usefulness for prediction and decision making
    8. The underestimation of the power of the situation is one of the greatest lessons from social psychology (fundamental attribution error)
What I got out of it
  1. Fun book about how to build, harness, and take advantage of our intuition and when to be wary of it