Can we trust our intuition? Possibly. Some of the best and the worst decisions were based on intuition, especially highly creative or controversial ones. Many people have an extraordinary level of luck and intuition. Others are just never right. For more reading please see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
If you do not read the entire article here are things I want you to take:
- You will probably find your intuition pretty consistent
- Intuition is trainable by exposure to many situations and choices of similar nature
- Follow your intuition without too much thought
- Do not get attached to intuitive beliefs
And if you can, read this.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
Intuitive response is usually a nonverbal idea we get from our visual cortex. Quite often it is followed by some sort of body reaction, like a spasm or a chill or a gut feeling. We do not understand the logic behind it, because frankly, the different parts of our brain do not communicate that well.
Now we have an idea from unclear sources, which we cannot fully evaluate. Either we act upon it or we act otherwise. Ignoring a genius move would be bad. Acting upon it my be a disaster: maybe the chain of events that generated the idea was very wrong. Either way, there is a good chance we will regret it.
Remember who you are
The intuitive decisions come in a blink of an eye because they usually surface from complex chains of visual associations. We often get a glimpse of the idea and do not fully understand what we see. Often intuitive ideas come just before the dawn after we processed something in our sleep for an entire night.
Now, most people have either very good intuition or a lousy one. For example, my mother is ALWAYS wrong. This is actually a gift. When she gives me a piece of advice I know for sure which path should not be chosen. Probably she has a great intuition, simply she puts logical NOT in front of it. For comparison, my grandmother was ALWAYS right. She made so many mistakes when she was young, that her brain was conditioned to generate the right response.
My own intuition is tuned to come up with the most controversial and slightly childish approach. Probably, because I am very accurate and careful otherwise, my intuition will try to come up with a complementary solution.
Our intuition is usually very consistent in every separate area of expertise, but it might work otherwise in other areas.
Intuition is trained
Unlike our logical behavior which is taught in a consistent way, our intuition is often taught like a neural network. We see certain events and outcomes, and we generate some hidden layers of logic that can predict the outcome.
We train our intuition by exposure to as many events of a certain kind as we can. Occasionally we will see a pattern, which can be described. More often we will get some sense of future events without any understanding of how we got it. We simply trained our neural network.
If we exposed ourselves to a wrong chain of events, our network will be strange. For example, girls who read romantic novels all day long have a very strange intuition in matters of love. Simply, real life is too different from its romantic representation.
There is an archetype of a prophet named who sees great tragedy, warns everybody about it, but nobody would listen. Somehow every major tragedy has its own Cassandras. There are also vastly more people crying “DOOM” and nothing happens.
Probably I read too many history books or saw too many news stories. Somehow I can predict the future not bad, but only if I cannot do anything to change this future or profit from it. If there is any way I can profit from the prediction, the prediction circuitry of my brain fails. Probably by adding more layers of neurons to the predictive circuitry, I make the prediction unstable and faulty. So many influential people predicted the great catastrophes of the 21st century, why couldn’t we avoid them? It’s like the great earthquake in California. We know it will happen one day, but not necessarily this decade, or the next decade, or maybe a much stronger event 100 years from now… This information is not actionable.
Train your luck
Many professionals argue that you can train your luck especially in the areas where neural networks tend to beat humans. For example, professional chess players, can intuitively evaluate a position using the brain circuitry that works with face identification. They were exposed to so many chess plays, that their intuition is amazing: they recognize positions like facial features of a person.
A large part of getting lucky is simply taking risks and getting exposed to different situations. Not only we get more chances to change the future, but we also get more situations to train our intuition.
A word of caution: intuition is sensitive to our state, including stress levels. When we control the events and our decision influences their outcome, our intuition works differently from the analysis of past events. Some people are great advisors but bad players, others are just the opposite.
Do not think about your intuition, act upon it
When we think about our intuition too long, we modify the brain circuitry that generated the intuition to begin with. In terms of neural networks, we are adding neurons to a trained network. This is reducing our capabilities. If we trained our intuition well, we should act upon it. Usually, we will be able to edit the result when all pieces fall in place. If we do not trust the intuition, we need to avoid decision-making. Timing can be crucial, as most situations tend to reverse their dynamics over time.
This contradicts with some aspects of our discipline. We train our will to reject impulsive steps, yet we must act impulsively when we follow intuition. There is no simple solution to that contradiction. It is solved creatively and differently by each person. I have a friend who is an investor. His solution is meditating for 30 min between getting an intuitive idea and acting upon it. Meditation is a form of non-verbal processing of the idea, so probably he uses some more computer time of the network that generated the idea in the first place.
Intuition should change from time to time
We need to change our intuition as our cultural or emotional background changes. Our neurons can be very sensitive to the background noise. Everything we trained to do may suddenly become wrong when we get depressed or immigrate to a different country.
Elderly adults often show very adverse gender and racial stereotypes, simply because their intuition was trained 50 years ago or because their metabolism changed. Fear may alter the intuition. If we train our intuition in a certain state of brain chemistry, it is best to preserve a similar state when using the intuition. For this reason, people with great intuition often are exceptionally calm. They need this mental state for their intuition to work.
If your well-trained intuition suddenly stops working, probably the world changed or you changed. You need to calibrate yourself.
Moral intuition is the least reliable form of intuition
It is relatively easy to remain calm dealing with trends and numbers. It is harder to remain impartial in moral issues. Our moral compass can be easily moved by strong emotions. Do not trust your own moral compass in critical situations. Try to distance yourself: visualize what would you think if it happened to somebody else. The moral judgment during “the fog of a battle” is exceptionally unpredictable, and it is often compared to a state of temporary insanity.
Addiction can kill intuition. The brain chemistry of addict changes, and should not be trusted anymore. So will extreme exhaustion, hunger or fear. Gamblers have a lousy intuition, so do not gamble.
Is our intuition innate
One of the questions we often ask: is our intuitive behavior instinctive? Many animals effectively function instinctively, since their brain is hard-coded to do certain things. It is reasonable to assume that some of our behaviors are not learned, but rather hard-coded. For example, our sexual preferences show a combination of things that we learn and things we could not learn. Our deepest responses tend to be instinctive rather than intuitive, or a combination of both. For example, when we breathe, usually breathing is instinctive, but we can also choose to inhale, exhale or hold our breath.
To think or to blink?
So, the 1B$ question is: follow our conscious thought process or act upon intuition? The answer for me is pretty simple:
- If our survival depends upon it, our instinct should be trusted
- When we have a lot of exposure to similar situations, our intuition can be actionable
- In situations of moral ambiguity, it is better to think
- If we are emotional, calm down first
- When you know how to train an AI to do the task, you might train your own intuition in a similar way
Otherwise, ask yourself: which response will expose you to a higher risk, and try taking the safe path.