Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gut Feelings

I have been interested in intuition for some time.  My interest peaked during a climb on the Brothers in the Olympic Mountains.  We were ascending a steep snow slope when an experienced member of our party stopped and confessed that he was experiencing irrational feelings of fear.  Moments later someone from a climbing party ahead came down and told us that there was a cliff ahead, which meant there was a dead end ahead. If that was a classic case of connecting to the whisper of ones inner wisdom, it was a powerful illustration of the benefit of developing intuition.  So when the librarian at the Saint Johns library handed me a flyer about a book group discussion about Gerd Gigerenzer's Gut Feelings:  The Intelligence of the Unconscious, I promptly signed up to participate.

Gigerenzer's book goes behind the science of intuition.  Part of me objected to the notion that intuition could be explained.  Perhaps I wanted intuition to be part of the magic of being human, not some algorithm buried deep in my psyche.  What I found in between the covers was testimony to the KISS principle:  keep it simple silly.  The author argued that our minds use simple rules of thumb which take advantage of the evolved capacities of the brain.  Rather than making complex calculations, our brain ignore useless information and focus on what really matters, even if it one critical piece of information.

The book group at the library was a join venture between the library and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.  The organizer had invited Professor Dalton Miller-Jones from Portland State University Department of Psychology to participate.  Interesting enough, most of the people in the group did not like the book.  Some were disappointed there was not more scientific research, others thought there was too much.  As usual, I enjoyed the forum, as it gave me fresh insights into the book.  I do not believe reading should be a solitary activity.

Anyway, I found the book gave me some good insights into intuition.  Just to be aware of the of the rules of thumb in my mind's toolbox will make me more apt to use them, whether I'm at the store or on the mountain slope.

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