Cracking the Code on Intuition

4.9.15 IntuitionHe looked at the screen that he had looked at hundreds of times before in his job as an air traffic controller, yet this time something just felt wrong.  He didn’t know what, or why, he just had this gut feeling that what he was looking at this time was horribly wrong, but he was at a loss to put words to back up this feeling…

She had a hunch that this time was going to be different, better, finally!  What was different she didn’t know; it was just somehow different, something beyond wishful thinking, where she just knew.

What is this unexplained strong feeling anyway?  Sometimes called (women’s) intuition, or listening to your gut, or a just having a hunch.  Whatever it’s called, you know what I mean and have likely experienced it several times.  And if you’re smart when you experience it as a caution to look before you leap headlong into danger, you will indeed listen to your gut, which never steers you wrong.  When something feels wrong, that internal red flag starts waving, and you better pay good attention.

The advice to trust your gut when you get a “funny” feeling about something is good advice.  Your brain’s main job is to protect you at all costs, from anything that would do you harm (any perceived harm, which could be emotional as well as physical harm).  Survival is paramount to advancing the gene pool.  A bad feeling is worth paying attention to.

The brain is built to problem solve.  Rather, the large neocortex is built for problem solving – the large frontal brain structure where higher reasoning takes place.  Is there a problem? – the neocortex is ON it, quickly looking for an answer.  And the fastest way to an answer is to scan through the vault of experiences looking for a similar instance, a pattern.  To say that the brain loves to create patterns is an understatement – it exists to create patterns.

Where have I seen this before?  How is this experience like that other experience?  What similarities do the experiences share and how important are the similar elements?  That’s your brain in thinking mode, with much of this happening well below the conscious level, and occurring at lightning speed.

That’s intuition hard at work.  The brain in a nanosecond sees a disruption in the pattern – something’s different – and sends up the red flag, making your hairs stand on end if the stakes are high enough.  You become reluctant to move forward without exactly knowing why.

Now you know what’s going on.  What we label intuition, a bad feeling about something, a hunch that is coming from your gut – is not mysterious at all; it’s your very logical brain saying I’ve seen this before but this time is somehow different from the regular pattern and not in a good way because I’m recalling some past undesirable results. But we think it’s unexplainable because we can’t process the brain’s intricate workings at a conscious level.

If it’s an unsubstantiated good feeling, sorry to say, it likely IS just wishful thinking, without basis.  The brain doesn’t have a crystal ball to tell what’s going to happen in the future, much as we might like to believe it could.  So those comments of “I’ve got a good feeling about this”, “I have a hunch that this time’s a winner” and the like are a gambler’s pipe dream, when it’s referring to a hopeful future.

But a feeling of mistrust about a future event, a new situation or a person is valid, because it’s drawing on a past similar experience.  That real intuition is not to be ignored.  Listen to your gut, then thank your brain for saving your butt from danger yet again.

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