Scholarship Chair, Kappa Sigma

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Is the "gut instinct" real?

Many times I find myself or others saying "I should have gone with my gut" but what is often missed is the fact that this only happens when a mistake is made. For example one might choose door number one, then find out door number two was the correct answer, and only then feel that the gut instinct was ignored. The real question being asked here is when someone speaks of this gut instinct, is it, for lack of better words, a "supernatural" like phenomena, or is it simply regret of not going with what pops into the head first?

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    Jun 20 2012: Daniel,
    In my humble perception, the gut feeling is simply instinct or intuition, which all animals are born with...including humans. In my perception it is a very natural phenomena that some of us (especially in western cultures) have lost touch with.

    It does not "only happen when a mistake is made". That may simply be the time in which you recognize it? I follow my heart/gut feeling/instinct/intuition, and use the logical mind/brain/thought process to determine how to achieve the goal. It is really very need to complicate it:>)
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    Jun 20 2012: I don't think thoughts pop into our heads. Thoughts are the result of processing information already in our accessible memory. I think the term "gut" is used to identify the very first thought our mind produces without applying examination, reflection, analysis or any other problem-solving protocol. It is closely related to, but not identical to, instinct in that it functions automatically. I think my argument is strengthened by the fact that your gut isn't much help with a problem you know virtually nothing about. If I say to you, "Recite Avogadro's Number aloud now!" Your gut might churn, but it probably won't auto-suggest that you say, "6.02252 x 10 to the 23td power." Thank you!
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    Jul 3 2012: Hello Daniel,

    what is interesting with this phenomenon is the location this 'feeling' arises from in different languages. In the English langiage it refers to the 'gut', in French to the 'Heart', in German to the 'stomach' and in Spanish it is named 'intuition'.

    So covering the guts, stomach and all way up to the gullet we have the so called 'enteric nervous system' which by its anatomy and function is similar to our brains. It contains over a 100 billion nerve cells and even more glial cells, which are now known to have their part in processing and transporting informations.

    And even though this 'second brain' is not considered to have its part in our concious and unconcious thinking, it does reacts on some medication as our 'first' brain does, especially the ones acting on neurotransmitters. This is why antidepressants can have an effect on the digestive tract.

    In my opinion this 'gut feeling' is a tangible result of our subconsciousness, which trigger our emotions, which trigger a response in our body, such as rise in blood-pressure which we then may 'feel'. Maybe this is the only way of our subconscious thoughts to make themselves more conscious if they are running out of time to do it the slowly way by 'sinking in' yet decisions have to be made quickly.

    In any case, I have learned to go for it...
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    Jul 1 2012: The question of whether the gut instinct is real is one that each of us has to answer ourselves, otherwise it is to us just a fantasy of someone else's thinking. That said, I have studied, in working as a counselor, gut feelings and instincts associated with those feelings for the past 40 yrs (it is my life passion) and am convinced that the feelings of emptiness and fullness in the gut relates to not just the need for food intake, but also for two basic instinctive needs of the human being, thus there are definitely gut instincts. Here is a brief outline of what I found with hundreds of people reflecting on their gut feelings:
    1. The gut is the instinctual response center and we feel either empty or full or somewhere in the middle (imagine a gas gauge) in our gut at all times.
    2. We feel full when our instinctual needs are met and empty when they are not. We are talking not just about food intake (although the feeling of emptiness and fullness in relation to food intake and psychological instinctual needs are interestingly similar and we do get them confused and thus may over eat to try to fill the emptiness we feel psychologically). We are talking about psychological instinctual needs—psychological not in the use of logic but in our needs as human beings.
    3. We have two instinctual needs that the gut gauges—the need to feel accepted and the need to be in control of our own responses to life. These two needs must be constantly in balance. Too much of one without the other leaves us empty.
    4. When we have both of these instinctive needs met, we feel full and thus energized; and when we have neither met, we feel empty and often experience some symptoms of stress in the body like feeling lethargic, anxious, overwhelmed, disconnected and alone.
    Intuition seems to increase as we become more aware of these gut feelings. There is unfortunately not enough room remaining to go on, but there's much more and you may read it on my website or book listed on my Ted Profile.
  • Jun 20 2012: I think what you are talking about relates to a persons conscience. I believe that is what most people are referring to in your above stated example. That little voice in our heads that we sometimes ignore and sometimes listen to, has great impact on us. Freud would call it a superego, religious folk would call it god, others there gut feeling. Either way abiding by it seems to be a key to most peoples happiness.

    There are also gut feelings that are more instinctual. You may analyze a situation and get an overwhelming feeling that something is wrong. This could be a survival attribute similar to that seen in animals who sense danger without direct visual our auditory proof.

    Both solutions I propose would be helpful to the evolution of man. You could call the conscience a necessary trait in the forming of a society as it seems to be predicated on caring how others perceive you socially.
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    Jun 20 2012: A very good question.
    However I believe that the answer is entirely subjective.
    I know for a fact that it I have experienced this gut instinct.
    A very subtle feeling, as if your subconscious is trying to whisper to your conscious mind.
    And then there are times where I might have thought ' I knew I should have made the other choice' simply because the choice I actually did make turned out poorly.
    It really is hard to say, but in the end I am a firm believer of the 'Instinct.'
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    Jun 20 2012: I have found in my own life that going against my gut or 1st decision has been a costly experience. I long ago decided that I should follow my gut right or wrong and believe its been right more than wrong.
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    R H

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    Jun 19 2012: Haha! I have thought much on this subject, and have concluded, through personal experimentation, that 'gut instinct' can be a form a 'knowing' as yet undefined. It is not 'rational'. It is not 'learned'. It is not a 'consideration'. It's just there. Not everyone has it to the same degree (like anything else). And, there are other 'feelings' that could be interpreted as 'gut instinct' - but are not. I would disagree that 'this only happens when a mistake is made'. I have many times been glad when I ignored 'what made sense' and went with my 'gut intinct'. As a matter of fact, I have been trying to identify more clearly when I have an authentic 'gut instinct' to go on, and have been noticing the subtle differences. I have found that the 'gut instinct' can predict the future, can see much further 'down the road' of decisions, and can reveal results 'exponentially' more beneficial than obvious conclusions. You're right, I have regretted not going with my 'gut instinct'. But am learning to go with it in life decisions and am seeing uncanny results. The totality of these results I could not have predicted.
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    Jun 19 2012: Dan, When I was introducing New officers into the prison system I often refered to "the hair on the back of your neck standing up", "gut instincts", etc ... I often said that when it does not look or feel right it probally isn't.

    These were admonishments to be safe at all times and to be vigliant. I would much rather have them be wrong than to be hurt. The main objective is to go home to your family every night unharmed.

    So call it what ever you want as long as it keeps you safe. If it only works out once in a hundred then I am glad.

    All the best. Bob.
    • Jun 19 2012: Interesting point. That leads me to believe that the gut instinct is not an instinct at all. In this case, I would conclude that a feeling that something is right, or that a situation is unwell would be based on past experience, or known tendencies of another person. That would lead to a conclusion of an evolved figure of speech that has turned into a description for deductive reasoning.

      This link helped me find a more concrete answer to my question, which does lead me to a conclusion as stated above, but is it fair to equate all of our feeling of wrong or right just to past experiences alone?
  • Jun 19 2012: When was the gut instinct experienced? Some have such feelings before and then later realize they should have followed that choice. Regret could be the feeling after realizing the wrong choice or not acting.

    Some refer to the feeling as heavenly hunches! It seems quite common. Or, would you say these are rare experiences?

    What drives you to your question?
    • Jun 19 2012: Well Mark, it just seems that objectivity is the most sought after element in most decisions, yet in many situations people turn to an answer because it felt right. What really drives my question is this. What is beneficial about taking the risk of a poorly educated guess based solely on a feeling that it is correct? More importantly, is it actually a possibility that one person can be better at guessing than the next? So by asking if the gut instinct is real, what I am really asking is, can a feeling that you are right be quantified, or is it simply blind luck that leads some to the correct answer that they seek.
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    Jun 19 2012: Regret.