TED Conversations


This conversation is closed.

Can we train our intuition to be more effective at solving problems?

Seventeen years ago I wrote an article called, "Communal Blind Spot Theory". In that article it was my experience that in every discipline I have studied there are collective oversights i.e. communal blind spots.

Think of an individual blind spot as you not seeing a glass of water on the kitchen counter in plain sight. Now imagine 1000 people going into the kitchen not seeing that glass of water on the counter.

Can we train our intuition to see through those blind spots?

We speak of a woman's intuitiion. What do we mean? Do we mean a woman feeling uneasy about entering an elevator with a single man inside? Do we mean a brilliant research scientist who has a strong "gut" reaction about one aspect of her studies? Clearly these are two entirely different aspects of a "woman's intuition".

Here is a cook book recipe to use intuition as a research tool. It is argued here that an intuitive view of reality is every bit as valid as a logical and factual view of reality. Thus it is only when my intuition agrees with the facts and logic that I view this as useful knowledge.

Here is how it works in practice. Suppose I have a strong gut reaction that a particular enzyme impacts on a specific gene and this results in an elevated rate of breast cancer. I test this hypothesis and get a null result but my gut tells me that the results are not consistent with my intuition.

Do I walk away from my intuition? According to my theories, no. You run the experiment weeks or months later to try to confirm the earlier results. If you get a null result, then you walk away for another few months. Next time you tweak the experiment say changing the temperature or PH slightly and run the experiment again. If you get a null result yet your intuition remains fixed, you tweak the experiment again.

Clearly this is not possible in the real world; if you were to run the same experiments again and again with null results you won't get funding, but it is critical to finding paradigm shifts.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 15 2012: Hello Richard:>)
    I believe all of us, as humans, have the intuition/instinct feature naturally, so I do not believe there is "training" needed to use it. I believe we need to recognize it, be aware of it, appreciate and listen to the intuition/instinct. You speak of "women's intuition", and in my perception, women have been taught to be more open to intuition....it seems more acceptable for women to use the intuition/instinct.

    You speak of the "blind spot"...could it be that some people are not aware of the benefits and power of intuition/instinct simply because they are not open to it? We've seen extended conversations here on TED about whether to use intuition OR logic. My perception, is that we have the ability to use both together when/if we are open to that possibility.

    Regarding intuition and science...it is as you insightfuylly suggest... scientists do experiments over and over and over again...refining and tweaking them each time. I suspect that many of them have a "feeling" (intuition/instinct) that they are onto something, and they continue with the logical, reasonable process which may produce proven results.

    I think/feel that it is VERY logical to use every possible resource for information, so my intuition/instinct/logic/reason are always working together, and I am aware of that process. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement...""Thus it is only when my intuition agrees with the facts and logic that I view this as useful knowledge." I don't agree with your statement that funding is not available to those "tweaking" their experiments. After all, if they are changing something each time around to refine the exploration, it is NOT the same experiment anymore.....is it?
    • Nov 15 2012: In many cases in chess it is the same move sequence over and over. An interesting experiment I was involved with in college was to listen to two nonsense syllables repeated over and over several times/sec. My job was to indicate when they changed; after about a minute I noticed subtle changes and dutifully reported them. At the end of the experiment I was told that none of the sounds had changed, just that my mind got "bored" and made up its own sounds!

      What I do with intuition is what Einstein defined as insanity and I can document leads to paradigm shifts i.e. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." I DO get different results with intuition iteration. Here are the steps:

      1)Get a gut reaction,
      2)Introduce the facts and logic,
      3)Compare and contrast your intuition to the facts and logic,
      4)Try to reconcile them,
      5)If they cannot be reconciled, throw out the your intuition, the facts and logic and go back to step one i.e.
      6)Get a gut reaction.

      Invariably my intuition remains fixed and the "facts" and logic change.

      I regard this as a kind of self-brainwashing!

      In chess I've had to iterate as many as 2000 times sometimes over the span of years to get at the truth; in science it is much easier.

      In geology all you have to know is that the earth is an engine designed to reject heat. It optimizes this by the transferral of dense material towards the core and the displacement upwards of less dense material. When you add this to the efficiency of the earth over long periods of time, you get all you need to know to understand plate tectonics.
      • thumb
        Nov 16 2012: Richard,
        Is your method and process "brainwashing", as you say? Or is it discovery? Looks like discovery to me:>)

        It appears that you are more science based (left brain?), and I am more right brain dominant, so our "method" looks a little different. I come up with an idea....visualize.....imagine....and usually jump into it. I then use the mind/logic/reason, to figure out how to make the vision a reality. I address the facts, logic, challenges and/or change as I bump into them on the path to creating the vision. I don't ever"throw out the intuition" because for me, that is the dominant or driving force (right brain dominant!).

        We are all different as individuals, which is why I don't think we "train" intuition, but rather, recognize and use it as we are capable of doing.....what do you think?
        • Nov 16 2012: Hi Colleen!

          Probably we all use intuiiton a little differently. Benoit Mandlebrot, the founder of chaos theory in Gleick' book on chaos said that he used to "construct" his intuition with the "usual tools, the hand, the pencil and the ruler."
      • thumb
        Nov 16 2012: Hi Richard,
        I don't understand this...."construct his intuition with the usual tools, the hand, the pencil and the ruler". Is he saying that there is no such thing as intuition....or suggesting something different?
        • Nov 16 2012: Hi Colleen,

          When I read that I thought it was bizarre! It seems to me that what he is referring to sounds a lot more like logic---his is a totally different take on "intuition".
        • thumb
          Nov 16 2012: As we are talking here about a mathematician, I have a good guess, I think. Intuition comes from experience, and intuition in mathematics comes from experience with mathematical "objects." In geometry, of which fractals are a part, the tools that facilitate such experience are the tools of geometric construction- the hand, the pencil, and the straight-edge.

          When Einstein talked about intuition, he meant the sort that comes from experience manipulating objects as well, but his objects were more abstract, so his practice in manipulation was with "thought experiments."

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.