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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.


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  • Nov 21 2012: I completely believe in the power of intuition, and am learning to trust my instincts more and more. In alot of cases I find that my brain can compute something alot faster than I can verbalise, and if something is wrong I get a "feel" that it's wrong, before being able to explain why or how.

    However, how would you compensate for any overconfidence bias?
    • Nov 24 2012: I commented that I have not yet defined what intuition is and I think once I put my finger on identifying what it is, I'll have a better understanding to guide my response to it. I think, not yet believe but close, intuition is the supreme, up to the six-sense level of *knowing*. It is not thinking faster, or computing something clearer; it is instant known. From my perspective what you're describing is the thought process: we will always compute something quicker than verbalization of our thoughts. Verbalization, in fact all expressions and actions come later behind the thought. The only things we don't think about before doing are habitual things and that's because we have learned it already and have imbedded those actions into our physical behaviors. Intuition in the truest form would also be able to prevent you from doing the wrong thing too, should it? If it is a true gift beyond the limits of our minds then it should work for everything, not just the back end, the after-knowledge; I would hesitate calling the experience you described as intuition. I am not saying you don't have intuition, just that what you describe is not it; what you stated is more a cognizant evaluation.

      There is a problem on over reliance on anything--to be human is to have faults; perfection is not in our genes. Overconfidence is in ones character, a part of ego. You have to check that on a personal note no matter what state of brain power one has. If your *feelings* are coming after the fact in situations when you are "wrong" then I wouldn't be too confident as your intuition did not correct or helped your actions to be "right" to avoid the wrong. I think in a lot of your cases what you experienced are after thoughts, computed analysis of all that transpired for evaluation. Now, if you said your intuition has helped you in making a lot of right decisions, then over reliance on that special gift might be a problem.

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