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
    Dec 2 2012: Richard, Prior to reading the replies I will make a reply. As an engineer I have no problem with intuition. However, we should use our education to acknowledge when we are chasing a red herring. To remain focused on the task at hand is great ... but your documentation should be reviewed with a open mind. We have all went down this road but a review by our lead or a fellow researcher should put us back on track.

    My good friend is somewhat a "cat". She has a gut feeling about every thing. When events play out she can turn the results into a 'I told you so" moment. A mutual friend liked the bar and she predicted that drinking would kill him. He was in a accident when a car ran a red light and hit his car ... the driver had been drinking. She said 'I told you so" it is just a matter of time until drinking takes him. He is ok by the way.

    On the other hand, as a police officer, there are situations that make the hair stand up on your neck ... it just isn't right for some reason. I teach new officers to not ignore that feeling ... but do not go nuts with it either ... just be more aware and be ready.

    So my answer is ... I don't think we can train intuition. I think we can be aware of the "alarms" that are present but think that they should be used in perspective to the task at hand. Once you enter a rut it is hard to get out of that line of thought.

    All the best. Bob.
    • Dec 2 2012: Hi Bob!

      My dad has an expression, "You don't know how to use a tool unless you know three ways to abuse it." Your "cat" friend is abusing intuition. Your training as a police officer serves you well including not having undo reliance on intuition, but the kind of intuition I am referring to can be trained i.e. you input various aspects of reality into your subconscious and then this is reorganized when you sleep. Later this may appear as "intuition".

      I try to force new pathways in my brain by forcing myself to look at the same set of "facts" that disagree with my intuition. I do this countless times and, invariably, the "facts" change and become consistent with my intuition. As for abusing intuition---the ultimate test of reality is how our senses perceive it with the caveat that every intelligent animal has a different perception of reality. Shared reality is how science progresses.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.