Monday, June 13, 2011

Intuition Needs Your Input

What exactly is this magical, ineffable thing we call "intuition?"  For the last several years intuition research has proven and dis-proven its own theories like a tennis match.  I'm glad it is being studied  even if no hard and fast conclusions have been made.  A dictionary definition of intuition states: "direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension."  Intuition exists, of that there is no doubt.  Just ask any seasoned doctor or business person.  If a person works in a field or endeavor long enough, they will undoubtedly experience times when they just "know" the answer and it usually happens when they feel pressured to make a snap judgement.  There's no time to rationally process and think through the situation, they suddenly blurt out the right answer or choose the correct action based only on a "gut feeling."  Science wants to get to the root of this phenomenon.

Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School led a study team on intuitive research and they concluded:
"Through analysis of a wide range of research papers examining the phenomenon, the researchers conclude that intuition is the brain drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision – but one that happens so fast the reaction is at a non-conscious level. All we’re aware of is a general feeling that something is right or wrong." (University of Leeds. "Go With Your Gut -- Intuition Is More Than Just A Hunch, Says New Research." ScienceDaily, 6 Mar. 2008. Web. 13 Jun. 2011.)
 In the article, Professor Hodgkinson cited the recorded case of a Formula One driver who braked sharply when nearing a hairpin bend without knowing why – and as a result avoided hitting a pile-up of cars on the track ahead, undoubtedly saving his life.

“The driver couldn’t explain why he felt he should stop, but the urge was much stronger than his desire to win the race,” explains Professor Hodgkinson. “The driver underwent forensic analysis by psychologists afterwards, where he was shown a video to mentally relive the event. In hindsight he realised that the crowd, which would have normally been cheering him on, wasn’t looking at him coming up to the bend but was looking the other way in a static, frozen way. That was the cue. He didn’t consciously process this, but he knew something was wrong and stopped in time.”
Neuroscientists discovered a few years ago that the human brain has both conscious and unconscious systems for receiving and analyzing sensory impressions. The unconscious takes the sensory impressions and compares them with previous experiential sensory data. Our brains remember much that we don't realize we captured.  Along with that data, we also remember if the experience was positive or negative.  When presented with a new experience, our brains swiftly and unconsciously assess the situation at hand and predict the outcome. Memories are stored, however, only if they matter to us, if we are somehow committed to the experience in some way.  Also, the more variations we have of a similar experience, the more varied the data is stored in the unconscious which is accessed to compare to present situations.  Therefore, the longer someone has worked in an area of expertise the more accurate these assessments tend to be.


When my daughter was nine, a routine cold turned into something unknown and quite serious when she complained that her neck hurt.  We suspected meningitis, but a long visit to the Emergency Room and a spinal tap ruled that out.  Her condition worsened dramatically over the next 48 hours and I took her to her doctor's office very concerned that this wasn't just a "cold in the neck" as the ER docs had said.  Her physician shared an office with my boys' pediatrician.  Dr. Aaronson was an older doctor and though very respected in the area, some people dismiss the older professionals as outdated or not up on the latest medical techniques.  He saw all three of my boys and I grew to trust his instincts as he seemed to make the right decisions for my kids time and time again.  My daughter's doctor was not in the office that day so she was seen by a very competent nurse practitioner. A thorough exam showed nothing new, but to be sure she had covered all her bases, the LNP consulted with Dr. Aaronson before sending us home.  Without even examining the child himself, Dr. Aaronson directed us to head back to the hospital and insist on an X-Ray of her neck.  After much waiting and a minor outburst by me to the negligent ER staff, my daughter's neck X-rays revealed a very swollen and infected lymph node in the back of her neck that was threatening to impede her air passage.   Dr. Aaronson's intuition was spot on.  The Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist said this sort of thing was very rare and in all his years working at children's hospitals, he had only seen a few cases.  How did Dr. Aaronson know?  Experience.  His unconscious had stored away all the details of all the years of seeing sick children and came up with the right answer for Tori that none of the younger, more sophisticated and newly minted doctors and health professionals could.

Brain research on intuition tends to focus on practical applications of the findings.  They are not too concerned with making sure tarot readers give good card readings.  They are more focused on finding out how we process information, how we learn best, how we make decisions, etc.  However, it stands to reason that the longer we have been doing something the storehouse of images and sensory input grows.  There is value in a tarot reader's experience.  What also makes sense is how the brain remembers an event, whether it turned out well or not.  We remember our good readings and our bad ones, so we tend to unconsciously choose from the outcomes that were good and use that data for the reading at hand.  Therefore, we tend to rely more and more on our intuitive judgements because when we used them before, they worked.  We didn't know how they worked, we only knew they did.  We are left only with a physical sensation or simply a general "knowing" that something is right or wrong.

However, intuitive decision making isn't necessarily better or more keen than conscious decision making.  In fact, scientists haven't found any qualitative difference between them.  Sometimes intuition is wrong and sometimes we make the wrong conscious decision, too.  What's really cool about intuitive process is it happens so quickly and behind-the-scenes that it can seem otherworldly.  The times intuitive thinking is most valuable is in those snap-decision moments when we just don't have time to deliberate.  Tarot reading is like that.  You have the querant waiting expectantly on the other side of the table, the cards are staring you in the face, you have to say something soon.  Of course your conscious mind is at work, sorting through what you know about the cards, what you have learned and retain consciously.  But your unconscious mind is also really busy sifting through the past readings you've done, too.  It's also rifling through your own personal experiences that the imagery evokes in you.  It does this in literally seconds.  Seven seconds before you consciously know what your decision is, your brain has already predicted it.  By the time it comes out of your mouth, your unconscious has already patted itself on the back smugly, "I knew she'd say that." 


So if you want to be a better tarot reader, read more tarot.  But also, and maybe more importantly, live a life full of experiences and meaning.  Feed your unconscious storehouse with sensory rich data.  Hone your skills, keep doing what you love to do, gain experience in your endeavors.   Lars-Erik Björklund, author of a 2008 dissertation in education research from Linköping University in Sweden explained, "We need to see, feel, smell, hear, taste, and experience with our senses. This collection of data can’t be replaced by studying course literature,” he writes. “Experience is under-evaluated today, and this is perhaps because we haven’t understood this type of tacit knowledge. Now we know, thanks to brain researchers.” ( Linköping University. "Intuition Can Be Explained." ScienceDaily, 2 Jul. 2008. Web. 13 Jun. 2011.) 


Also referenced:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Decision-making May Be Surprisingly Unconscious Activity." ScienceDaily, 15 Apr. 2008. Web. 13 Jun. 2011.

University of New South Wales. "Complex Decision? Don't Sleep On It." ScienceDaily, 11 Aug. 2008. Web. 13 Jun. 2011.
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