Wednesday, April 20, 2005


"But in reality, intuition is the condensation of vast prior analytic experience; it is analysis compressed and crystallized...It is the product of analytic processes being condensed to such a degree that its internal structure may elude even the person benefitting from it...The intuitive decision-making of an expert bypasses orderly, logical steps precisely because it's a condensation of such orderly logical steps in the past."

- Herbert Simon,
The Wisdom Paradox

You decide to buy the ticket and get on the plane. Or not. That little feeling in your stomach that is half-way between a claw and a caress tells you to avoid stepping on the boat, so you do, and the boat sinks. The stranger in line beside you at the movies cautiously asks you for a drink, and you agree, equally cautiously, and you end up getting married. (Then divorced.)

All because of non-rational, non-linear thought processes that we call 'intuition'. (Doctors may call it 'indigestion'.)

Is it as mysterious and cosmically cool as we like to think, though? Or is there a more intellectual, analytic process at work, one that is decidedly more rational but exceedingly less exhilarating.

Apparently Herbert Simon, author of the excerpt from his book, um, excerpted above, thinks so. Intuition, he seems to argue, is nothing more than the repository of experience; intuition is nothing more than a neurological short-cut to the proper choice in any given situation, based on the accumulated wisdom we have made from other decisions we have made in the past.


Sounds logical.

But what about when we encounter an experience that we haven't had much experience in, uh, experiencing?

I decided to come to Cambodia, in large part, because I had gone to Japan. I made the decision in Japan, flying here directly from there. I thought about the pros and the cons, the long-term consequences and the short term consequences, the interesting points and the potentially dangerous points. (Via a technique learned from Edward DeBono -- a simple one, but remarkably effective.) So it was somewhat analytical, yes, but I still followed my gut. (Which was much bigger then, my gut, but I don't think weight actually influences the intuitional process.)

But coming to Japan for the first time was a pure 'intuition' decision. I had no experience in much of anything at age 23; I just thought about it and thought about it and thought about it, and the little voice in my head and my stomach said: Ah, fuck it -- just go and see what happens. I didn't rely on past experiences travelling overseas, 'cause I hadn't been overseas; I didn't compare the working possibilities to other high-level jobs I had, 'cause I hadn't had any other high-level jobs. I just went because I felt it was the thing to do.

So the adult and analytical side of me agrees with Simon's article in principle; many of the decisions we make come from remembrances of things past, and evaluation how those memories compare with the choices in front of us in the here and the now.

But the irrational side of me, the eleven-year old side of me that refused to ever watch Star Trek: The Next Generation because it would be a betrayal of Captain Kirk and his crew, finds all this analytical mumbo-jumbo distasteful. (A vow I kept, although I did see a few of the movies featuring Picard and his gang.) There's so much about the brain that we don't know, so many alleyways and caverns within our gray matter that still await exposure. I would like to think that there are mystical underpinnings at work; that intuition serves as a shortcut to some spiritual force in the universe that does not guide our progress, no, but hints at what is karmically best and proper and true for our journey through (what we call) life.

That's just my gut feeling, anyway.

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