Thinking From The Right Side Of The Crotch
I've been seeing this woman for two months. I really like her. She's made some mistakes -- two bad marriages, some promiscuity, running from debts -- but she's determined to change. My friends think she's bad news. But our relationship -- though mostly sexual so far -- has been terrific. Shouldn't my intuition count more than my friends' opinions?
When you're deciding how to invest your life savings, you probably don't say, "I'll just take a moment to ask my penis."
Well, your intuition is about as reliable a judge of your girlfriend's character. Intuitions (aka "gut feelings") are conclusions we leap to -- automatically, without the intervention of rational thought. Our mind flashes on this and that from our past experience, and up pops a feeling. The problem is, we're prone to overconfidence that our intuitions are correct -- mistaking strong feelings for informed feelings.
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein find that certain people's intuitions are somewhat more likely to be trustworthy -- those who repeatedly encounter the same situation, like a surgeon who only does appendectomies. Her hunches about a patient's appendix are more informed because they come out of repeated experience and because she presumably gets corrective feedback when she guesses wrong (though, ideally, not from a monitor making that awful flatlining sound).
But Kahneman tells the McKinsey Quarterly, "My general view ... would be that you should not take your intuitions at face value." In fact, you need to go out of your way to look for evidence that your intuitions are wrong. In this case, it will take time and challenges to her character -- and your actually wanting to see whether she acts ethically or does what's easiest. In other words, your hunches can tell you things -- things that need a lot of post-hunch verification through applying higher reasoning (which, again, doesn't simply mean calling upon any organ that's higher than your knees).