The more I talk with others about the erroneous inclinations of the intuitive brain the more I face responses that are incredulous, emotional, and sometimes irrational. When it comes to intuition, it seems, people are quite fond of theirs. Rational thought, I am often reminded, elicits annoyance. Ramp up the annoyance when you remind people of the biases that underlie their silly beliefs. Rational and scientific thinking in the public domain is no way to win friends either. And it seems, that its use is not necessarily an effective way to win an argument. In a recent conversation with a colleague about the magical power of full moons I said something silly like the data doesn’t support a relationship between the phase of the moon and problem behaviors in classrooms. The response was “I don’t believe in data.” How do you respond to that? How do you respond to the rejection of reality?


I don’t have anything against intuitive thinking, well that may not be completely true; as it clearly is prone to error. It is however the source of creativity. My wife suggests that intuition is part of the essence of being a women: that women are socialized to value it as if it where foundational. Rejecting it is like rejecting a core piece of oneself.


I can’t imagine a world devoid of intuition. I’m not sure I want to. On the other hand, the costs of it are ever present and often very destructive. When I strive to find the balance, I struggle. Perhaps you can help me find that balance, or perhaps bolster the value of this sticky propensity. Please tell me what you think.



  1. I think it is important to separate intuition (instinctive knowing) and externally received cultural memes that are irrational.

    The example you give of above full moons strikes me as not intuitive but as an example of externally learned social constructs.

    That is not to say that these memes and that intuition can’t be irrational..they can be but they are different.

    Intuition (as in instinctive knowing) as in a snap judgement of a person or a response to external stimuli could very well be adaptive behavior.

    I was staying in NJ last year in a Hispanic neighborhood. It was a working class neighborhood where families sat on the steps and talked into the evening.

    I had two responses that stuck out for me. One was the stereotypical response that said “ah, bad neighborhood, be aware”…an irrational thought for sure and one that offered little in the way of value.

    The other response was when walking down the street and being surprised by apparent motion that turned out to be a shadow. Also an irrational thought but one that although intuitive offered the benefit of increased awareness. A false positive response like this, as I think Dawkins points out, is likely to have evolved due to the cost/benefit of acting even if there is but a slight chance of being wrong as the cost is so high if you don’t.

    Thus two, irrational responses but only one was intuitive. Both worthy of reflection and rejection but the former has little if any value in a diverse world while the latter is intuition that I welcome.

  2. Indeed Mike, you are correct. The full moon meme is not necessarily reflective of intuition – it is culturally implanted and maintained by a cognitive bias (confirmation bias discussed in a previous post). Confirmation biases involve a complex interaction of automatic thoughts with selective application of higher brain centers. In referring to the rejection of data in the full moon scenario I may have used too broad of a brush stroke – my colleague’s response was a rejection of rationality or at least higher level rational thought. There is a generalized notion in the cognitive sciences of two centers of thought – higher level rational thought and lower level intuitive thought. As is the case in all the biological sciences these centers are not completely distinct. What is known is that rational thought employs more resources in the cerebral cortex while this is not the case in intuitive thought. Sloppily perhaps there is a tendency to chunk biases (fundamental attribution error, confirmation bias, self serving bias, pareidolia, etc.) into the realm of intuitive thought.

    Those self preservation intuitions, the ones that monitor risk and ready us for fight or flight, are quite adaptive from an evolutionary perspective. I touch on this in my piece on pareidolia. Thank you, good friend, for your insight.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *