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Should We Trust Our Gut Feelings?

Gut feelings
Sometimes we make decisions after careful deliberation, but often we make decisions simply because it feels right. Call it a hunch, a gut feeling, or an instinct—what they all have in common is that we don’t know why we feel the way we do, yet the feeling can be so compelling, it moves us to act.

Should we listen to our gut feelings and make decisions based on feelings we don't understand or should we stop to think and make a deliberate decision?

Feeling tells us about ourselves, thinking tells us about the world
The relationship between thinking and feeling is complicated. We begin with how we react to a life event. While passively facing a life situation we are immediately hit with a feeling response of like or don't like. When we think about the situation it is different, it is not passive but requires conscious activity that takes effort. Our immediate feeling reaction tells us about ourselves. To objectively learn about the actual life situation requires that we think. Philosophy Of Freedom (POF) 3.2

Fear that something isn’t right
Our gut feeling can tell us that we don't like something, that “something isn’t right”. This sense of foreboding can irrationally warn us of something that threatens our survival like a roller-coaster ride, or it can be the unconscious bias of our cultural conditioning that warns us of gay marriage or of different races, or the fear can reflect the unconscious bias of our narrow-minded ideology.

Selective memory
We tend to overestimate the reliability of gut feelings. The best example is a gambler who is absolutely certain he will win based on nothing but a feeling. His selective memory quickly forgets the ninety percent of the time he loses, but vividly remembers the one time it worked.

Understanding feelings
Sometimes a gut feeling is subconsciously recognizing a conflicting pattern within our environment that we should be aware of, or sorting out a complex situation. But until we have a conscious understanding and test our assumptions we cannot be sure.

Feeling can alert us to something, but as it first appears feeling is an incomplete reality until it is understood. POF 8.3  Unless we think, or observe more closely to understand the reasons behind a feeling, it is more of a nuisance that can mislead us. There are lots of people who are constantly making wrong decisions about everything in their life because they have a gut feeling.

Education Of Feeling
The feelings of experts in a particular field are fundamentally different from ordinary gut feelings and are more reliable. As we gain knowledge in a field, we develop an immediate feeling sense for truth that reflects that knowledge. POF 6.11

Can we distinguish trustworthy intuitions from irrational feelings and biases?
Gut feeling, hunch, sixth sense, instinct, intuition—we use a number of terms to denote the fuzzy sense when we know something without being able to explicitly state how or why. Is there a way to distinguish trustworthy intuitions from irrational feelings and biases?

Old Eastern clairvoyance
By intuition we do not mean the old Eastern all-knowing clairvoyance. If you go to parts of India you will find people who will look at your face and tell you everything about yourself, what has happened to you and what will happen to you. Perhaps they have the remnants of a long lost clairvoyance from before the Age Of Reason, or perhaps they are frauds?

Intellectual intuition
Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy Of Freedom defines intuition not as a feeling, but as a thought. “The form in which thought first appears in consciousness we will call 'Intuition'.” POF 5.10  This is why we call it “intellectual intuition”, it is found in the experience of thinking, but only when pure concepts are produced in that experience.

Concepts are not vague like feelings, but clear and fully comprehensible. When our intuition gives us the concept that corresponds to what we are observing, we have the essential nature of that thing in full clarity. Rather than a hunch, with intellectual intuition we act out of knowledge.
Cognitive satisfaction
The goal of knowledge is cognitive satisfaction. POF 7.2  We pose questions based on a feeling of “dissatisfaction” with what we observe in the world. We observe that our child is upset and seek the cause by asking, “Why is the child upset?” We experience a feeling of “satisfaction” only when our questions are sufficiently answered. In this way our pursuit of knowledge is guided by our individual feelings. The feeling of disharmony, that “something isn’t right” is the beginning of the pursuit of knowledge.

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© Tom Last 2017