A fire broke out in the kitchen of a house in Chicago, Illinois. A team of firefighters kicked down the door of the house. They stood in the living room as they sprayed water at the fire in the kitchen. Strangely, the fire would not go out. One of the firefighters had a feeling that something was very wrong. “Get out, now!” he ordered. The team ran out of the house. Moments later, the floor they had been standing on in the living room collapsed.
Looking back, the firefighter believed his brain must have had the ability to know the future. A researcher who studies decision-making wasn’t so sure. He talked to the firefighter about what was going through his mind before he told everyone to get out of the house. The researcher found out that the firefighter had noticed three strange things: water was not putting out the fire, the living room was unusually hot, and the fire was unusually quiet. The researcher believed that the firefighter’s intuition recognized this pattern and knew that the situation was not safe. A part of his brain beyond his own awareness knew that the fire was also in the basement underneath the living room, making the living room unusually hot and the fire unusually quiet.
The story shows that intuition can be a very important factor in decision-making. Intuition is the ability to know something without any proof. It is sometimes known as a “gut feeling,” “instinct,” or “sixth sense.”
For hundreds of years, intuition has had a bad reputation among scientists. It has often been seen as inferior to reason. But these days, many researchers see intuition as our brain’s way of taking a shortcut based on our memories and knowledge. Like our ability to reason, sometimes our intuition is accurate and sometimes it’s not.
Intuition has long been a valued part of many First Nations cultures. It is recognized as one of many ways of knowing. Knowledge can be passed down from our elders, gained from experience, and revealed to us through dreams, visions, and intuitions.
There are many situations when intuition is more useful than reason. For example, intuition lends itself to making art. Jazz musicians who compose music in front of an audience are using their intuition, backed by years of practice. Some couples claim they “just knew” they were meant to be together from the moment they met, so intuition may play an important role in choosing a mate. Intuition is also the part of the brain many people use to explore their spiritual side.
At the same time, our quick-thinking brains tend to have some biases. For example, our brains tend to think that something that is attractive must be good, when this isn’t necessarily true. We also tend to pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs and ignore information that challenges our beliefs, causing us to believe things that are wrong. Sometimes we make a quick decision without thinking of all the possible options and end up regretting it. As a result, it is likely wise to use a balance of reason and intuition in our decision-making.