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Poll: Is Intuition Real?

Gut feelings. Hunches. Intuition. Prompts from Heaven. Inspiration. Or, as Lion-o from Thundercats called it, “Sight beyond sight.”

These terms and concepts are often used when we attempt to talk about those moments where we embrace uncertainty and make decisions without the benefit of hard data.

If you believe in intuition, where do you think it comes from? What causes it? Can it be developed?

If you don’t believe in intuition, what is the matter with all these deluded people (like me) and their hunches?


PS: On July 31 I’m hosting a workshop in Salt Lake City on How To PR Every Day with Adam T. Glass. Come learn how to get better at whatever training you like to do and then come to my house for the most epic BBQ in history. Details here.

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  • Amy Harrison June 4, 2010, 1:49 am

    I think it’s a case of our brain using the data we have to hand (notnecessarily all the data) and doing a very quick cross-reference with our values. If it fits, we get a good feeling, if it doesn’t, we feel wary.

    The more info we have, the better quality the cross reference. I think our instincts are a way of guiding us towards what we think will make us happy.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:44 pm

      Amy, are you ever wrong when you follow your intuition?

  • cinderkeys June 4, 2010, 2:10 am

    I think intuition exists, but I don’t have solid evidence. My belief is based on, er …

    Heh. What Amy said.

  • Eduard @ People Skills Decoded June 4, 2010, 2:14 am

    Hey Josh,

    I think intuition is real and it’s the result of our ability to synthesize experiences in our head and based on them, get a feeling of what a certain new experience means.

    But good intuition exists only when our mind is not polluted by limiting beliefs. If we interpret things in a certain way based on those, it’s not being intuitive, it’s just deluding ourselves.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:45 pm

      So is there such a thing as bad intuition, or is that what is meant by deluding ourselves?

  • Sue June 4, 2010, 4:49 am

    Intuition is real. Every time I get “a feeling” about a lottery number for example, it comes out. I love it when I act on the feeling because I win money. I am way ahead in the lottery numbers game because of my hunches.

    I believe it’s my divine inner self that is talking … I’ve learned how to recognize and hear my inner voice which guides me through my happy life.

    Yes, you can train yourself to recognize when your inner voice is talking. Quieting the mind through meditation is the first place to start. Experiencing nothing, stopping the inner chatter will lead you to fine tune your internal compass.

    Weightlifting is a form of meditation and can lead you to fine tune your inner voice too.

  • Joy Tanksley June 4, 2010, 5:13 am

    Well, all I can say is that I’ve learned to make decisions based on my intuition (or whatever it “really” is) and it’s created the most amazing, beautiful, positive changes in my life. If there’s a scientific or social explaination, or it’s just me convincing myself that I’m happy, I’m totally fine with that. Either way, it’s working for me!

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:46 pm

      I like that. If the results are good, why wonder why?

  • Eric | Eden Journal June 4, 2010, 5:30 am

    I absolutely believe in intuition and use it often. The key for me has been to practice using it. To go with my gut feeling even in times where I have no rational reason to do so. I often practice with little things where I get a feeling about something, but the decision isn’t super important. Then later I can look back and see how well things worked out based on the decision to follow my intuition.

    I have a whole post on intuition I’d like to share with you.

  • ami June 4, 2010, 8:12 am

    Absolutely, positively exists, and you can exercise it and make it stronger (use it or lose it).

    I like the way Amy H describes it – I think that developing your personal knowledge base and being open minded helps. In the end, it’s about trusting yourself and your own wisdom.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:51 pm

      I agree. I especially think that open-mindedness matters. Nothing stifles exploration like dogma.

  • Valerie M June 4, 2010, 9:06 am

    I do believe it exists. I think there are two kinds. The first one is described by other commenters above who say it is the brain synthesizing and cataloging past experiences then referring back to them to solve current dilemmas. Then there is one that comes from a spiritual place, our connection with other living beings and the Universe in general – it can also just be a mixture of that and how we are wired genetically as human beings.

    I believe the first one must be cultivated, since we aren’t born with it. The second one, we already have, but most of us aren’t aware of it or don’t know how to access it consistently. I mean how else do you explain things that you just “know” or have a “gut feeling” about even though you don’t have any past experiences to back it up.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:51 pm

      Thanks for jumping in, Valerie. Great comment.

  • Heather June 4, 2010, 9:23 am

    Do vibes count as intuition, as in, “I get freaky vibes from that cat” or “The vibe was just right”? DOn’t know how much this goes along with what Amy stated about information and how our brains process it, but to me, a “vibe” (a sometimes-palpable, sometimes-not-but-still-freaky feeling) is a form of information that my brain uses to tell me to stick around or (more often) run like hell. I think, too, some folks have “deadened” their own intuitive senses through sensory bombardment/overload, and wind up ignoring, cutting back, or killing off their intuition. But count me in as a believer.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:52 pm

      When I’m really busy, I look but I don’t see. When I am too rushed or stretched too thin, that is when I feel like I’m most unlikely to have any intuition (or freaky vibes) about anything. You could have been describing me during that whole paragraph.

      • Heather June 5, 2010, 10:47 am

        Josh, just so ya know. . . .sounds more like you’re sort of. . .distracted. Which may be exactly what someone who may be out to do you any amount of harm is looking for. But at the same time, when you’ve got your head down and you’re working like crazy and concentrating, you’re not looking out for the freaky-vibed person who may bonk you on the head to try and steal something from you or do you some greater harm. But dude, you’re 6’8″. I wanna see the short, scrawny, or middle-heighted and slightly paunchy idiot who’s gonna try and do something to you. First, there’s the reach issue. . . . then there’s the fact that you’re a super hero. . . .oops, shared too much! 😉

  • Anne Bender June 4, 2010, 9:31 am

    I believe it’s a primal instinct. As we “evolve” we tend to push away our intuitive instincts and over-think instead. This evolution is not only as we have gone from caveman to our current selves, but as we grow from children to adults. The more we learn the more the waters are muddied and the more we tend to brush off intuition as coincidence or a possible fluke.

    I also believe in the spiritual intuition. My mom once said when we hear someone call our name yet no one is around that it is a spirit warning us of something. It’s possible that momentary distraction is all it takes to keep us out of harm’s way.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  • Daisy June 4, 2010, 10:46 am

    Hmmm. Interesting that some posters are suggesting intuition is something primal (that we all have it) and others are saying it is a learned skill. I suppose it is a bit of both, and some of us are more naturally inclined to process our environments through intuition than others. (Anyone else a MyersBriggs fan? This is a strong INFJ talking here, married to an ISFJ — I consider his instincts “underdeveloped” and he considers me, uh, “nuts.” But we balance each other nicely.) I am a voracious consumer of data, but the way I use it is wonky. It’s either “Yes, of course, I think I actually already knew that but what great reinforcement!” or “What? That’s a load of crap. Next!” and that response happens very quickly. To me that’s what intuition in action looks like.

    On a more woo-woo note, I recently got a chill when a person I had never met passed me at a cocktail party with hubby’s colleagues; I told my husband that I believed the person to be cold and someone to watch out for in the work arena…apparently I was on the money.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:53 pm

      “On a more woo-woo note” is the best phrase I’ve heard today:)

  • candy June 4, 2010, 11:13 am

    We may call it intuition, but I think it’s just our brains using shortcuts and unconsciously accounting for all sorts of factors and observations. It’s the speed of an intuition that is truly ‘magical.’

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:54 pm

      I like the idea of shortcuts and intuition as the path to greater efficiency.

  • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 11:32 am

    Fascinating discussion so far, thank you all. Let’s change directions for a moment–has anyone ever had an intuition that proved to be entirely wrong? Have you ever followed your gut and made a colossal blunder?

    I want to say I have, but it’s hard for me to separate what I feel is an intuition from what may just be wishful thinking and really, REALLY wanting something to be true.

  • Randy Hauer June 4, 2010, 12:36 pm

    My take:
    Intuition is a word that describes a function of the part of the brain called the limbic brain, which is non-verbal. Although I prefer to call it pre-verbal, because it is an older brain structure that predates language.

    Intuition is essentially experience not yet verbalized. Thus the sentence “I have a feeling that something may happen,” is not properly an intuition. It is a descriptive interpretation of a sensation, but not the sensation or the “intuition” itself. Once put into words an intuition ceases to be. It becomes an interpretation of a sensation.

    So there may not be much available in the way of practical intuition since what readily passes for intuition are simply habits of interpreting with language certain sensations in a particular way. All raw experience ultimately devolves to language and hermeneutics.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:54 pm

      Randy, have you read any Derrida?

      • Randy Hauer June 5, 2010, 9:15 am

        Has anyone really read Derrida?
        Off topic but:
        One of my favorite cartoons from my NYC days was a single panel entitled “When Philosophers Argue at Parties” (or something like that) One angry guy is giving the finger to and shouting “Deconstruct this!” at another angry guy.
        A favorite artist of mine, Mark Tansey, plays with deconstruction constantly: Here’s a link to one of his paintings: http://web.ncf.ca/ek867/tansey.cleansing.jpg it’s called “Robbe-Grillet Cleansing Every Object in Sight.”

    • Boris Bachmann June 4, 2010, 4:15 pm

      Yes, intuition is something we use all the time, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes mid-course. When it turns out as we expect (for the best, or the worst) – we say, “Well, how bout that! My hunch was right!”.

      It’s been a while since I read “Blink”, but isn’t it about what we sometimes call “intuition”?

  • DJ June 4, 2010, 2:32 pm

    Yeppers. Use the Force, Josh.

  • cinderkeys June 4, 2010, 2:33 pm

    When you initially asked the question, I interpreted “intuition” to mean knowing something when you didn’t know how you could know. For instance, feeling like you could trust a person, or like there’s something off about a situation. I wasn’t thinking about an ability to predict the future.

    I’ve only ever been right — or wrong — about small things.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 2:40 pm

      I’m only speaking for myself, but I wasn’t speaking about predicting the future.

  • Eric | Eden Journal June 4, 2010, 3:23 pm

    Josh, I’m can’t think of a time when I followed my intuition, or my gut feeling, and been wrong. As far as I recall, every major decision I’ve made, where I followed my intuition, has worked out well.

    Intuition can be a tricky beast though. It can be hard to distinguish intuition from hopefulness or caution.

    It’s tricky because intuition can lead us in either direction, either keeping us safe, or telling us to take the plunge.

  • Bamboo Forest - Tick Tock Timer June 4, 2010, 3:42 pm

    You write:

    “it’s hard for me to separate what I feel is an intuition from what may just be wishful thinking and really, REALLY wanting something to be true.”

    Good point.

    I generally try to look at things in the most logical, objective way I can, instead of relying on intuition.

    That said, if I get the sense that someone is dishonest, or something of the like, I often heed that feeling. Sometimes, I think, we get this feeling because we’re picking up some non-verbal communication and our subconscious knows something isn’t quite right.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 4, 2010, 3:55 pm

      I think most of my keenest intuition do revolve around how I feel around other people. I know that my subconscious is way, way smarter than my scattered, conscious mind.

      • Boris Bachmann June 4, 2010, 4:17 pm

        You are zen without even trying Josh… which, of course, makes it more zen.

  • Piers McCarney June 4, 2010, 11:29 pm

    I believe strongly in intuition and its power to strengthen and guide us.
    I think it is the mind (or “The Observer” for those that see it that way) non-verbally processing the incomprehensibly massive amount of data that is available to it through all methods.
    Your very atoms and cells are in a constant state of exhange and merge with the environment around you. You essentially are everything you see and experience. So why would your experiential knowledge then only be what you’ve gained by your 5 acknowledged senses and what you can logically glean from them?
    I think the seperation of strong desire and instinct can be a difficult thing though. I have a strong desire to believe that I will finally press a 24kg KB more than a single rep in a set on my left arm this afternoon, but my intuition sadly tells me otherwise.

    Wow, re-reading that it sounds like a lot of wank, but that doesn’t make it any less true to me. Great conversation here.

  • Jenn June 5, 2010, 8:08 pm

    I believe it’s real but since I’m a “religious nut” 😉 I attribute it to the Holy Spirit leading me. I also don’t think there is a scientific explanation for it as I choose to let some parts of life happily remain a mystery. I think we need more of that in this day of age.

  • Cat June 11, 2010, 11:06 pm

    I like to think I rely on my intuition all the time. I do believe I’ve been wrong at times. Usually, that’s because the intuition is layered with too much rationalization. The “gut” seems to be pretty good but the brain muddies things.

    There is a fascinating book on the topic by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear. He has some really interesting anecdotes about people who trusted their guts…and some who didn’t.

    I think we are talking about at least two different things and lack sufficient words in English to distinguish them. I like the distinction Valerie made. At times, I experience something that feels as if it came from outside me; I like to think of this as “energy” so it’s not too threatening. Other times, it feels like the “intuition” came from me…more like the brain synthesizing several people described here. The second is the one that’s usually wrong as I look back on things.

    • Josh Hanagarne June 12, 2010, 10:10 am

      You’re the second person this week to recommend that book to me. I’m going to grab it today.

      • Cat June 12, 2010, 9:53 pm

        Second person in a week? Quick! Read it before it hits you on the side of the head! Clearly, the time has come. c. 😉

  • candy June 13, 2010, 11:37 am

    The Gift of Fear sounds fascinating. I just ordered it from Amazon.