Why Intuition Works

Posted on 2020-09-16

It's easy to be sceptical of intuition. Making decisions unconsciously without understanding the reasons behind or being able to articulate the way we arrived at them. This seems irresponsible. On the other hand if intuition is something that's characteristic of us as species, there's a good chance it was acquired for a reason and has some value.

If you are dismissive about the value of intuition, imagine just for a second why it might work. A plausible explanation is actually very simple: finding an answer is much easier than explaining how to arrive at the answer. If you have tried to explain a problem you are comfortable solving to someone else, you've probably have experienced this feeling yourself. Our brain can collect countless subtle cues about a problem and construct a way to obtain the result. Understanding of how we have arrived at the solution requires a lot of additional effort, reflective study of ourselves and analysis of our cognitive process. For this reason there are a lot more questions we can answer than we can explain.

As with much of the human behaviour, to understand why we are wired in a certain way might require looking into the past. The fact that intuition is something we all share to a certain degree suggests that it is likely an evolutionary adaptation. Easy to imagine that through out the most of the history of our species, especially in the early days, making decisions was more important than being able to explain them. Natural selection punished indecisiveness. It was important to resolve whether to run or to fight in a split second. In fact more important than making the right call. Delaying a decision would mean an imminent death in many prehistoric situations.

This leaves us with the fact that intuition can be useful in making a decision. Especially a time sensitive decision, as the tool specifically produced by the evolution for this kind of a situations. Of course it doesn't mean that we should be content with the tools inherited from our ancestors. One of the effect of the progress made by our civilization is that we no longer need to spend all of our time fighting for resources, giving us a chance to contemplate the question "why".