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  • Writer's pictureChristine Skolnik

Intuition from a Logical Perspective

Here is the last of our excerpts from Terje Simonsen's A Short History of (Nearly) Everything Paranormal

Thank you again to the author and publisher for permission to publish these excerpts. See rave book reviews here.

In 2006 the leading journal Science published an article called ‘On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect,’ by the prize-winning Dutch psychologist A.J. Dijksterhuis (the links to this and the other articles used below are found in the bibliography). The results indicated that in uncomplicated situations—such as, say, when choosing home appliances—reason will be our best counselor; meaning that based on reason we are likely to make choices with which we are happy in hindsight. While in more complex situations, where there are a whole lot of pluses and minuses to be weighed against each other—for example when choosing a roommate, purchasing an expensive car, or even a house—Dijksterhuis believes it will often be favorable for us to resort to ‘unconscious thought.’ By this he means using a slow-working kind of intuition (and not the fast-working intuition described by Daniel Kahneman, as we will see below).

The reason Dijksterhuis makes such a recommendation is that we are able to process far greater amounts of information unconsciously than consciously. Perceiving and relating to the essence in a situation of choice—which out of these six cars should I buy? Ought I to move in with this particular person?—is when ‘unconscious thought’ may prove more helpful than mere logical thinking. This applies only if you first take the time and effort to garner the necessary facts and data so that your unconscious mind has sufficient and relevant material available to work with. But after having familiarized yourself thoroughly with the situation, you should not engage in endless brooding and analyzing—what we usually call ‘overthinking’—as this, according to Dijksterhuis, may cause you to lose perspective, leaving you wrapped and trapped in outsized concerns for trifles.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review in 2007 Dijksterhuis said:

Use your conscious mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision—but don’t try to analyze the information. Instead, go on holiday while your unconscious mind digests it for a day or two. Whatever your intuition then tells you is almost certainly going to be the best choice.

Dijksterhuis holds that this kind of intuitive processing is often derided by those who feel compelled to verbalize the reasons for their choices. In the article ‘A Theory of Unconscious Thought’ Dijksterhuis writes:

A major reason that people distrust intuition is the belief, which is often implicitly held, that intuitions are snap judgments that arrive in the consciousness with little or no prior information processing. However, such a belief may not be justified. In many cases, intuitions may well be the result of extensive unconscious thought. Intuitions are the summary judgments the unconscious gives us when it is ready to decide.

Intuitive decision-making should not be carried out lightly, though. There are prerequisites that should be in place to ensure the quality of your decisions. To that effect Dijksterhuis suggests we ask ourselves two questions. The first is: ‘Did I give myself enough time to engage in unconscious thought?’ If you conclude that yes, you probably have given your unconscious mind sufficient time for processing, then ask yourself the second question: ‘Did I have all the important information, or are there additional things I really need to know first?’ If you think you have all the information you need, Dijksterhuis says: ‘Go with your intuition. It likely is the best advice you will get.’

Simonsen, Terje G. . A Short History of (Nearly) Everything Paranormal (p. 418). Watkins Media. Kindle Edition.

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