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Intuition drapes SWAGs over the window of your mind.

In a less politically correct age, author G.K. Chesterton noted: "A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition."

Is intuition truly an advantage for la deuxieme sexe? If so, why is it that so many women marry so many turkeys? In our current more politically correct environment we would be required to note that both men and women use intuition--which, of course, would explain why so many men marry so many women who marry turkeys.

Clearly, intuition leads to less accurate estimation than does the slide rule; but, how often does the slide rule come into play if we're struggling with difficult decisions?

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, wasn't he simply playing a hunch? This hunch paid off in an empire. But, then, why didn't his intuition later tell him that Brutus and his henchmen were sharpening the carving knives? Then, again, hindsight functions more accurately than intuition.

Most of us do not live our lives according to strict scientific principles of decision-making. We use hunches and recognize some degree of risk in various uncertain enterprises. Typically, we operate on habit in the expectation that well-developed (although sometimes ill-conceived) habits will carry the day. So long as it's been thought through and well-practiced, rote works--except when it doesn't. Poor Caesar had that long-standing habit of going to the Forum.

Is intuition a sixth sense or just a blind guess for dealing with uncertainty?

The Kantian Distinction

Immanuel Kant, a philosopher who spent most of his time in his head, developed significant distrust for the way the world works.

Trying mightily to allay his distrust, Kant proposed an interesting distinction between phenomena and noumena. Phenomena involve the part of reality that is what it appears to be, namely the data of the senses and normal reasoning processes.

Noumena, on the other hand, involve the way things really are beneath the grime: the hard-to-fathom aspects of human experience. For Kant, solving the more hidden required a sixth sense, which he described as transcendental reason, namely a capacity for intuitive knowledge that men and women apparently shared equally. Kant presumed that when the senses and reason lacked sufficient punch to nail a decision, the mind would use transcendental reason.

Most of us operate automatically in the world of highway signs and traffic lights. Whenever we can, we cling to familiar ways of doing and understanding; human inclination thrives on predictability and shuns the unknown.

However, when we leave the beaten path, uncertainty beckons at every turn. Enter Kant or some other person with a set of foggy ideas invented to explain how to navigate in the fog.

The truth is that no one has ever figured out what intuition is, how it operates, and whether it works with any degree of accuracy. And yet, at times, some of us are willing to bet the farm on it.


When something is obvious enough, there's no uncertainty. But, when in doubt, we fill in the blanks; and typically the fill is guesswork. If the guesswork is "educated," intuition rises to a higher level--either more informed guesswork of a more elaborate way of disguising ignorance.

The more honest scientists admit to the practice of SWAGs--scientific wild-assed guesses--to guide their way through unchartered domains. A SWAG is another name for intuition (or Kant's transcendental reason). This is not science to the rescue.

Intuition tells me that intuition works best when guided by previous information and works worst when all the lights are out. If we think intuition worked, it's usually because we've tapped into existing learning that was readily available without conscious effort. We don't rely on intuition; we rely on relevant experience. When "intuition" seems to work, it's probably just good judgment doing the trick.

Probably our best shot at dealing with uncertainty is to admit (to ourselves at least) when we don't know something and delay a decision in the interest of gathering more information. Those who really know can be "intuitive" and much more adept in making good decisions.

Don't we always fare better when we do our homework? Isn't it better to gather as much information as possible, think it through, and reach a conclusion based on rational evaluation rather than some wild-assed guess?

When it comes to picking a stock, betting the farm, and selecting a business partner or an intimate other, rely on homework and hard reason to carry the day. Lay out the legal pad, draw the line down the middle, and line up the pros and cons. Then, let intuition, gut instinct, the sixth sense, transcendental reason, and scientific wild-assed guesses work their magic in the light of day.

Otherwise, so-called intuition may be an excuse for frustration, impulsivity, and seat-of-the-pants decision-making--which may be why so many women marry turkeys and so many men marry women who marry turkeys.

Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee's Web site is at The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled "The Healthy Lawyer." Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee's Web site or by going directly to
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Title Annotation:Stresslines
Author:Suran, Bernard G.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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