Why intuition matters

Ever heard people say logics and intuition don’t go well together? I have. In fact, I’ve got multiple intuitive friends who say “society places way too much emphasis on ratio”, as well as rational friends who argue “reasonable people should not rely on their intuition”. It is as if ratio and intuition are mutually exclusive. But they are not. In fact, they very much work together in helping us navigate through life. Unfortunately, there are lots of misunderstandings about both concepts, so let’s look at them in more detail.

Ratio helps us make sense

The Wikipedia definition of ratio, or reason, is pretty spot-on: “Reason is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information.” This definition might seem straight to the point, but it has two very important implications I’d like to highlight:

  • Ratio or reason is factually a verb. You apply reason to something. You also need to have input: assumptions, information or facts to reason about;
  • It’s also a conscious process. You actively seek logical connections, they are not something randomly popping up in your mind.

So then, ratio is not about knowing things. Rather, it’s about being able to draw conscious conclusions based on things you do know. How is this different from intuition?

While I’m using Wikipedia as a source anyway, let’s look at the definition of intuition: “Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.” See, now that’s interesting! First of all, intuition is about acquiring knowledge. It does not stem from any existing facts or information. Second, it can be applied without conscious reasoning: the two are not related.

How do intuition and ratio work together?

Ratio and intuition make a pretty powerful combination. One could see the two as two different tools in a toolkit. You would use a hammer differently from a saw, but there are situations where you just need both, and it’s the same for ratio and intuition. Intuition is a great thing to have to determine your starting point: you seem to know things, even though you are not actually able to pinpoint how you know them. Ratio, then, helps you make sense of things you don’t yet know, as well as trace back the steps from your intuition, to discover new facts. Consider the following sketch:

Intuition helps you see the result without having to extrapolate

As a rational person, going from a, to b, to c, you might extrapolate and expect your goal to be at X. However, it’s perfectly possible your goal is at Y, which you can simply see, without any extrapolation required. Let’s assume you’re at C and you see Y. Would it be wise to say “well… a led to be led to c, so my goal can’t possibly be at Y”? Or is it wiser to say: “hey, I see my goal is at Y! Let me see if this can indeed be correct and if so – where my mental model goes wrong”? Sometimes, intuition will tell you something that doesn’t seem logical. Don’t dismiss it as impossible. If you’ll investigate the possibility of your intuition being right, you’ll often get a better understanding of the complete picture.

Intuition helps us fill in the gaps

Our mental models are just that: models. They work well to explain the world around us, but they are often faulty or incomplete. Intuition is knowing an outcome unconsciously. That’s why – relying on intuition – we can check the validity of our mental models. We can determine if a model is faulty. Or, we can determine that the model is spot on and the intuitive knowledge is wrong. In both cases, we put our mental models to the test, enabling us to make better decisions.

For me personally, intuition is very, very important. I will not often dismiss it in favor of ratio, and when I do I often regret it later. What about you? Do you have a strong intuition? Have you ever had to choose between what you instinctively know and what your logic told you? Share your story  in the comments!

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