Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are you intuitive? Phooey

Post by Laura Musikanski, Executive Director of Sustainable Seattle and lead of Happiness Initiative.

Is happiness in all of our minds? Well no- of course not. Happiness is very much dependent upon the conditions of happiness. That is the point of our project. But then again - yes it is. It's in your mind when you feel happy. And part of that happiness is understanding your mind. This is also a condition of happiness - learning and developing ourselves. Here are notes from a lecture about the way we think, and about how our minds work.

Daniel Kahneman gave a lecture today in town hall. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work in well-being, and is said to be the "grandfather" of the field. He began with a humbling statement about feeling overwhelmed by large crowds. After a few false starts, he began with stories about intuition: a fireman whom, not realizing until much later that his feet were hot, heralds his fellows out of a burning building, a nurse who takes her father-in-law to the hospital just before his stroke, but only because she felt that it was the right thing to do. He spoke about each of us us having an expertise in intuition; we pick up on moods, patterns, and signals, without even realizing it.
"Intuition is nothing but recognition," states Kahneman. A child points to a dog and says "doggy." Our capacity to know something is true without being able to explain how is not "magical," he says. "In fact, this idea that intuition is magical is pernicious." The problem is that there is no expertise in intuition, so Kahenman decided to study it.

He tried to study intuition in the battle field, and found the principle of the "illusion of validity." People, regardless of their knowledge, who possessed great confidence and the ability to communicate their intuition, emerged as leaders, whether they were right or wrong. People like decision makers who base their decision on intuition, and then say it out loud. Money Ball is movie about selecting ball players on a rational basis, which does not actually work. Over 200 clinical studies have concluded that when you pitch experts against statistical formulas, the formulas are usually better and more accurate than the experts. People do not like this fact.

"Sometimes there is intuition, and sometimes it does not work." Kahneman shows a picture of a young girl with furrowed brows, open eyes, and a gaping mouth. It says (face pic) is angry. You know she is angry because you recognize the signals.

We have two minds - "system 1" is the feeling mind, the impulsive and bursting mind, which whispers crazy ideas into system 2. "System 2" monitors, judges, and makes decisions on when to act. Most of the time, we believe what System 2 says. We embrace this as who we are. But, this is an illusion.


When you see these two words, your mind was flooded by images, memories, your body reacted, you recorded this, you became more alert and vigilant, you became much more able to recognize words like "smell" and "stick". You made up a story. In your mind, a causal relationship occurred. All these connections are systematic and reciprocal. Your disgust face caused others to make the same face. Association influences what you see, and now, you do not want a banana, huh? Similarly, i
f you make people smile when watching a cartoon, they find it funny.

Context influences what you see as well. Try an experiment where you put a poster on top of an honor box, where people pay for the tea in this box. Put flowers on the box, no one pays. Put a picture of eyes watching, and people pay. System 1 is influencing system 2. When yo hear an upper class british voice which states, "I have large tattoos down my back," you react with disbelief. System 1 is influencing system 2.

It takes very little time to update your system to know what is normal or not normal. Our minds are designed to jump to conclusions, and we do this with high confidence. We make judgements with high confidence and very little information. Essentially, we tell stories. This is a sill of system 1 - to organize data, make sense of it and formulate a story ("information,") on which we make decision. Rarely are humans stumped. Even when we do not know something, we can make something up, and decide that we actually do know. One of the abilities of system 1 is to match one set of information to another.

When can we trust intuition? You should not trust its confidence. Confidence is an indication of the cohesiveness of the story. Is the environment consistent enough where they can learn patterns because there are actual patterns? Often, we exaggerate the consistency of the world. We want cause. We create causal stories so we have the illusion we can predict the future. Do not "trust" intuition.

This is what Kahneman said.

I completely disagree for three reasons:

1. If intuition is only as good as the consistency of the environment (and it must be, since the experience of the intuit only exists in that environment) then, in a chaotic environment, a data driven approach is only as good as the data derived. But, in a chaotic environment, the data will not deliver any better concussions (correlations, causations) due to the chaotic nature of the environment. SO, that leaves us no better off - but worse because:

2. A data driven approach is based on data. This is obvious, but only the data which the observer decides to gather, is actually gathered. The data the observed did not decide to gather, is not gathered. This can lead to huge lack of data, and poor decisions.

3. Intuitive decision makers gather data they are not aware of, data with which they made no conscious decision to gather. If we hone our intuition, we have the possibility of gathering a lot more data, in much more complex or chaotic situations, and then understanding order, patterns etc.

So, here is what I think: There is an incredible hope for intuitive decision making. If we value that part of our brains, then cultivate it and become more aware of it, we have the possibility of far greater capacity than the statistical models. But to do this, we must trust in our own capacities.

No comments:

Post a Comment