IB Theory of Knowledge 12
6 December 2012 Intuition: A ‘Hybrid’ Way of Knowing
Many have experienced a moment in which a decision was quickly made, based solely on these four simple words: It just felt right. There were never any supporting facts or even ample time spent to mull over the decision as any decision would normally require. The surprising result? The decision just happened to be spot on. Now, the odds of this occurring may seem quite low, even impossible. Call it a hunch, call it a “gut feeling”, this process of thinking – or lack of – is actually quite common and is known as intuition. It is simply the brain’s “shortcut” to making a hasty decision or opinion in a matter of seconds with the least amount of thinking involved as possible. In addition to the four main Ways of Knowing (WOKs), perception, emotion, reason, and language, intuition has the potential to be considered a separate, fifth WOK as it may lead to certain truths. However, intuition is simply a hybrid of two of the WOKs, perception and emotion; therefore, intuition cannot be considered its own, brand new WOK. The brain processes what the senses take in for a split second – the use of perception as a WOK - and rushes through past memories, past knowledge, picking up whatever it may think is relevant in a short amount of time. This is then transferred into emotions, evoking the wrenching feeling in the stomach, or perhaps even those four words, “It just feels right.” As with all WOKs, however, there are faults. Perception and emotion cannot always be trusted as there could be misinterpretations. With this in mind, is intuition always reliable? And how does one determine whether or not to trust that gut feeling?
Two types of intuition are used when confronted with a problem: educated and uneducated intuition. Although tuition involves little thinking and processing in the mind, there is still the possibility of scanning over a “file” that is relevant to the situation. In the case of intuition, one would have what is called “educated intuition” when there is prior knowledge in the brain regarding the situation; for example, a surgeon has knowledge about the human body and different surgical needs for different circumstances, allowing for his or her intuition to kick in when faced with an emergency decision on a patient. Uneducated intuition, on the other hand, is just that: intuition with no knowledge on the subject whatsoever to back up the hasty decision that is made. Considering the fact that uneducated intuition has no support, it is reasonable to make the claim that educated intuition is far more reliable than uneducated intuition.
Take, for example, the case of my father’s kidney stone. Several years ago, my dad suffered from a kidney stone, “a hard mass developed from crystals that separate from the urine within the urinary tract” (NKUDIC 2007). This kidney stone was lodged in his kidney, causing excruciating pain. My father, having very little knowledge about kidneys and the urinary system, felt the sharp pain through the use of his perception, and in a state of panic, his emotions went haywire and led him to come to the quick conclusion that he was going to die that day. Once he arrived at the Emergency Room, still in a state of shock and panic, the doctor there immediately had a hunch that my father was suffering from a kidney stone. Tests were done with the MRI scanner, and the doctor’s prediction was correct; there was a kidney stone lodged in the kidney. In this case, the doctor acted on his educated intuition. He had years of studying the human body prior to that day, and in the span of just a few seconds, his brain was able to find that “file” and come to the quick conclusion. In this way, the doctor’s perception was very reliable. In addition, his calm state throughout the situation allowed for his emotions to keep collected and ultimately allow him to make a reasonable decision, unlike my father who, in a...
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