Adding Warmth to Cold Hard Facts
The Truth is more important than the facts.”
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
In light of our earlier analysis of the widespread usage of opiates in pre-Enlightenment Europe, this brings up an intriguing possibility: is it possible that the knowledge discovered in the Age of Enlightenment itself was influenced by opium? Could the Age of Enlightenment be an example of the psychedelia movement of the 1960s, or Hitler’s opioid-fueled Blitzkrieg of Europe in WWII? The Age of Enlightenment was undoubtedly a much-needed response to an age when the authoritarianism of the Church and Kings had caused untold harm. However, did the regular consumption of opium-laced laudanum fuel creatives to new, unimagined heights of expression, and ordinary people to heights of pain avoidance or cognitive impairments? Were opium eaters emboldened to the cause of justice? Mark Twain wrote: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Now, modern science is revealing the role that intuition plays in complementing analytical reasoning. Both are heavily affected by drug use. At the same time, neither intuition or intelligence can exist in a silo for valid reasoning to occur.
Centuries of rational thinking have created a world fundamentally shaped by Enlightenment philosophy. Today nowhere does reason excel more than in the rationalistic fields of business, science, & technology. As a result, our modern world is built on the countless inventions that were created out of mathematical calculations and the mechanical application of business principles designed to maximize profits for their shareholders. Renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman spelled out the relationship between intuition and logical reasoning in his groundbreaking book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which summarized his decades of research with partner Amos Tversky, on intuitive and logical thinking. Incidentally, this also launched the field of behavioral economics.
In a nutshell, Kahneman and Tversky investigated and classified common human errors that arise from heuristics and biases and summarized it in a blandly entitled framework called “System1 and System 2”. Kahneman defined System 1 as the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach, while System 2 as the brain’s slower, analytical, rational approach. Kahneman saw System 1 as more influential and steering System 2. Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 cut across prior categories. One cannot merely say that System 1 is irrational because sometimes it is often logical. Conversely, occasionally slow System 2 thinking can produce poor and even irrational results. It is only recently that we are beginning to realize that the prioritization of System 2 thinking that reduces everything to an equation may not be the panacea that Kant and other leading figures made it out to be.
Modern capitalism is based on the principle of homo economicus, the rational agent. Production plants that apply human motion studies to production lines that produce rationally designed products for homo economicus. Perfect, right? Wrong. Two centuries of reductionist industrial capitalism have resulted in significant unintended consequences such as populist uprising, authoritarian regimes, biodiversity loss, fresh water shortage, peak resources, the highest inequality rates in history, and climate impacts to name a few. It is clear that rational though without intuition leads to unacceptable imbalances.
At the same time, the fast and intuitive System 1 of Kahneman is peppered with all manner of cognitive biases. Psychologists keep discovering them, and they now number in the hundreds. Kahneman does not dismiss intuition outright though, but instead argues that it is effective to compliment analytic reasoning, but only if it is used correctly. The intuition of a domain expert is entirely different from that of a novice. The domain expert has the advantage of years of practice and experience that allows the expert to formulate a high-quality response quickly.
Studies by Gerard Hodgkinson at the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning, and Change at Leeds University unpacks intuition to give us insights into how it works. He cites the case of a Formula One driver who braked sharply nearing a hairpin turn without knowing why. As a result, he avoided running into a pile-up caused by accident up ahead. Psychologists who were interested to know how he was able to identify this tested him with a video of the event and discovered that he was subconsciously tuning into the fact that the crowd that was usually cheering him on was instead looking in a different direction with a static, frozen, gaze. This was the cue that something was wrong, and the driver responded immediately to it. Hodgkinson concludes that neither is better than the other, and both are needed in effective decision-making.
Neuroscientist Valerie van Mulukom of Coventry University agrees with Hodgkinson, that intuition has an important role to play. The current model of the brain is as a predictive processing system which constantly compares incoming sensory information and experiences with stored memories and knowledge to predict what will happen next. This comparison occurs automatically and subconsciously in real-time, and when a significant mismatch is detected but has not reached a conscious level yet, it produces the feeling we call intuition. Recent meta-analysis investigating the relationship between intuitive and analytical reasoning This shows that intuition is not correlated and do not exist on opposite ends of a bipolar spectrum. This means that even though you may think you are engaged in purely analytical System 2 thinking, yet System 1 intuitive thinking can still be happening subconsciously. Furthermore, Albert Einstein was a firm believer in intuition and credited many of his significant discoveries to intuitive thinking. While it is easy to say that intuitive thinking is sloppy and imprecise, Mulukom cites a study that shows that too much analytical thinking can lead to poor decisions as well (Wilson et al., 1993)
Recent studies on identity politics conclude that our group identity is stronger than reasoning and causes us to cherry pick data to support our groups position. Thus, in moral dilemmas, analytical thinking is sometimes referred to as the “press secretary,” which comes up with post-hoc justification for firmly entrenched moral positions. As usual, it is not a pure black and white case of one is better than the other. Both intuition and analytical thinking are required in appropriate amounts to make most decisions, even though they need to carefully harnessed to ensure clear decisions are made.
One of the most famous stories that illustrates the power of such domain expertise intuition is that of Lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces. Stanislav Petrov is known as the man who singlehandedly saved the world from nuclear war. Petrov is the central figure in a false nuclear alarm incident that took place on September 26, 1983. At that time, Petrov was the duty officer at the Oko nuclear early warning command center. While he was on duty, the early warning system radar screen became lit with six incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from the United States. In the few tense moments that followed, Petrov had a decision to make. He could alert authorities higher up on the chain of command of the radar screen’s report of incoming nuclear missiles, or he could disobey his orders and protocol. His gut feeling told him something was wrong. He didn’t know what, but his years of experience told him that this didn’t make sense. In the end, Petrov did nothing. Going against Soviet protocol explicitly written for such situations, he disobeyed orders and told them nothing. After he watched and prayed for the moments following his decision, the blips on the radar screen show a ground zero strike. Then nothing. Follow-up calls indicated to the command center that nothing had happened. Petrov made the correct guess, and he is now credited with preventing an erroneous retaliatory nuclear strike on the US and its NATO allies, which could have resulted in large-scale atomic war.
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