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Dudley Dowell
instinct
intuition
Wed, Dec 31, 2014 - 12:00 AM

How do we know things intuitively from birth, which implies knowing and not learning, and they are almost always right? What are your thoughts on this vital part of human nature?


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Bo Bennett, PhD
Host, Doctor of Social Psychology

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Host, Doctor of Social Psychology

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About Bo Bennett, PhD

I am the host of this show :) For my complete bio, please see http://www.bobennett.com.
PrintWed, Dec 31, 2014 - 12:00 AM
My focus will be on the "and they are almost always right" part of the question (which I understood to be more of a claim within the question). First, I think what is generally referred to as "intuition" is categorically different from what we refer to as "instincts," which seems to be the focus of your question. Instincts are only "right" in the sense that they probabilistically increase our chance of survival and reproduction. A few key points here: (1) the "rightness" of our instincts are limited to the contexts of our great ancestor's environment. In other words, instincts that can be trusted include sucking, bonding, and other primitive social behaviors, whereas those that related to a modern social environment such as flight, fight, or freeze, almost always do more harm than good. (2) The foundation of "rightness" when referring to instincts is survival, not what we generally refer to as morality (although there can be overlap). And (3) for an instinct to be favored by evolution, it only needs to be slightly advantageous. In mathematical terms, this means a behavioral instinct that is "right" just 51% of the time could, theoretically, be passed on. In this sense, "almost always" right is a bit too generous of a statement.

The "knowing" from birth part, what ever we call it, can be explained by genetic code that provide the instructions for our cells that were shaped by billions of years of evolution. While still a controversial topic, scientists in this area are beginning to realize that rather than a central "us" doing the knowing and sending instructions to our bodies, it is our consciousness that merely interprets or reflects the "will" of our physical bodies. This is what is often referred to as the illusion of freewill. So the simplistic answer is that our bodies talk and our brains listen.
Bo Bennett, PhD
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