Intuition Puzzles
January 14, 2008 2:22 PM   Subscribe

How do you improve your intuition? Is there an equivalent to logic puzzles for developing the ability to think inuitively? Not the "ah ha" type of puzzle like 88 K on a P. Some other structured activity that goes beyond philosophical advice like "listening to your inner dialog." I already believe in intuition; I'm just looking for ways to exercise it.
posted by Jeff Howard to Education (12 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Meditation (I would think especially vipassana, but that's just the style I'm most familiar with) and meditative exercises like yoga.
posted by occhiblu at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

What do you mean by intuition?
posted by phrontist at 2:36 PM on January 14, 2008

An article in Seed magazine called Who Wants to be a Cognitive Neuroscience Millionaire? has practical tips from a neuroscience Ph.D. that he used to win US$500,000 on the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" game show. On intuition, he writes:
Another cognitive process essential for winning on Millionaire is intuition, or more precisely, knowing how to make decisions based on intuition. What if you have a feeling about an answer? What should you do with your hunch? Folk wisdom holds that on standardized tests you should go with your first impulse. Research tends to support this idea: a first impulse is more often correct than a second, revised decision. But what if $250,000 is at stake? "More often correct" does not seem certain enough to serve as a basis for a decision. How can you evaluate the true likelihood of a hunch being accurate?

Cognitive models developed by my advisor Gail Carpenter suggest that a more effective way to evaluate an intuition is to consider its mnemonic associations. If you can mentally trace some of the cognitive links of an intuition (through a process similar to priming), these links may suggest whether the intuition is meaningfully connected to the correct answer or whether the link is trivial, incidental, or wrong. For example, given the question "Bucharest is the capital of what European country?", you might have an intuition that the answer is Hungary, because the actual capital of Hungary—Budapest—sounds like "Bucharest" and is thus unconsciously linked. In this case, naively following your unexamined intuition would lead you away from the correct response: Romania.

My $250,000 question presented me with a case of pure intuition. "The department store Sears got its start by selling what specific product in its first catalog?" Since pop culture esoterica and business origins are outside my domains of interest, I did not know the answer. But for some reason, even before the four possible answers appeared, I thought of watches. When "watches" turned up as one of the choices, I reflected on it further. I did not feel any certainty. But why did my brain come up with "watches?" Did I once buy a watch at Sears—an incidental connection? Had I recently seen a Sears advertisement for watches? As I concentrated on my watch intuition, I began to think about railroads. My brain's memory pattern of watches was somehow linked to a memory pattern of railroads, and my railroad memory also evoked a memory of Sears. Though I still could not work out the explicit connection between watches and Sears, I satisfied myself that "watches" had some deep mnemonic relationship to both railroads and Sears—perhaps at some point in my life I had read that Sears originally delivered their watch catalogs by railroad?

"A, watches, final answer."

"That's right!"
posted by mbrubeck at 2:37 PM on January 14, 2008 [6 favorites]

"Intuition" is often another word for internalized expertise. You gain intuition in a subject by working on that subject (be it carpentry, neurosurgery, or algebraic geometry) for years and years. And intuition in one subject is rarely transferable to another.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

Seconding meditation. Also, studying books like The Game and How To Win Friends And Influence People. Get outside of your comfort zone and go to places where you are unfamiliar, be those settings social or physical (i.e. an unfamiliar club or a forest, if you're not a forest-y type). Try to "get by" as best you can. Take a trip to somewhere where you don't speak the language. Try to see how much of the environment you can discern. What are people doing? What are their personalities like?

Also, try practicing your memorization and observation.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:45 PM on January 14, 2008

Be here now.
posted by Roach at 2:50 PM on January 14, 2008

I'm gonna put in a 3rd vote for "meditation" (and also for "Be Here Now", as corny as it sounds, its succinct and accurate).

Although in an analytical sense, I would agree with others who say that intuition is merely internalized expertise IN A CERTAIN SKILL OR FIELD, I would definitely argue that it is certainly not limited to that. You CAN have surprisingly accurate intuition/predictions about topics you are not at all experienced in.

For me, skillful intuition is best realized by :
1.) First - practice opening your "awareness" to everything around you. What does that mean?, Use all your senses, pay attention to the patterns and rhythms in life, no matter how small or (seemingly) insignificant. There IS information there. Use it.

2.) Slow down and calm down. You'll miss all the stuff in #1 if you are constantly rushing through life.

3.) Every experience (no matter how small) has learning potential. The more you learn, the more patterns you'll see, and the more intuition you'll have.

All I know... the older I get and the more experiences I have and the more I pay attention to little coincidences/patterns === the more accurate my intuition and internal "gut feelings" seem to be. Now, disciplining yourself to actually listen to your intuition, thats another Ask.Mefi :P
posted by jmnugent at 3:21 PM on January 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

What I think of as my intuitions will only deign to come to the shores of consciousness surfing atop breaking waves of high emotion.

There is rarely any dearth of such for me, but unfortunately-- possibly by the same corollary of the Second law of Thermodynamics that makes evil so much easier to achieve than a comparable level of good would be-- they are mostly melancholy if not despairing, and this has tended to give my intuitions a dusky cast, at best. Music will call them up out of an oily somnolence almost infallibly, classical, folk, rock or blues (not jazz, somehow), and the heavier and more grave the mood, the better.
posted by jamjam at 3:42 PM on January 14, 2008

Read Blink. It's a fantastic book about intuition: how some people have it and some don't; why more knowledge doesn't always make for better decision-making; how advertisers try to manipulate us by subtly prompting reactions, etc.
posted by misha at 4:00 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

My favoroite bumper sticker, ever:
I'd rather be here, now
When I saw that on the bumper of the car in the neighborhood I was moving into, I knew I would be happy there (and apart from the misery of my relationship with my now-ex, I was)

Not sure if this improves intuition or not but one thing I do sometimes, maybe just to shore up my intuition or something, is to allow myself to be completely guided by whim fancy and guessing. By which I mean I'm in some area I don't know extremely well, and rather than following the route I do know, I allow little tickles to guide me down different streets and in directions that I feel drawn towards.

It doesn't really have anything to do with thinking I might find something new or special (I'd say the results are around 50/50), it's about letting your brain know that you are willing to shut off your logical mind from time to time and be guided by...something else.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:02 PM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think I'm highly intuitive, coupled with with weak thinking (processing) [figures right]. More often than not, my intuitions are guided by my cynicism. That either says something about the world or I am right in this characterization of myself. I make up for my slack with an irresistible curiosity and intellectual qualities. I don't know anything about Meditation and I have a hunch* ; )
This kind of thing is a question of nature rather than nurture.

But, there is one characteristic I have which I think helps me deduce and maneuver in my world: An open mind. You must wether the struggle to see both sides of every issue and consider every bit of information because it always informs you of something. For example even if most of a piece is hogwash and you'd rather not waste your time reading it, it would inform you of the writers motives if you finished.
posted by Student of Man at 10:11 PM on January 14, 2008

Improvise. Make a practice and a discipline of improvisation.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:02 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

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