Horizon, Intuition, Instinct and Kahneman: More Thoughts on Multiple Intelligences

A brief post today with a few observations on the subject of multiple intelligences in the context of this week’s “Horizon” science documentary on BBC2 – “How You Really Make Decisions”.


The BBC’s website blurb says this


Horizon uncovers the truth about how you really make decisions.

Every day you make thousands of decisions, big and small, and behind all them is a powerful battle in your mind, pitting intuition against logic.

This conflict affects every aspect of your life – from what you eat to what you believe, and especially to how you spend your money.

And it turns out that the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may realise

3Di has a very strong appreciation of the power of intuition . . . and instinct, and sensory input, and empathy, and insight, and indeed intellect.

Our problem with the Horizon programme is that it confuses intuition and instinct, which are two very different types of intelligence within the six that we all rely on to survive and thrive.

We also take issue with the notion that there is a “battle in your mind, pitting intuition against logic”. Why does there need to be a battle? Isn’t it more logical to assume that humans are so successful as a species because our various intelligences on the whole work together harmoniously, supportively and productively?

This error comes about as a result of typical dualistic either/or type of thinking which operates throughout western society – to a much greater degree than it does within the eastern traditions that see phenomena as holistic, balanced and integrated.

Instead of a dualistic model of the mind and of human intelligences 3Di maintains that intelligences are three dimensional and holistic.

The Horizon programme is based on the work of Daniel Kahneman, much of which is described in his best-selling book – Thinking, Fast and Slow.

On page 4 of his book Dr Kahneman says this:

My aim is to improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice . . . by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them.

We agree 100% with the need to use words and language more precisely if we are to have more productive discussions about human intelligences, which are the drivers of all that we are and all that we might be. We need a better understanding of human intelligences because it’s when intelligences are underdeveloped and underutilised that many bad things happen. It’s when intelligences are in conflict rather than in harmony that we become self-conflicted.

We desperately need a common language, a common framework and indeed a common model in order to have better and more productive discussions about human needs, about wellbeing, about education and about mental health.

We have a major issue with Kahneman’s use of the word ‘intuition’ – which many have called our ‘sixth sense’. We prefer to think of it as part of our sixth intelligence. Saga Noren, a lead character in The Bridge, lacks social intelligence, but she has intuition and intellect in abundance. She also has good instincts, which work well and in harmony (not in conflict) with her intuition and intellect.

We believe Dr Kahneman has made a similar category error to that which Daniel Goleman made in his early works in which he mixed up and confused ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘social intelligence’.

In our view Kahneman confuses ‘intuition’ and ‘instinct’. He appears to be unaware of the three dimensions – intellect, intuition and instinct.

Instinct is ‘non-thought’ or complete absence of thought. It’s partially hard-wired into human and animal brains and is added to as a consequence of experience and practice. We learn to walk, to ride bicycles, to drive cars and play musical instruments slowly and with great difficulty in the early stages, and through successful and prolonged practice we become so skilled at doing these things that we are able to do them without ‘thinking’ – automatically and without paying conscious attention.

Intuition, on the other hand, is what occurs “out of the blue” – original thoughts and ideas, solutions to problems, sudden flashes of understanding – that come to us without deliberate effort or conscious processing. It’s more likely to be a part of a meditative process – such as occurs in the shower or on a walk – than a deliberative process. It’s also a product of ‘slowing down’ and ’emptying out’ rather than a fast instinctual response to an emergency or to a need to make a sudden decision that’s based more on past experience and on ‘feelings’ than on rational analysis.

Instincts are what are being primed when we do fire drills and watch cabin staff pointing to exits in aircraft prior to take-off – so that in real emergencies we will respond automatically and without having to stop and think about an appropriate response. In a crisis we need to act without deliberation.

Intuition (and ‘creative’ thinking) can be developed through practice in slowing down, emptying out and relaxing our brains, our conscious minds. Most people find this is what happens when they take a leisurely shower or bath, or a long leisurely walk, or simply sit quietly, doing nothing.

These distinctions are crucial if we are to have better and more mindful conversations about the human condition, about multiple intelligences and about developing our human capacities.

Human beings are not two dimensional – and neither are our intelligences.

three dimensions

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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