How can we do the right thing?

Of the six intelligences we describe in our 3D model, the one that involves no thought and no logic is the one that’s the least considered and sometimes the hardest to comprehend. We’re talking here about instinctual intelligence – a crucial part of our brain’s incredible capabilities.

It’s clear that in our society and our culture the words “intelligence” and “intellect” are almost synonymous in popular usage. This is despite the fact that “the human brain is not made for maths and logic”, as one of the contributors to the BBC’s The Life Scientific said recently. “It works basically on emotions, impressions and beliefs.”

This should come as no surprise, given that the rest of the living world operates without the benefit of logic and intellect. In the animal world it’s crucial that the instincts operate effectively – since there are times when flight, fight and freeze are life-saving options, and there would be no survival of any species without hard-wired instincts to eat, drink, breathe, sleep and procreate.

The key question for educators is – are instincts fixed at birth, or can they be moderated, managed, enhanced, refined, modified and strengthened? If so, then how should we do it?

A very simple example. How do we avoid panic (flight or freeze) when a fire alarm sounds, or when someone spots a fire inside a building? We make sure that everyone knows what action is to be taken and how it’s to be carried out, and then we practice doing it (drilling) until everyone reacts instantly, instinctively and appropriately without thinking at all. In certain situations stopping to think can be a killer.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman discusses such matters in his bestselling book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow. However, in our view Kahneman confuses ‘intuition’ and ‘instinct’. His work is based on duality, and he appears to be unappreciative of the three dimensions – intellect, intuition and instinct.

We said the following in a previous post:

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 a 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.

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.

The above thoughts came to mind this week whilst reading this article in The Guardian:

Movies that teach us key philosophy lessons

How can we do the right thing? – Force Majeure

We all like to think that in [crisis] situations our basic decency would shine through, but we can never know. This is the central theme of Force Majeure, in which an avalanche suddenly threatens to engulf a Swedish family enjoying lunch on the terrace of a plush ski resort. The husband and father, Tomas, flunks his test. Instead of trying to shield his wife and children he runs away, not forgetting his precious smartphone.

Aristotle’s insight was that we rarely have the time or opportunity to sit down and think about what the best thing to do is before acting. Indeed, a good person does not have to do this. To become good you have to practise being good by cultivating the habits of goodness. Only then will you find yourself doing the right thing almost automatically. If you practise thinking about what you want to be and doing what is necessary to become that person, when you are tested you will be able to do the right thing without thinking.

(Julian Baggini)

We’re strong advocates of enhancing SMSC (spiritual, moral, social & cultural education) and spiritual learning in schools through the teaching of philosophy, especially as part of PSHE. It’s important for children to understand what we mean by values and virtues – to have an intellectual awareness and appreciation of the meaning of these concepts. It’s even more important for children to be given opportunities to “practise being good by cultivating the habits of goodness”. This is what good schools offer; instinctively, consciously and conscientiously. They see it as part of their “behaviour policy” – enabling children to learn the essentials of self-discipline and altruism.

Emotionally intelligent behaviour – sadly lacking in so many children entering the school system and in so many adults in the world around us – depends on us being able to rein in our more primitive instincts and emotions, since there are times when we DO need to “stop and think” before acting or reacting aggressively, selfishly and egocentrically.

Our schools need to do exactly what Baggini says – give children plenty of opportunities to interact and communicate, in order to practise and develop their better instincts, in order to develop instinctual intelligence. They will also develop insight and personal intelligence – a better understanding of themselves, including the parts of themselves they might otherwise prefer to overlook or conceal. Self-awareness is clearly a capacity we all need in order to live better and more productive lives, in order to do the right thing as often as possible.

fight flight

See also:

Taking Risks, and Using Intuition & Instincts


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 or see our website at
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Please leave a comment - and tell others about 3Di!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s