Intuition: is it just hindsight in disguise?

A brief exchange this morning on twitter people showing their true colours and ones intuition being proven correct has gotten me thinking about intuition and how we use it, or indeed ignore it, in our daily lives.

Wikipedia tells us (and if it good enough for a member of Australia’s parliament it must be good enough for me as a source) that:

Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference and/or the use of reason. The word intuition comes from Latin verb intueri which is usually translated as to look inside or to contemplate. Intuition is thus often conceived as a kind of inner perception, sometimes regarded as real lucidity or understanding.

Put another way it is one’s metaphorical “gut instinct” about something.

Herein lies the conundrum for me when it comes to the concept of intuition: if it exists and we all have it why do not use it more in our decision making? I will pose this another way: the excellent detective work of Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS which oft revolves around his famous “gut” aside, when was the last time you or anyone you know, as far as you are aware, made a decision the first moment your intuition directed you, or them, in that way?

Conversely, when have you reached a decision and then reflected on that decision and exclaimed that you intuitively knew that decision was the one you had to make months ago but didn’t until another “thing” (be it conduct or data) arose to push you in that direction?

I know from my personal experience that in both my personal and work life the later of these two scenarios is what always plays out. That realisation got me thinking about whether intuition is really just our brains wrapping up hindsight into a different package. Put another way: if we make a decision and then say “well intuitively I knew I would be doing this” is that not just hindsight?

I readily concede that my brain plays tricks on me more than most so it is entirely possible that what I often think is intuition albeit discovered after the fact is indeed hindsight. However I am not sure that it possible to consider this point in the absolutes I am positing.

Additionally, another tangent that comes to mind here is whether intuition is merely a manifestation of experience. I know, for example, when I am put on a new engagement at work that I will have a pretty clear idea of how the investigation of the affairs of that particular entity is going to go right from the start and what I am going to find. Is that my intuition or the 14 years of experience I have guiding me? Or is it both?

I find this concept fascinating but concede that perhaps I am too wrapped in labels or wanting to be more Special Agent Gibbs than Sherlock Holmes (who famously exclaimed “Data!!! I can not make bricks without clay”).

I do know this to be true though: if I had have trusted what I believe to be intuition in some decisions I delayed making life may be significantly different. Then again: is that just hindsight talking?

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