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Wednesday
Sep212011

Intuitive? Try God!

I was alerted to this fascinating research, done at Harvard, by my friend Philip Collier.

In summary, the researchers found that persons who are capable of making intuitive decisions are more likely to be people of faith. Intuition is an extremely complex function of the human brain, since intuition relies on gathering lots of data, processing it at speed, and reaching a conclusion.

God is related to decision-making style, with those who rely more heavily on intuition reporting higher rates of belief, while those who are more reflective tilt toward atheism.
By linking religious belief to intuition, the study supports the idea that there is something in the cognitive makeup of humans that promotes belief in a higher power. For example, the natural tendency that people have to see a purpose behind random events, or the need to reduce uncertainty in their lives — as well as the anxiety it causes — may promote a belief in God.

The research makes no value judgement on intuitive versus reflective cognitive ability (since this is a matter or style rather than intelligence).

What do you think? Are intuitive thinkers more likely to be persons who hold faith convictions?

PS. My doctoral work was in cognitive neuroscience and theology. You can read more about that work on this blog by clicking the neuroscience link (tab) at the top of the page or the tag below.

Here's the link to the Harvard Article: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/intuitive-try-god/

Reader Comments (4)

I love this! and I completely agree! I am very intuitive and have often said that I believe my gift of intuition is a way I connect and discern with God, and thus I feel called to be obedient to that intuition. Such an interesting conversation: but I've never read anything that supported it! Thanks!
...and I hope you're well, D. Its been a while. :)

September 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Before I try to comment, let's see if it will let me.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Hayes

OK, commenting seems to be working today, so here goes.

I suppose one has to define "Intuitive".

I'm INTP on the Meyers-Briggs thingy, and the N stands for iNtuitive, but the opposite is not "reflective" but "Feeling".

So which characteristics is this researcher using?

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Hayes

On the MBTI Sensing is the polar opposite of iNtuition. The N-S continuim relates to how you get information from the world. People who tend towards Sensing on the MBTI pay more attention to information that comes in through their five senses. People who tend towards iNtuition pay more attention to the patterns and possibilities that they see in the information they receive.

Feeling is the polar opposite of Thinking. The T-F continuim relates to how you make decisions. People who favour Thinking give more weight to objective principles and impersonal facts while those who favour Feeling give more weight on personal concerns and the people involved.

My view on the research is that the results were unsurprising given the research design. Moreover the measure they used puts intuition in a poor light. The subjects were given a test desiged to illicit an erroneous intuitive response. The subjects were set up to fail and I would imagine that some of those subjects judged as intuitive may actually show up as sensing in the MBTI

Moreover, the result suggests that people who stop and reflect on things tend to be less religious, and those of us who do believe in God do so because we tend to avoid the objective facts and but rather go with our gut feel and based on the patterns we see.

Several authors have pointed out that humans are hard wired to see patterns and develop heuristics - it is how we cope with the world. This is not being irrational. This is being human.

There is a plethora of research to date supports this - intuitive decision making trumps so called rational decision making (check out this article by Jonah Lehrer on why intuition trumps reason when making tough decisions: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/how-should-we-make-hard-decisions/ Here Lehrer points out that when the brain is overloaded with information, rational decision making falls apart. When you focus on Sensing cannot cope with all the information and you have to revert to making decisions based on patterns that are often unconscious to us. Malcom Gladwell's book, Blink gives and excellent explanation of this.

Another argument is whether science can truly understand or get to the bottom of faith. Science is based on measurement. The great leaps in science occur when we're able to measure things smaller or further away than before. Western science is reductionist in its approach - we dig deeper and deeper hoping that by knowing the smallest thing we can understand the entire thing. We call this not seeing the wood for the trees. The point is that since we cannot see God, we cannot measure God, and science can never prove, or disprove for that matter, God.

Blessings,

Philip

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Collier

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