Good intuition vs. bad intuition

Often in science we rely on our intuitions, for instance in developing the early stages of a new research program in a new study system. What’s the difference between a good intuition and a bad one?

I don’t think the answer is that good intuitions are right, while bad ones are wrong. Rather, I think that good intuition is a starting point for thought. A good intuition is one that you develop, elaborate, and check. Whether it turns out to be right or wrong, you learn something valuable by developing and checking it. Bad intuition is a substitute for thought. It’s a stopping point rather than a starting point, an unshakeable (and often unrecognized) assumption, the kind of thing that causes you to push back against conclusions demanded by logic and data, just because you find those conclusions “unintuitive”.

5 thoughts on “Good intuition vs. bad intuition

  1. Intuitions are probably not to be blamed, because two or three people can have the same intuition but react completely different upon it. Suppose two people both had a hunch that this or that established view was not correct. The first, being in a scientific or inquisitive frame of mind, takes it as a point of departure into some kind of research. The second takes it as a cause for throwing up his hands and claiming it all wrong. That’s probably the difference between scientific and anti-scientific people. One sees a problem as a challenge and the other as a defeat.

  2. Intuition, good or bad, is a hunch, a gut feeling, an emotional response. Rational thinking and problem -solving can supply arguments for or against the validity of that intuition. If the intuition was correct all along, it was good intuition. If it was proven wrong, it was bad. Neither are “subsititutes for thought,” both are natural and supply fuel for curiosity.

    • Sorry, don’t agree. You assume that all intuitions, correct and incorrect, supply “fuel for thought”. In my experience, that’s sometimes true, and in an ideal world it would always be true. But sometimes, intuitions block thought rather than fueling it, most commonly when a line of thought conflicts with intuition.

      • I amend it–both are natural and should/can/ideally supply fuel for thought. I agree, many people lack critical thinking skills and depend on intuition to form their opinions & beliefs.

  3. Pingback: E. O. Wilson vs. math | Dynamic Ecology

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