Chapter 11 - Understanding Integration
Section 11.5 - Human Applications
Your gut feel = Integrating experience over time
From Funny exam questions
Your gut feel for a situation is essentially the integral of your
experiences from your birth till the present moment.
The ability to trust your gut is the most fascinating trait of human
intelligence. It reduces years of experience and knowledge into a single
quantifiable dimension. Understanding the gut can be quite complex as it
involves a knowledge of many interacting disciplines, e.g. neurology,
psychology, sociology etc. I will not bog you down in complex medical
terminology but rather give you a layman's perspective on, 'What does this all mean to me ?'.
While we like to believe the world is black or white , the reality is people
are grey. We can distinguish the infinite shades of grey by assessing what
our gut feel is for a situation. Why rely on a conclusion based on one piece
of information when you can rely on your gut which is based on countless
pieces of information?
The gut has many limitations as well, so understanding
them will help train your gut better. A lot of current authors have
written extensively about the gut's critical role in decision making,
as in the following excellent books:
The fundamental principle of the gut is its ability to accumulate
information and store it in a distinct location in the brain.
We all know it is much easier to recall
something rather than remember. For example you will find it impossible to
remember all your steps the previous day. However, if you watched a
yourself moving about yesterday , you would instantly recall each
situation with ease. The same goes for places you visit, details of people
you interact with, knowledge
you read in books etc. While it is impossible to remember the details, you
will always be able to recall the details when given a little hint.
So how does this translate to the gut? The brain stores information in
containers in your brain. Now the fascinating part is the brain stores
both the information and intensity of the information. For example let's
say someone told you Hitler was a bad man. Somewhere in your brain that
would get filed away in the Hitler department with a score of -1 . Now
each time someone told you Hitler was a bad man, that same part of the
brain will increment the counter by one .
So if I asked you today what you
think of Hitler, your brain will immeadiately fetch the intensity of the
information on Hitler and report it to you as a gut feel. That is the
remarkable aspect of the gut. While it is fairly obvious that each of us
has a Hitler file somewhere, it is not obvious that our brain also stores
the intensity of the information as well. Therefore, what is most amazing is
intensity can be recalled on a moment's notice when needed.
Another example that demonstrates how the brain stores
increments of intensity of
information is through the 'nuisance accumulator'. The phrase
explains how the brain collectively logs each recurring nuisance
Humans are forced to change when the nuisance accumulator becomes full and needs to be emptied.
example if you buy a new car, chances are the first year everything seems
great. But with time, each minor annoyance starts to grow on you until it
becomes easier to purchase a new car rather than live with weight of
all the accumulated nuisances in your brain!
Another powerful feature of the brain is
chunkification. Essentially it is the ability for the brain to
conglomerate details of knowledge into a single conclusion. When this
happens the details are forgotten, but the conclusion remains in long-term
memory. This is important because it lets your brain just store single
pieces of information instead of infinite details. Also chunks of
knowledge can be further chunkified into new conclusions.
As we grow older
we are basically taking existing knowledge and simplifying them
into concise analogies that summarize all the information into a single saying. The gut
is then able to probe these chunks. However, the gut is not able to probe
the details that contributed to the making of these chunks since that
information is forgotten.
A good example that demonstrates this is to pick up an interesting article
you read a few years ago. You will notice how all the details are
forgotten, but the overall message of the article will seem very familiar
and obvious to you. Chunkification explains why most
older generations of humans
appear to be consciencously ignorant and inferior to later generations.
All generations and
societies do the best they can with the tools and knowledge they have
available. However, the knowledge they develop becomes the building blocks
for future generations to build larger chunks of conclusions from.
The same feature that makes the gut feel so powerful also makes it
prone to distorted perceptions on life. As your gut feel for a certain piece of information
strengthens, your brain goes into a mode where it quickly rejects any
information that is in opposition to your gut feel. For example, if someone
started preaching to you Hitler is a good man, your brain would not
start decreasing your negative gut feel for the man.
Instead it would outright reject the information and not change the
intensity of the existing information.
This has nothing to do with
psychology but is an evolutionary survival mechanism. As we grow older our
brains need to be able to act quickly on gut information in order to
survive. Furthermore, our brains have to learn to carry out complex tasks
with ease. If you have ever watched a professional athlete, you
will quickly observe how 'easy' they make it look. The reality is they have
conditioned their brains and body through years of training to
perform the most complex movements without a second thought.
It is impossible to become proficient at a task without building a firm
base of fundamental knowledge . Ask any professional and they will all agree.
If our brain was always like clay as a child's brain, then our
behavior would constantly be changing . Habits and methods would not
develop. Consequentially it would be nearly impossible for us to progress
by not being able to build upon established layers of complex systems.
dissonance refers to the brain's desire to resist information
that would require the
individual to act in ways that depart from their established habits.
The social animal
by Elliot Aronson
is an excellent book that uses many interesting examples to explain the concepts
of social psychology, including cognitive dissonance.
This is why a child's early development essentially remains the
foundations for their personality for the rest of their life. It does not
matter what happens to them after maturity, their core self will hardly be
unchanged. If you ask any 80 year old how they are different then when
they are 17, they will respond " I am essentially the same person, except
the things I believed when I was 17, I now believe with far more
To summarize the following aspects of the brain and
- The brain stores information and intensity of that information
- The intensity automatically increases/decreases depending on new
knowledge learned until an adolescent's maturity
- The gut can retrieve the intensity of this information instantly when
- Chunkification lets the brain condense many bits of information into one conclusion
to free up space for new information to be digested
- As you get older the brain autommatically rejects information that
goes against the
gut feel for that information in the brain
You are probably asking , 'So what does this all mean for me?'. First,
since your brain so easily absorbs information like a sponge, spend time
reading and learning as much as you can about the world. It does not
matter if you can not remember most of what you learn. Rest assured that
the information has been processed and filed away in the brain for easy
recollection when needed. In other words you are feeding your gut
by being a vociferous consumer of knowledge.
understanding how your gut works you should then learn to trust your gut
above any one-dimensional argument. You will gain confidence in
gut's ability to make the correct decision in complex multi-dimensional
Last, you need to be self-aware to not fall into the evolutionary
survival trap of rejecting information that goes against your gut feel.
Most humans spin in a spiral of a self fulfilling prophecy, whereby they
only seek out information that strengthens what they already feel to be
true. Therefore, you need to spend considerable time training your mind to
be open and tolerant. Obviously you need to strike a balance between
nurturing your habits and absorbing totally contrary ideas that can change your