Can We Rely On Intuition To Determine What Constitutes A Threat?

Patrick Smith offers two examples from security and medicine which suggest that we can.

Intuition In Action

Episode One

“So, this is how it went,” he tells me.  The band was on stage.  Everything was going well. Earlier, he’d checked that all the positions were covered and was happy with the deployments.  You can’t always be sure that everything’s covered moving from venue to venue on tour, using contractors, who will be using subbies.  You can’t know everyone and be sure that everything is covered. But he was happy.  Except that he wasn’t sure about one of the stewards who was moving towards the stage.  On the face of it he looked fine, - he had the right tabard, and, from a distance, his accreditation looked OK, but there was something about him.  So, Phil watched him and found himself moving towards the guy.

And it was all over in a flash.  The guy launched himself at the stage and Phil launched himself at the guy bringing him to the floor immediately down stage left.

He might have had the right gear on, but he was not a steward.  Just some nut-job wanting to get close to his heroes who had managed to get hold of a uniform.

“I just knew there was something not right about that guy” Phil told me.  “I don’t know why.  I just felt it was not right.”

Episode Two

I go to see my GP, Toby.  He tells about a case he’s had recently.  A woman in her 60s, very middle class, very North Oxford.  He’s been her GP for over 30 years.  She comes in with a minor complaint, but he has a powerful urge to ask her to get behind the curtain and strip to the waist.  After some hesitation and now with the nurse present the lady disrobes to display an enormous grown below the rib cage on her left side – “The size of half a bloody Hovis loaf” he tells me.

“Well what have we got here?” he asks.

“Oh, that’s nothing” she replies.  “It’s been there for years.”

As it turns out it was a benign growth which was subsequently removed.  Toby got the impression from the patient that she really couldn’t see why he felt it was so important.

But Toby is consumed by the fact that, after all these years of treating the lady, he needed to get her to undress.  “I don’t know why I did it.  I just felt that there was something going on” he tells me.

So, what’s going on in these two cases?

Do we call it intuition?  A hunch?  How did Phil know the guy at the gig was a potential threat?  And how did Toby know that there was something not right about the genteel spinster of North Oxford?

Did they ‘read’ something from the behaviour of the respective individuals?  Was there a recognition of something unusual, out of place, at a pre-conscious level?  Some pattern of behaviour?  A sense that everything was not quite as it seemed.

It’s generally accepted that intuition is something that is known, or likely to be the case from instinctive feeling as opposed to conscious reasoning.  In short, developing insight without reasoning.  That’s not to say that we should trust our guts and bypass the brain, but it is to say that experience accumulated over time can enable an individual to process the smallest cue and clues in order to reach a conclusion. 


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