Monday, January 11, 2010

Intuition and Intimacy

We all know, or we should know, not to base our investment decisions on intuition. Perhaps it's a rule that is "more honored in the breach than in the observance," but we know better than to trust an epiphany when making an important decision.

True enough, Warren Buffett has been known to recommend that people invest with their gut, but, as I have suggested, you may well want to invest according to the workings of Warren Buffett's gut, but please do not place the same level of trust in yours or mine.

For my thoughts on Buffett's gut: Link here.

If "gut" is being used to refer to the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of investing experience, that is one thing. If it means that we should all trust our divinely-inspired intuitions, regardless of the data we have analyzed or the extent of our experience, then it is quite another.

Andrew McAfee writes this morning that intuition really involves weighing a substantial amount of evidence, applying considerable experience, and drawing a conclusion. Link here.

But why, McAfee asks, do computer algorithms so often make better decisions than we humans? I would answer: because computers do not get tired or lazy. Computers do not skip over data that does not conform to a preconception. In fact, computers do not have preconceptions. And computers do not ignore data because they want to go out and party.

Perhaps computers do better at certain kinds of decision-making because they simply work harder.

Perhaps those who rely too much on intuition are merely covering up for their inexperience. For lack of extensive experience, young people often overemphasize their superior intuition. They try to compete against those who have more experience and have accumulated more information by proclaiming that they have superior intuition.

Since intuition often feels divinely inspired, they are, strangely enough, pulling rank.

But if young people rely too much on intuition on the job, do they also rely too much on gut feelings when they are getting involved in relationships?

How many times have young people told you that they are going to develop a relationship because they are following their heart or their gut or their intuition.

Or try this scenario: in the blink of an eye he knew that she was the One. Or vice versa. Love at first sight is taken to be the ultimate proof of the infallibility of a certain kind of intuition. But if you believe that such an intuition is infallible, do you also believe that it was divinely inspired?

If you have had some experience with life or with coaching people about relationships, you are likely to feel somewhat skeptical about relying on intuition when it comes to intimate matters.

When you get down to the nitty gritty of coaching, at the point where you start asking all manner of pertinent and impertinent questions, you are trying to help the person make a good decision about a prospective mate, or even a prospective relationship.

You are eliciting data, much of which the client might have simply considered unimportant, and are introducing a principle according to which he or she can make a better decision.

You do not just want to help the person to discover how he or she really, really feels about the prospective significant other. In many ways that is not the make-or-break issue.

A well-known and often quoted study from Harvard determined that people whose relationships are most likely to endure are those who have the most in common, socially and culturally.

And this makes sense. The more the two of you have in common, the fewer the possibilities for misunderstandings. The more you have in common the less you have to explain. And the less you will have to excuse.

This means that two people from two completely different social worlds are less likely to form a durable partnership than are two people from the same neighborhood.

When you ask questions about your relationship, you should start by wondering what kind of life you might have with this person? An not just in terms of whether you both like theater or horror movies.

Ask yourself this: Do your friends and family get along? Does your family like your choice? Do your friends approve? When you are out in a group, does your prospective partner fit in? Where will you likely be living? Who will your friends be?

Then, start asking about background? Do you come from similar backgrounds? Or do you come from entirely different cultures. If different backgrounds involve different social customs you both might be behaving in ways that would be normal in one culture but offensive in another. This might require a massive expenditure of energy apologizing and explaining.

The second question you should ask yourself is this: how good is this person's character. I am not just thinking about whether or not the person is going to be loyal and faithful. To judge someone's character, ask yourself this: can I trust him or her to do the right thing when it doesn't really matter.

In one way this sounds like a rather cold calculation. In another way, this reasoning helps explain love at first sight.

When you meet potential mates in a controlled and familiar environment, where everyone has been vetted by the community, your chances of meeting someone appropriate is far higher than if you limit your mate-seeking behavior to random encounters in bars.

When you fall in love-- at first or second sight-- with someone from the community, the other person's character is a more-or-less known quality. If someone from your community had bad character, you would likely know about it.

The truth is, when the person you are meeting has been approved by your community, you are more likely to be more open more quickly than you would when you meet a stranger at a bar.

You might well lust after the stranger at the bar, but, given the circumstances of your encounter, you will more likely reserve such a person for the occasional hook-up.

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