Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Alfred Jensen, The Integer Rules the Universe (1960) oil on canvas 75 x 49 in.(May be subject to copyright).

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within…. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.

After writing the post below, I was heartened to read in the Times last week that the development of intuition (known as perceptual learning) is being taken seriously—in schools, yet. And when I mentioned it to a friend, she told me her 15-year-old granddaughter is getting this kind of training in a Pittsburgh public school: the practical application of the ideas Malcolm Gladwell put forth in Blink.

…recent research has found that true experts have something at least as valuable as a mastery of the rules: gut instinct, an instantaneous grasp of the type of problem they’re up against. Like the ballplayer who can “read” pitches early, or the chess master who “sees” the best move, they’ve developed a great eye.
Now, a small group of cognitive scientists is arguing that schools and students could take far more advantage of this same bottom-up ability, called perceptual learning. The brain is a pattern-recognition machine, after all, and when focused properly, it can quickly deepen a person’s grasp of a principle, new studies suggest. Better yet, perceptual knowledge builds automatically: There’s no reason someone with a good eye for fashion or wordplay cannot develop an intuition for classifying rocks or mammals or algebraic equations, given a little interest or motivation.

….Experts develop such sensitive perceptual radar the old-fashioned way, of course, through years of study and practice. Yet there is growing evidence that a certain kind of training — visual, fast-paced, often focused on classifying problems rather then solving them — can build intuition quickly. In one recent experiment, for example, researchers found that people were better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists after viewing mixed collections of works from all 12 than after viewing a dozen works from one artist, then moving on to the next painter. The participants’ brains began to pick up on differences before they could fully articulate them. (Read more)

You can find games of visual perception on the Times web site here and try it yourself. This is a lot like the vision therapy I wrote about in an earlier post—from which, BTW, I have just graduated, improved visually, cognitively and energetically.


Phillip Buntin said...

Carol, thanks for this great blog, which I am new to and looking forward to going through your achieve.

I think that while we celebrate the strengths of intuition and seek to improve our relationship to it, we should also recognize its dangers.

Generally among our artistic brethren, the general tendency is to romanticize it, but I think it is important to also educate and remember its limitations.

I came across this discussion and post on the Edge.org that you might find interesting. http://edge.org/conversation/the-marvels-and-flaws-of-intuitive-thinking

A text that I found extremely interesting and of more substance than Gladwell's "Blink" was "Educating Intuition" by Robin Hogarth.

Thanks for such a great blog!

Carol Diehl said...

Thanks for your comments and suggestions. My intuition tells me I should check out Hogarth for sure.