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Related Topics
IntuitionReview - Intuition
Its Powers and Perils
by David G. Myers
Yale University Press, 2002
Review by Constantinos Athanasopoulos, Ph.D.
Sep 9th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 37)

It is with great ease that most of us pass through life without even imagining what human life is really about, let alone ponder on its meaning and its predicament. In our not so disillusioned and quite narcissistic (via post-modernity) times, Myers' book is indeed a valuable contribution to the perseverance of the Socratic pursuit for an ongoing search into oneself. In a balanced and thought provoking way, Myers investigates the power and the perils of intuition in areas such as automatic thinking and behavior, social interaction, art, business decision making, self-report and self-awareness, sports, stock market, clinical and medical treatment of patients or would-be patients, job related interviews, emotionally loaded courtship behavior, risk management, gambling, the paranormal, and religion. He applies the findings of recent psychological research in all these areas and he makes recommendations, which are valuable for both the layman and the serious and ardent student of psychology and psychiatry, philosophy and sociology, political science and law, business management and stock market analysis, religion and the paranormal.

The book contains helpful sketches and pictures, as well as detailed analyses of interesting experiments and classroom based tests which may not only intrigue anyone interested in psychology, but also may prove helpful to academic teachers and educators who wish to engage their students into thinking about their intuitions and how they affect their daily lives. Through an abundant use of examples and citations from novels, poems and religious texts (mainly the Bible and in particular the Psalms) Myers' exegesis of the quite important social and psychological phenomenon of intuition is enriched and avoids being pedantic. In addition, his many tables containing summaries and parallel analyses of important characteristics of the various forms of intuition, as well as his quite informative endnotes can guide the reader quite efficiently through the abyss of the related material and studied cases and experiments.

Even with its many virtues and its great value for all students of the human mind and behavior (regardless their vocation or training) the book falls short in its aspirations. By carefully avoiding "politically incorrect" recommendations in some areas of high dispute (such as the nature of self-consciousness and of the unconscious, gambling, "scientifically" unacceptable forms of clinical and medical applications of intuition -for example the ones used in non-traditional forms of medicine- and the paranormal) Myers does not convince the careful reader that his clear and determined dedication is "only to truth" (p.11). His consistent and continuous criticism to all these areas of application of intuition is that such applications cannot guarantee the two most beloved ways of "scientific" proof: repetition and prediction. These applications produce neither verifiable nor predictive results (their sole power rests on post-hoc explanations) and according to Myers' most firm convictions they should be avoided (see especially his discussion of "hot hand" and "jinx" in sports in pp.133-149, and of the paranormal in pp.233-242). Even though he attempts to adduce ample evidence in support of his claims his analysis is far too biased and self-contradictory to be credible.

I shall offer here only two examples: in relation to sports related intuition he calls the "hot hand" phenomenon "a myth" (p.142), since statistical analysis indicates that streaks do occur and can be explained statistically; the peculiar thing is however, that he is forced to admit not more that two pages earlier that "one can't prove that non-random streaks never occur" (p.140). Taking this into consideration, how can he call the "hot hand" phenomenon "a myth" with such a certainty? The second example comes from the world of the paranormal. Here, he discusses in detail the views of disenchanted parapsychologists to conclude (again with certainty) that, in their majority, the paranormal or ESP phenomena are if not outright "scams" then just cheap tricks and illusory cognition, misperceptions, misinterpretations and selective recall. Here, the peculiar thing is that even though he condemns these "non-scientific" endeavors to comprehend the world around and within us, he does not seem so "scientifically" sensitive when he fully embraces religion and religious (even mystical) intuition (pp.242-246). Of course his point is that there are areas such as religion where rationality is and should be circumcised by humility and spirituality "that nurtures purpose, love, and joy" (p.246). My point however, is that his compromise in religion contradicts his earlier ardent embrace of rationalism and scientific verificationism. If one is certain and sure about his methodology, he does not give up his method of truth on any account.

If Myers is to dedicate himself to truth he should dedicate himself to truth in all areas of human behavior and on all accounts. This means accepting religion (because indeed a human with no religious ideas is no human at all), but also means accepting all other behavior, which may seem to many "politically" or "scientifically incorrect". This also means that he should accept both western and non-western forms of healing and applications of intuition on an equal basis and merit. This also means that the emphasis on verification, falsification and predictability measured with western technology and instruments should be limited and applied only in the investigation of western forms of medicine and western forms of application of intuition (this is why Myers' book is at its best in the chapters where the findings of western psychology are applied and analyzed, for example in western psychiatry and clinical intuition, job interview, stock market analysis and prediction etc.).

Myers' book is a masterpiece of psychological science made plain for the public; even with all its virtues however, it cannot escape the pitfalls that haunt psychological science from its birth: a far too great optimism about the extremely limited explanatory and predictive powers of statistics, and a hasty and imprecise way to deal with important philosophical issues related to the nature of the human mind and its apprehension of self and the world (note here Myers' confusion of knowledge and memory in pp.54-55). May the virtues of Myers' book enlighten our search within and its pitfalls ban the cross-eyed result of divorcing psychology from philosophy.

 

2003 Constantinos Athanasopoulos

 Dr.Constantinos Athanasopoulos has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow (on the topic of The Metaphysics of Intentionality in the Philosophy of Language and Mind of Sartre and Wittgenstein). He has also studied philosophy, psychology and religion at Brandon U., Canada, and Moral Philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. His many research interests include metaphysics, philosophy of mind and language, Continental and Analytic, and Medieval and Byzantine Philosophy, moral psychology, ethics, environmental philosophy and ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of education, philosophy of psychology and psychiatry. Parallel to job-hunting his other hobbies include Byzantine Music, Orthodox Theology and going to the movies.


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