“Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgments.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? Often times, when people can’t form a logical reason for certain things they did, their justification is “because I had a gut feeling”. Indeed, people sometimes make judgments based on their gut feelings, or intuition. It is a very subjective and interesting way to gain knowledge. Our intuition can trick us into traps in which we never thought we would fall; it can also lead us to bold, unconventional decisions which bring us truth and knowledge. Our instinctive judgments often become more justifiable when they are “checked”, or verified, by other ways of knowing. Before I answer the question, it is necessary to know what defines “instinctive judgments”; what ways of knowing are involved in the process of making an instinctive judgment; and what a “check” means. Our instinct to a large extent comes from our intuition, which is the ability to know something without conscious reasoning.
Some might argue that there is no reason as to why one seems to have an understanding of something intuitively, so the forming of instinctive judgments cannot be explained. I believe, however, that everything happens for a reason, including our seemingly unexplainable, mysterious intuition. For example, I had a gut feeling that something special would happen today, and I couldn’t possibly put that feeling into logical words. In hindsight, however, I ask myself, would I still have the same gut feeling if I had not had an unusual dream last night, or overslept, or got a message from a friend whom I haven’t talked to for a long time this morning? Notice that in sequence of events, my imagination, emotion, and memory were changed and developed. It is possible that my instinct was formed by these little changes unknowingly. And had I been in a different situation at that time, I would not have made the same instinctive judgment.
Therefore, our instinctive judgments perhaps are often affected by factors such as emotion, imagination, memory, and sense perception – the more subjective ways of knowing. On the other hand, reason, the way of knowing that creates logic and objectivity, seems to be on the opposite side of all the above, and is not involved in the forming of instinctive judgments. A “check” should be interpreted as a “verification”. It is like a teacher who returns paper to his students with good feedback, telling them they are correct. The roles of all ways of knowing are important and vary from one area of knowledge to another, whether they are a “check” or not. So, what role does sense perception play when we make judgments about people instinctively, and how do we know if our judgments are justifiable? In the field of human sciences, we tend to first use intuition to make a quick, instinctive judgment when we meet new people. For example, on my first day of a new high school where I did not know anybody, a group of girls walked up to me during lunch and invited me to sit with them.
Months later when I did become good friends with them, they told me that when they saw me, they thought “she seems like she belongs to our group.” I then learned that how I dressed at that time gave them a sense perception that we had a similar taste, and my facial expression made them feel that I would be a good friend. Indeed, we do make assumptions instinctively about people whom we meet for the first time, and the judgments we make are to a large extent influenced by sense perception. Sense perception makes our judgments seem more truthful to us; it can’t, however, verify the judgments, or “check” on their validity, because it is part of what forms an instinctive judgment. Some might say, our sense perception does lead us to justifiable instinctive judgments, because the knowledge we gain through it about others’ appearances does reflect their personality. This is only true to a certain extent.
If our instinctive judgments can really be checked by sense perception or intuition, then why did some couples who claim to have experienced a “love at first sight” end up falling apart? Because their relationships lack to be “checked” by the most important factor – reason. How long would a relationship last really depends on knowledge gained by reasoning, such as how well the couple’s would view and value match each other’s; how their personalities are complementary, etc. A couple knows their first instinct is right when they decide they are indeed the right ones for each other by logically reasoning out their compatibility. Therefore, reason is ultimately the “check” on our instinctive judgments. To what extent can we rely on our emotion to make good choices at crisis instinctively? Ethical decisions are often to be made in situations where we don’t have enough time nor a clear, conscious mind to make the best judgments, and these decisions made without logical reasoning are intuitive judgments.
The man who paid a heavy price for making an irresponsible ethical decision was the captain of the capsized South Korea ferry. He abandoned his passengers and prioritized his own life at the time of the crisis. His emotion, the urge to survive, was so strong that it made him overlook his huge responsibility as a captain, which is something not to be ignored by any conscious mind. If he had used reason to decide the best thing to do and fought back his emotional instinct to be selfish, his life would be drastically different now. Therefore, purely following our emotion at crisis can create an instinct that leads us to immoral decisions we woud later regret. One might argue that if the emotion the captain had was towards the other direction – if he felt sympathetic towards his passengers and their family – he would have made an opposite decision. True, emotion doesn’t always reveal the ugliness and selfishness of human nature at crisis, and it is important for us to look at the other side.
The Subway Hero, Wesley Autrey, made an instant decision to leap onto the subway track to protect a man as the train was coming. His selfless act was an instinctive decision that he made because “I did what I felt was right”, as he told later in an interview. As contrary to the ferry captain, Wesley Autrey’s emotion led him to a heroic act. We can conclude that the reliability of emotion to make a good decision in crisis is to a large extent depends on one’s nature and morality. Thus, it does not verify, or serve as a “check” of our instinct, rather, it affects and adds to the subjectivity of our instinctive judgments. What contributes more, intuition or reason, in areas such as science where instinctive judgments are rarely made? Some say that intuition is for poets, not scientists. Indeed, intuition is often seen as something completely apart from scientific inquiry. Looking at stories of scientists in the past, we can also say that intuition is also sometimes one of the most essential components of science discoveries.
German organic chemist Frederick Kekule, for example, had dream in which a snake coiled and bit its tail. In an intuitive flash, he realized that the molecular structure was characterized by a ring of carbon atoms. Kekule was so emotionally involved in solving this specific problem, and that enabled him to immediately find a connection between his dream and benzene. If anyone else was to have the same dream, he or she would not have made the same judgment on what it meant. After the revelation, he then used logical, scientific reasoning to prove his discovery of benzene. Similar to Kekule’s story, many other scientific discoveries seem to come from wild imagination, sensitive perception, and acute intuition. As we can see, all the subjective ways of knowing do contribute to the discoveries. Reason, however, is what scientists use after those significant moments. “Is there really such a thing as gravity?”
Newton might have asked himself after he made his instinctive judgment about the apple that fell on him. He then proved his judgment, which used to be only a thought, to be credible and scientifically correct, by using reason as a verification. It is difficult to determine which factor contributes more. One thing that we know for sure is that scientists use reason to verify their discoveries, as a “check” of their instinctive judgments. As Henri Poincare said, “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover”. From judgments about human behaviors, to important ethical decisions, to groundbreaking scientific discoveries, we can conclude that the instinctive knowledge we gain in human sciences, ethics, and natural sciences are often affected by out emotion, sense perception, and intuition.
They influence our judgments, but do not verify them, however. The only way of knowing that serves as a “check” of this knowledge is reason, a guard that always stands for logic and objectivity. Therefore, to answer the opening question, only to a small extent, the ways of knowing are a check of our instinctive judgments. I have an instinct that you are liking my paper, but I need a reason to prove it.