By Rosanne Bane
Your emotional brain knows things your rational, logical cortex doesn’t. But can you trust your intuition, the things you “just know?” Should you?
Here’s true story of a British naval officer who had to make that decision in a few tense moments during Desert Storm. Lieutenant Commander Michael Riley of the HMS Gloucester was responsible for monitoring the radar reports of the airspace surrounding the Allied fleet. Early one morning, Riley noticed a blip headed toward the fleet from the Kuwaiti coast that he just didn’t like. He had a bad feeling about this one.
If the blip was an Iraqi missile, it was on course to destroy the USS Missouri, an American battleship with hundreds of sailors aboard. But the blip looked just like an American fighter jet, and the American pilots routinely turned off their electronic identification system so they couldn’t be tracked by Iraqi antiaircraft missiles. Riley simply could not know for sure what this blip was and yet he had to make a decision.
Riley might have made this decision with his rational mind, weighing the costs of the two potential errors. Mistake the blip for an enemy missile when it’s really an American jet and the two American pilots die by friendly fire. Mistake the blip for an ally when it’s really an Iraqi missile and the USS Missouri and potentially all hands aboard die.
But Riley didn’t make a decision by weighing the odds. He made the decision based on his intuition. He didn’t have and couldn’t get enough information to know what the blip was, but he “just knew” this blip was an enemy. He gave the command to shoot it down.
Before I tell you if Riley made the right decision, consider what you would do. Would you trust your intuition? Would you try to find some logical solution? Remember you have just minutes to decide and indecision is a default decision to not shoot down a potential threat.
In all likelihood, you will probably never have to make this weighty a decision. Your choice to follow your intuition or ignore it will probably never affect so many people in a life or death situation. But your intuition might be what saves your life in a near miss that could have been a fatal car crash. Or it could be what sends you down one life path instead of another. And it almost certainly impacts your writing life for good or ill, or both.
How much do you rely on your intuition in your writing? When do you trust your intuition and how far? What do you think is more likely to better serve you as a writer: intuition or rational analysis?
If you just can’t wait until the next post to find out if Lieutenant Commander Michael Riley made the right choice, pick up a copy of Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, my source for this true story and a fascinating exploration of how the human brain works when we’re faced with choices and forced to make a decision.