Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning to trust that hunch

From the New York Times, on the value of soldiers in combat learning to trust their instincts:
The sight was not that unusual, at least not for Mosul, Iraq, on a summer morning: a car parked on the sidewalk, facing opposite traffic, its windows rolled up tight. Two young boys stared out the back window, kindergarten age maybe, their faces leaning together as if to share a whisper.

The soldier patrolling closest to the car stopped. It had to be hot in there; it was 120 degrees outside. “Permission to approach, sir, to give them some water,” the soldier said to Sgt. First Class Edward Tierney, who led the nine-man patrol that morning.

“I said no — no,” Sergeant Tierney said in a telephone interview from Afghanistan. He said he had an urge to move back before he knew why: “My body suddenly got cooler; you know, that danger feeling.”

The United States military has spent billions on hardware, like signal jamming technology, to detect and destroy what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, the roadside bombs that have proved to be the greatest threat in Iraq and now in Afghanistan, where Sergeant Tierney is training soldiers to foil bomb attacks.

Still, high-tech gear, while helping to reduce casualties, remains a mere supplement to the most sensitive detection system of all — the human brain. Troops on the ground, using only their senses and experience, are responsible for foiling many I.E.D. attacks, and, like Sergeant Tierney, they often cite a gut feeling or a hunch as their first clue. ...

Article here. These danger-sensing abilities have their genesis in our ancient, primeval ancestors, who developed these skills to stay alive. Those that didn't became food for predators, and their genes didn't propagate.

Unfortunately, modern humans often ignore these subconscious signals of danger. Sometimes, the reason for ignoring the "gut feeling" of impending danger is due to the fear of being labeled as paranoid, or racist (if the danger is represented by a person(s) of another race), or often simply being unaware of the marvelous data processing and percipient abilities of our own subconscious mind, which can pick up and identify subtle clues of possible danger long before our conscious mind can analyze and come to the same conclusion.

For those who haven't read it, Gavin DeBecker's book The Gift of Fear discusses the role of intuition in situational awareness and identifying and avoiding danger, and may be a useful addition to your library: The Gift of Fear

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