Is Intuition a Form of Wisdom?

July 13, 2022

Is Intuition a Form of Wisdom?

May 29, 2023

Is it possible that intuition is to the gut as wisdom is to the heart and mind? When we have a flash of insight—whether it's intuition or wisdom—where is it coming from?

When I first heard the term "vagus nerve," I thought the doctors were talking about gambling in Nevada. Instead, they were standing around my bed in the ICU in St. Louis, talking about whether my heart stopped due to a vasovagal reaction. The vagus nerve emerges from the brain stem and wanders across the heart, lungs, kidney, and gut. It connects the body and brain in unconscious ways. Academics are increasingly curious about whether the vagus nerve, which controls our involuntary, parasympathetic nervous system, might be the gateway to understanding how intuition and wisdom are formed.

Harvard's Lisa Huang's research suggests that gut feel can be useful, especially in highly uncertain circumstances where further data gathering and analysis won't sway you one way or another. In several studies she conducted regarding high-stakes decisions, such as surgeons making life-or-death emergency room decisions, or early-stage investors deciding how to allocate millions of dollars in startup capital, she found that the role of gut feel is often to inspire a leader to make a call, particularly when the decision is risky.

She goes on to write in Harvard Business Review,

"In the face of information overload, mounting risks and uncertainty, and intense pressures to make the right decisions, there is often debilitating evidence that delays our decision making. We put the choice off rather than deciding. Trusting your gut allows leaders the freedom to move forward."

  • She also arrived at the following conclusions from her 8-year study:
  • Gut feel is not a separate piece of information, but it draws on both objective and subjective information already available.
  • Intuition is not quick, impulsive, and emotional—it's something much more cultivated, nuanced, and based on experience.
  • One can continually cultivate their gut feel by paying attention to exemplars, prototypes, patterns, and models in their field and linking what they learn to future decisions, much in the same way we can cultivate and harvest our wisdom.


By applying the lessons we learn through experience, wisdom is akin to intuition, insomuch as they both allow us to discern and judge with insight, whether that insight comes from our guts, hearts, or minds. Isn't there a great irony that both our physical and intuitive guts grow as we get older? The next time I lament that my pants no longer fit, I'll remind myself that my intuition is growing.

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