U.S. Navy program to study how troops use intuition

The New York Times reports: The United States Navy has started a program to investigate how members of the military can be trained to improve their “sixth sense,” or intuitive ability, during combat and other missions.

The idea for the project comes in large part from the testimony of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who have reported an unexplained feeling of danger just before they encountered an enemy attack or ran into an improvised explosive device, Navy scientists said.

“Research in human pattern recognition and decision-making suggest that there is a ‘sixth sense’ through which humans can detect and act on unique patterns without consciously and intentionally analyzing them,” the Office of Naval Research said in an announcement late last month. The scientists managing the program — which the the naval research office is calling “revolutionary” — commonly refer to this mysterious perception as feeling one’s “Spidey sense” tingling, after the intuitive power of Spiderman.

“Evidence is accumulating that this capability, known as intuition or intuitive decision making, enables the rapid detection of patterns in ambiguous, uncertain and time restricted information contexts,” the office said, citing numerous peer-reviewed studies in cognitive psychology and neuroscience.

The program, called Enhancing Intuitive Decision Making Through Implicit Learning, will be making available $3.85 million over four years to researchers who want to investigate how intuition works. Initial proposals are due April 15, and executives at more than a dozen companies specializing in fields like logistics, software and artificial intelligence have so far expressed interest in applying for the money.

It’s a sad fact that when the U.S. government weighs up the merits of ways to creatively invest tax dollars, the surest way of ensuring backing for unusual research is to show that it could improve America’s war-fighting capabilities.

What would add an interesting dimension to this study on intuition would be if it was made into a cross-cultural study examining differences in intuitive faculties between fighters operating overseas and those defending their home turf.

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One thought on “U.S. Navy program to study how troops use intuition

  1. Óscar Palacios

    Whenever I read about America’s science-fiction military capabilities, I just can’t get my mind off the fact that there has perhaps never been a wider technological gap between combatants as in the current war in Afghanistan. And yet, the Taliban have yet again proven -as did Iraqi insurgents, the French Résistance, and others- that bravery and stubborn determination can be quite hard to crack.

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