In search of the gut hunch

Lynne McTaggart

One of medicine’s great textbook cases concerns a 25-year-old railroad construction foreman named Phineas P. Gage. Gage’s company, the Rutland & Burlington Railroad, was laying new tracks across Vermont in the summer of 1848, and Gage was in charge of overseeing the controlled explosions used to blast through the layers of stratified rock covering the uneven terrain.
For this exacting job, he’d had a special iron bar made that was nearly four feet long, an inch-and-a-half in diameter and weighing more than 13 pounds. After a hole was drilled into the rock, and powder, a fuse and sand inserted, the job of the iron bar was to tamp down the sand, which contains the explosion within the rock.
Freak accident
One afternoon, a freak accident occurred, when a distracted Gage tamped in the powder, but without the sand in place. The striking of the iron bar on the stone caused a spark, which lit the fuse, and the entire explosion blew up in his face.
The force of the explosion sent the iron bar up like a rocket through Gage’s left cheek, the base of his skull and the front of his brain and out the top of his head. Gage was thrown to the ground but, to the shock of his fellow gang members, he not only survived the accident, but also was still able to walk and speak coherently.  His terrible wounds were dressed by a young doctor named John Harlow and, two months later, he was completely healed, suffering only the loss of one eye.
Although Gage was, to all intents and purposes, his old physical self, his body appeared to be inhabited by a totally different person.
Harlow, who maintained a keen interest in Gage’s case, kept a careful record of the fact that Gage appeared to no longer have a connection between his intellectual capacities and his ‘animal’ propensities. He was invariably socially inappropriate and also appallingly profane, with little regard for his fellows. He also appeared to be utterly unable to plan any future operation without vacillating or changing his mind.
These new personality traits so differed from the thoughtful and well-balanced character he’d displayed before the accident that his employers were forced to let him go. Afterwards, he invariably chose work that did not suit him: on horse farms, as a stagecoach driver, even as a freak in a circus act. Unable to secure steady employment, he, like many misfits of the time, traveled to California, where he eventually died of an epileptic fit.
More than 150 years later, this case fascinated he Portuguese behavioral neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, who’d long suspected that cool-headed reasoning did not produce intelligent choices unless there was an emotional component. And Gage had not only been incapable of making good choices, but was also impelled to select situations for himself that were downright disadvantageous.
Living without feeling
As Damasio put it, Gage “worked hard at his downfall”. Although his mental skills for language, memory, perception and intelligence had remained intact, somehow all his value judgements were seriously impaired. He’d been unable to behave in an ethical manner, observe social conventions and, most important, make decisions that were advantageous to his survival.
Damasio went on to study a number of modern Gages.  Like Gage, they’d suffered damage to the ‘ventromedial’ (or underbelly) region of the frontal lobe, the area of the brain relating to emotion. As Demasio discovered in his research, they were incapable of having any sort of emotional response to any aspect of their lives. As Damasio described it, they “could know but not feel”.
They had had, in short, lost their ability to act on a gut hunch.
The emotional hunch
From cases like these, Damasio began to suspect that reduced emotion has a central role in inhibiting the ability to make sound decisions about the future. In cases like Elliot or Gage, he believed that the loss of the emotional center of the frontal lobes robs someone of their gut hunches. When faced with logic alone, people invariably make the wrong decision. 
To test this, Damasio gave a patient of his called Elliot a popular psychology test called the Gambling Test. In this test, which imitates ordinary gambling, a subject is given $2000 to gamble with and four decks of cards. Certain cards, which are ‘wins’, result in the gambler being paid money. Others, deemed ‘losses’, require the gambler to pay the experimenters a fine. 
Two of the decks—decks A and B—had been stacked so that Elliot would get high wins, but also high losses. Similarly, decks C and D were laced with small wins and small losses. 
Ordinarily, a normal person will begin to get a bad feeling about the first two decks, and his gut hunch will tell him to avoid it. But, with Elliot, he ended up losing, attracted to decks A and B for the high wins, but unable to intuit that he was losing all his money with them.
Ordinarily, intuition improves with experience. When normal subjects took the Gambling Test, they learned to predict from the situation. Their gut hunches helped them to anticipate the best moves.
Damasio does not understand how this predictive capability develops, attributing it to some a non-conscious estimate of success and failure that becomes more acute over time.
Many of the emotions that form our gut hunches could result from two types of information flow — what Joseph LeDoux of New York University refers to as ’low-road’ unconscious information to the amygdala, and conscious ‘high road’ cognitive information to the neocortex.
Psychic prediction
However, there is likely to be a third road, too.  Parapsychologists suspect that intuition arises from information not contained within the boundaries of time and space. Dutch psychologist Dick Bierman, for instance, has been keenly interested in whether our bodies can actually predict bad news.
To test this hypothesis, he used the Gambling Test, but wired up his participants with skin-conductance devices that measure ‘fight-or-flight’ responses. He discovered that, as the game went on, his participants became more stressed a few moments before they selected a bad card. Although they didn’t show such predictive ability at first, this ability increased as they got further into the game. Their ability to receive a gut hunch improved with time.
This suggests that what we term the ‘gut’ hunch doesn’t reside in our bodies it all.
As with animals, so much of the information we receive about our lives may be filtering into us all the time, without our cognitive awareness. It may be that our unconscious intuition is constantly receiving sensory and intuitive data that our ‘sensible’ neocortex dismisses.
Unlike animals, which act on their own highly specific unconscious fears forever, unless desensitized, humans often ignore these subtle warning signals at their peril.

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Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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23 comments on “In search of the gut hunch”

  1. You know - I think i've been turning off my intuition all these years - and bowed to my "intelligence" - God finally knocked me down with a mini-stroke and talked to me directly - yes He did....Long story - not useful here - but thanks for the info - I really appreciate it
    Ronnie- i just reread it - THANKS SO Much!!!

  2. That's cool. People with psychic, telepathic, etc., abilities maybe aren't blocking this information as much as most people are. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thank you for this article. It is experiences and information like this that draws people to your website and books.
    I for one have always noticed that my hunches or gut have been right nearly 100% of the time.
    Unfortunately, we don't always listen to our gut instincts, so, I have had the opportunity to learn much of this through 20/20 hindsight 🙂
    I have tried to expand / share this 'gut feeling' by verbalizing to my family what I think or 'know' will happen.
    During the hockey playoffs I was able to call within 30 seconds when my favourite team (Pittsburgh) was going to score. One game I called every goal before it happened. Other games were at about 90%. My family was stunned.
    When it got to teams I did not follow or was not emotionally tied to, the ratio fell to almost zero.
    I saw my daughter walk with a knife - unsafely, and I saw almost in slow motion before it happened that my son would be poked by it. It actually happened, but thankfully was not serious.
    I knew before my kids fell that it would happen.
    But as mentioned earlier it is only when I have an emotional attachment that I am correct.
    I am starting to keep records of my hunches and what actually happens.
    Thank you Lynn, this is what drew me to following your work.
    BTW, I was reading Dan Brown's book in which you are mentioned around Christmas of 2009.
    One month after (2010) we had a late family Christmas weekend as some of our family are away during the holidays. Without asking, the gift I recieved from my mother-in-law was your book the Intention Experiment.
    Coincidence, maybe, maybe not.

  4. BTW, there are a couple of instances with Anthony Robbins where people have predicted in advance during 'goal setting workshops' that they would win the lottery and have actually done so, even predicting the correct amount.

  5. Gut hunches also work while taking exams. I have not been in school for over 29 years when I started college in Jan. 2009. I would spend hours and days studying for an exam and either failed the exam by one point or barely make a C.
    This past semester in my psychology class I noticed the young girls who sat around me where making high 90’s and 100’s on their exams while I was making low 80’s. When I asked them each how they study for the exam, they all said they just listened to the Professor's lectures and never studied because they were busy with work and one was still in high school.
    I decided to try not studying for the exams also. I started making higher and higher grades on my exams once I stopped studying for them and got over the fear of failing due to my not studying. I tried this in my other classes and found I could make better grades not studying.
    I believe I made higher grades because I went with my gut hunches instead of my ego. Therefore, answering the questions on my exams the way the Professors wanted them answered and not how I studied for them from their exam reviews.

  6. I've used intuition or gut feelings all my school I always knew when the teacher was going to call on me. Even could predict in the morning if I was going to have a "good" or "bad" day. I've learned to control that by setting my intentions in the morning... 😉
    It also helps a lot when playing games...

  7. I completely agree that the “gut” hunch does not originate from our own brain; though it may be processed by it.
    Though everyone I knew disagreed, I realised as a small child that time couldn’t possibly be entirely linear – because I constantly “saw” and “knew” things before they happened. Yet seemingly everyone around me had been “conditioned” to believe that this was impossible.
    Having had premonitions for nearly 50 years I have learned that the most effective way to stop them is stress. This creates a major block as it distracts and busies our minds and separates us from the stillness and relaxation we need in order to “see”, “hear” and “feel” by connecting into the collective consciousness.
    I believe that Lisa possibly became more receptive to her intuition, not necessarily though not studying, but because by doing so she lost her fear of failure – which would act as a huge stressor and subsequent block to both her intuition and academic memory.
    I work with many students in education who suffer with exam or maths phobias etc. Once their fear or stress has been removed, they immediately find themselves achieving higher grades. Not necessarily because they are all intuitive, but because when we are in fight or flight mode, we have difficulty accessing memory, as our mind tends to shut down whilst our bodies focus on preparing for combat or escape.

  8. When my husband and I were first married, he thought he could teach me to care about sports. We would be sitting watching football games and he would say, "All right, which team is going to win today." And I would say, "Who's playing." He would tell me, and I would pick one. Every time we did this, the team I chose won. Soon he quit asking me and I quit having to watch. I had no attachment to any outcome, so, for sure there was no stress.

  9. Lynne,
    You have to be open to the various energies, waves and particles surrounding you and make use of them for your benefit.
    Despite the fact that several psychological tests show that I’m a very “visual” person, whenever I’ve changed jobs or places to live, or made other semi-major changes in my life, I’ve tended to follow an internal guidance or “gut-feel”.
    Often during these searches, a specific feeling of “rightness” leaps into my experience and tells me this is the job to have or this is the place to live.
    The search then ends immediately. There is simply no other option for me when this happens.
    It’s just the right thing to do.
    I’m sure you too have experienced this kind of self-assuredness when you simply know you’ve made the right decision.
    It is natural perfection at work. It is pure alignment.
    However, on those rare occasions where I did not make a decision based on this inner guidance, but allowed my emotions to choose the outcome, the resulting experiences were often very challenging and fraught with problems.
    Hidden Truths
    The universe is a magical place complete with multiple dimensions, entangled systems and immense electro-magnetic power.
    When we split an atom and watch the explosion in utter awe, it’s important to realize that the same energy exists within you a trillion times over.
    Do you not believe that you have the power to be your own creator and to perceive events before they occur?
    That is as long as you avoid iron bars shot through your head...
    Write On!

  10. 'Gut feeling' to me, is one's subjective conscious self.
    When one has 'gone into that soul searching thing'....... then ........the "a-ha!"

  11. Notice that the neurologist does'nt have a physiological explanation (in spite of anatomical clues) for these behaviors .... we live in a difficult historical era in which we have a tendency to use materialistic terminology in discussing what will probably be found to be non-material events and structures. Educating the general public with this kind of data and information is very good policy --- the 21st. Century is already becoming a great adventure.

  12. Thankyou, Lynne. I'm overwhelmed with interesting "stuff" on the computer, so this is the first time I've followed the feedback - and found out how much at home I feel here. Wonderful to hear about other people having similar gut hunches
    to those I have - and now I'm going to pay more attention, knowing I'm not alone.
    Animals and the environment are my passion; connecting with them is my joy.

  13. Given what we now know ( rediscovered is probably a better term) about the intelligence of the heart , perhaps heart feeling is a better term than gut feeling for at least some of these phenomena. . Re exams, I have often wondered how much telepathy is going on when you have a room full of people all concentrating on the same questions, a bit like the synergistic effect that occurs when a group of people visualise or meditate together. On the other hand, stress might reduce this effect in an exam room.

  14. Hi Lynn,
    This is truly fascinating - thanks so much for putting this out there. One suggestion I would 'throw into the mix' - maybe there are three different 'kinds' of intuition? The gut feeling, the heart's knowing and the accessing or 'downloading' of information (through the pineal gland?) from the field of information all around us ...
    Many blessings!

  15. Wud u call it a gut feeling or clairavoince or intution? Maybe the frotal lobe stands for all these. I trust my intution/ gut feeling and I have been saved from many accidents.

  16. hello everyone, again, I love this , and all of you. Yesterday, I was going on an errand, at one stoplight I had a feeling of being uncomfortable about the drive, maybe stress, busy day, and then at the next stop sign, not light, a person flew through the sign, not stopping, honestly , on the phone. I blew the horn for awhile to get her attention, really scarey..., but I just watched her without getting in a hurry and having an accident, I was more aware, more quite, it was a really nice summer morning. But something was in the air.. peace.....I felt really aware.I hope she saw me honking, she looked back...have a nice summer evening..

  17. Or, what if the stress in our bodies reflected a feeling of pessimism and then produced such a result....created the reality....and isn't a gut hunch at all?

  18. My belief is that,although almost all human race has this phsycic ability to an extent,this can be utilized at its peak on union with a supernatural force.i.e God(miracles) or the devil(magic).


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