When Should We Discard Explanations That Are Intuitively Appealing?

Intuition, knowing or considering something to be likely from an instinctive feeling and not from conscious reasoning, is a difficult concept to deal with. Intuition can be often be true, but also lead us down a path of poor judgement. The difficulty with intuition is knowing when to accept it or when to reject it. Complicating this dilemma is dealing with explanations that are intuitively appealing. The more we want an explaination to be true, the more difficult it becomes to reject the explanation. Thus, when should we discard explanations that are intuitively appealing?

In short, explanations that are intuitively appealing should be discarded when, after sufficient analysis and applying reason to the argument, the explanation is proven false. In the realm of religion there are several examples of intuitively appealing explanations. One of the most appealing of which is Christianity’s belief that there is the existence of an eternal after life. Evidence of its existence is primarily based in the beliefs of individuals. These beliefs are primarily based on religious writings and teachings.

In that most of these writings are based on individual accounts of events which occurred over 2000 years ago, we are unable to substantiate these writings and teachings with any evidence. That said, there is an equal void in the existence of empirical evidence to prove the religious writings and teachings which support the existence of an eternal after life to be false. So, even though there is no proof of the existence of an eternal after life, conversely, there is no basis for discarding this explanation because there is no definite way to prove that this is not true.

Therefore, given the possibility that either point of view may be true, the explanation should not be discarded. When we consider the statement “Thomas Jefferson was a good and moral individual,” given he was one of the founding fathers of our country, it would generally be considered a very appealing position. However, when we analyze totality of Jefferson’s life, we find areas where compelling arguments could be made that he was not such a moral individual. Primarily these arguments revolve around the subject of slavery.

Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” yet he himself owned slaves. To compound this contradiction, Jefferson knew the practice of slavery was not a moral act. Gore Vidal, a famous author, quotes Jefferson as saying, “I fear for this nation, if God is just” (Vidal). In this quote Vidal explains that Jefferson is referring to the act of slavery and God’s view of it. Given these facts, there are those that claim Jefferson was an immoral individual.

However, it is my position that it is wrong to judge the acts of historical figures by today’s standards, rather we should judge those individuals by the values and norms of that individual’s time. For clarity, future generations could look back at our actions and consider us immoral for testing medical products on animals. Additionally, I believe that it is only when you have established that an individual must be either all good or all bad that you may then have a definitive argument that Jefferson was an immoral individual.

But most people are a mixture of bad and good and we must look at the totality of their accomplishments and deeds to determine if they are moral. Based on this, the idea that Jefferson was a good and moral individual should not be rejected. The idea that the cure for cancer is eminent is an intuitively appealing idea. To begin our analysis of this statement, we must first define the meaning of eminent as it relates to the cure for cancer. In that cancer has afflicted humans throughout recorded history and dates back to approximately to 1600 B.

C. , the definition of eminent as it relates to finding a cure could be stated as a period exceeding fifty to a hundred years. However, using such a timeframe would render our statement unappealing. So, to make the statement that the cure for cancer is eminent intuitively appealing, we will define eminent as within five years. To test this concept we need to turn to the opinions of oncologists and other cancer specialists who are involved in the quest to conquer cancer. Dr.

Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer for the American Medical Society feels, “the idea in calling for a cure does scare me a little bit because I don’t think that’s realistic in some cancers” (Landau). Dr. Leonard Saltz, a notable colon cancer expert at Memorial Sloan-Kettering stated of cancer, “It’s a much more complicated problem than anyone ever appreciated. It will, unfortunately, be with us for a long time” (Landau). These two respected doctors echo the opinion of most other experts. These experts believe the emphasis now is more on managing the cancer than curing it, much like we manage diabetes or heart disease.

Additionally, the very fact cancer encompasses over 200 diseases and we have yet to cure a single one is daunting evidence that the cure for cancer is not imminent and we must therefore discard the notion. The concept of the “hot hand” in basketball is intuitively appealing to the everyday basketball fan. The idea is that a team should keep giving the ball to a certain player that is consistently making his shots and therefore increasing that team’s chance of winning. However, to test this phenomena, a study was conducted in 1985 by Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University, and Robert Vallone and Amos Tversky of Stanford University.

To test if the concept described by the hot hand is valid, Gilovich et al. analyzed the shooting of a professional level basketball team over the course of an entire season. They determined that, “for each individual player, the proportion of shots hit was unrelated to how many previous shots in a row he had either hit or missed” (Burns). Additionally, their study showed that the number or duration of runs of misses or hits for each player was not different from the expected given the players overall shooting percentage.

This was true for field goals as well as free throws. It is primarily for these reasons that they determined the hot hand phenomenon to be a fallacy. Regardless, to most basketball fans, as well as numerous sports experts, the “hot hand” remains an intuitively appealing explanation and it has yet to be rejected. Gilovich suggests that this belief still remains because of, “memory biases (streaks are more memorable) and misperception of chance, such as belief that small as well as large sequences are representative of their generating process” (Burns).

So, based on this extensive study involving mathematical analysis, and regardless of the majority opinion, the intuitively appealing phenomena known as the “hot hand” should be discarded. In conclusion, after considering all the arguments towards an intuitively appealing explanation, the explanation should discarded when the concept does not hold up to scrutiny. In the examples presented, it is clear that while intuitively appealing explanations can be be initially seen as viable, only after you subject them to analysis and apply reason, can you make a determination of their viability.

However, to be clear, it is not my intention to say one should disregard their intuition. Intuition is a good and valuable tool. My point is that intuition alone is not sufficient to determine the viability of an explanation.

Works Cited Burns, Bruce D. “The Hot Hand in Basketball: Fallacy or Adaptive Thinking? ” conferences. inf. ed. ac. uk (n/a): 6. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. . Landau, Elizabeth. “Where’s the cure for cancer?. ” CNN Health. CNN, 3 Mar. 2009. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. . Vidal, Gore. “Gore Vidal Interview. ” www. pbs. org. pbs, n. d. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. .

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