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Gut knows it all

In his TED Talk titled Go with your gut feeling, Porsche collector Magnus Walker talks about his love for Porsche cars. He vividly recalls memories of his childhood in England and falling in love with Porsche for the first time at the young age of nine. He dropped out of school at 15, moved to Los Angeles at 19 and started selling second-hand clothes and later ventured into fashion business. In his talk, he talks about what it takes to do what you love and to occasionally take a leap of faith and go with the gut feeling.

Renowned talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s life is nothing short of an inspirational tale. Mired in adversity very early in life, she believed in her instincts and reached where she is today, shining truly like a diamond. “Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success. I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen to it,” Oprah says of trusting that inkling. 

Maverick genius Steve Jobs said: “When I was wandering around India after dropping out of college, I realised that people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do. They use their intuition instead. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

Had Walker, Winfrey and Jobs not listened to that little voice in their heads, they would not have been the towering stalwarts that we look up to.

It is said that the human gut is home to millions of nerve cells. Hence it has a brain of its own. Having said this, gut feelings don’t originate in the gut but are initiated through the signals in the brain.


Often we hear people telling us to trust our gut instinct. On a surface level, there is something enigmatic about these spontaneous instincts in the gut often like a tingling feeling in the stomach. But why gut of all organs? It is said that the human gut is home to millions of nerve cells. Hence it has a brain of its own. Having said this, gut feelings don’t originate in the gut but are initiated through the signals in the brain.

These deep-seated feelings time and again surprise us leaving us awestruck by the hunch we have about something or someone. For instance, at times we have this intuitive feeling that warns us not to meet a certain person or take an alley or neglect the nagging back pain. So what is this feeling in the gut? Gut feeling is the unconscious reasoning that pushes us to do things without actually telling us why. It is knowing without knowing. Sophy Burnham in her book The Art of Intuition: Cultivating Your Inner Wisdom says, “Intuition is always right, and when you receive messages from spirit–be it in the form of a subtle impression or a thunderous bolt from the blue – you must always, always act on them.” Oprah believes it is more of a feeling than a voice–a whispery sensation that pulsates just beneath the surface of your being. 

Since this unconscious reasoning stems up from nowhere, its origin is often dismissed to be paranormal or psychic. But cognitive studies in the field have proved that these strong judgements arise from perceptions. It may be a passing glance or a fleeting memory. Intuition is an unconscious associative process where the brain uses shortcuts, cues and mental matching game. For instance, when you are stuck in a situation, the brain does a quick scan of thousands of stored files of similar nature. And it comes up with the best outcome and that is the hunch we tend to have. Some situations in life seem to be like history often repeating. It is all in the stored memory.

Two main types of long-term memories associated with the human brain are explicit and implicit memory.  Explicit, the ‘know-that’ memory is also called declarative memory. Implicit is the ‘know-how’ or procedural memory. For instance, breathing is implicit memory, it is your second nature and remembering facts and figures is explicit memory. You need to put in efforts to remember them. Through repetition you can easily convert an instance of explicit memory to one of implicit memory.

Repetition builds habits and associations and through them our choices become obvious. Intuition also comes from experiential wisdom. These experiences are encoded in the brain and when a similar situation arises, the brain responds to it with a certain emotion and acts in a certain manner. Intuition is intricately tied to emotion. Emotions guide us to learn from experiences.

Intuition is one of the most innate human gifts that can help sort out the most intimidating challenges. It is wise to listen to it when you wish to decide on something critical. Sometimes the gut is right and some others you might have to think twice about it. Either way, no harm in keeping an open mind to the gut.

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