Should you think rationally or intuitively? Well, if you are rowing a boat, which oar should you use? Rational and intuitive thought are like the left and right oars, in nearly all situations they are best used together.
If you are a normal human, you have not one but *two* wonderful minds. Your left brain is good at logical, rational tasks. It tends to be very analytic but seems to take more mental effort when you use it. This sort of mental activity is slow and plodding, but can be very accurate if done correctly.
The right brain, on the other hand, is more creative and intuitive. It can reach conclusions quickly without us even being aware of how it does it. This brain can produce some spectacular results, often providing the right solution to problems seemingly out of nowhere. However this side of the brain can also be spectacularly wrong, providing solutions that cause tremendous trouble.
Consider for example the statement made by a famous person, "I work through instinct, and instinct is my best counselor." Would you think that a person who lives that way is likely to make good decisions? Is instinct (or intuition) likely to help avoid danger? It that case it didn't. That statement was from the last interview given by Princess Dianna, shortly before instinct allowed her to go to her death. Intuition or Instinct can give us ideas, but it is usually best to cross-check those ideas with the rational part of our minds.
Another example of the bad effects of over-reliance on intuition is the number of people who "follow their heart" without rational checks and balances. Too many people fall for the idea that "love conquers all" or that they must follow their emotions in matters of romance. That sounds nice, but have you checked the divorce rate in this country? Obviously great numbers of people are being mislead by their emotions.
On the other hand, consider the actions of Jackie Larsen of Minnesota. She encountered Christopher Bono, a clean-cut and well-mannered sixteen year old, as she left a prayer group. Bono said his car was broken down and he needed a ride to meet friends. She sensed that something was wrong and insisted that they talk on the sidewalk, in plain sight of other people.
Larsen said, "I am a mother and I have to talk to you like a mother...I can tell by your manners that you have a nice mother." At the mention of his mother Bono claimed that he didn't know where his mother was. Larsen then sent him to talk to the Pastor while she called police to suggest that they check the license plates on his car.
The car was registered to his mother. When police went to her apartment they found her in the bathtub - murdered. Christopher was charged with the murder.*
Jackie Larsen's actions are a good example of how to combine the intuitive and the rational. Her intuition told her that something was not right. However it could not tell her what the problem was, nor what to do about it. Using her rational mind she protected herself by not being alone with Bono. Then she initiated an investigation by contacting the police.
How did Larsen's intuition pick up on the problem? Research shows that the right brain collects experiences and makes connections between past events and current situations. As an experienced mother, Larsen had seen plenty of evasion by young people. She could not have told you exactly what in Bono's actions aroused her suspicions, but she did recognize a pattern that matched previous problems she had seen.
That is at least part of what the intuitive brain does. It recognizes patterns too complex for easy rational analysis. The right brain can match those patterns in a hurry. It may not explicitly say that this particular pattern is like one 20 years ago, but it does send a message that something is probably not right.
Once the right brain recognizes a possible problem we have a choice. In some situations, the fight or flight syndrome immediately kicks in. However usually the problem is not so urgent and we have time to look at things rationally. We can gather more information and logically decide on the best course of action.
Returning to the example of romance, what should a couple do if their emotions (and hormones) urge them to marry or otherwise pair up? This goes against the grain of popular belief, but they should check to see that they are really compatible for the long term. They should talk seriously about the three big problems that wreck marriages: children, finances and in-laws.
In fact it is a good idea to bring in a competent pre-marital counselor for some of these discussions. This professional can provide information based on the experiences of others, and on research. He can point out potential problems the couple will face. In many cases he can help them prepare so that their relationship remains strong in spite of the problems. In a few cases, the couple may decide that the kindest thing they can do for each other is to not marry.
Our right brain is the seat of intuition and emotion. Much of what it does is what makes life worth living. Without it we have no drive, no appetites or passions. However we must remember that those appetites and passions alone can lead us to trouble, they must be tempered by reason.
*The Jackie Larsen account is from pp31-32 of _Intuition, Its Powers and Perils_ by David G. Myers, Yale University Press, 2002.