intelligence guides most of our ordinary, unthinking, every day
actions and reactions. We effortlessly draw on this "common sense"
intelligence to help us cope with practical problems, other people, and
our emotions. This experience-based intelligence is automatic; it
enables us to quickly make decisions, such as "Should I trust this
stranger?" or "How should I answer that question?" This intuitive mind
helped our species survive in the wild for the seven or so million years
before our current cerebral cortex developed 35,000 to 100,000 years
ago. It doesn't have to think of and weigh the pro and cons for every
alternative; it has the remarkable capacity to add all our past
experiences together and to quickly interpret the current situation in
light of our history, especially our traumatic past. We needed that for
Both our rational and experience-based minds make mistakes.
According to Epstein, when emotions run high, the experience-based
mind is likely to take over because it responds quickly and has had
experience with emergency and emotional situations. And, once the
experience-based mind is in control, it is hard for the rational mind to
intercede. Thus, the danger is that the experience-based, more
emotional mind will misinterpret a situation or choose an inappropriate
reaction, e.g. you might be excessively fearful of your male boss
because your father was harshly critical and aloof when you had made
a mistake. This dual-mind theory helps explains why intellectually
smart people do not solve everyday problems better than average
people; bright people can't handle their emotions any better than the
rest of us, so they don't have better marriages nor better kids nor
better mental or physical health. The knowledge-based mind can't deal
with hundreds of problems every day. But, this rational mind needs to
monitor your actions, your experience-based mind, and your emotions
for irrationality, asking "Why are you assuming the boss will get mad
like father?" or "Won't your fears get in the way of doing a good job?"
We need the rational mind to keep us reasonable. But we need the
experience-based, intuitive mind to handle most situations, to
sensitize us to danger in situations, to guide us in handling the danger,
to detect the needs and emotions underlying our actions, and to
arouse our emotional ire when something is unjust.
As you can see, as Epstein conceptualizes these two minds, both
contribute vital information to our constructive thinking, i.e. to our
coping with personal and interpersonal problems. Yet, we spend years
in schools trying to train the rational mind but that doesn't help us
much with solving ordinary problems, such as finding love, controlling
our irritation, managing diets or money, dealing with difficult people
and so on. On the other hand, the intuitive mind, which automatically
guides us through these complex situations, gets very little attention
in school and almost no training (additional experience, i.e. besides
interacting in the halls).
A well-read person will also recognize the similarity between
Epstein's two intelligences and men's vs. Women's Ways of Knowing in
the seminal book by Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986).