Gut instinct or intelligence?

The Institute of Leadership and Management was offering a “master class”on Spiritual Intelligence(SQ) as part of their Professional Development programme.  As a Fellow of the Institute I am interested in any professional development, but as a proponent of evidence-based management this offering troubled me.  A small number of members posted comments on the ILM website, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Maybe because of this criticism, or possibly independently, they changed the name of the event to “Increase your Intelligence” and  now, instead of referring to a higher, metaphysical intelligence, the outline is much more down-to-earth and describes intelligence in our heart and gut that interact with the intelligence in the brain.

There is nothing wrong with suggesting a hypothesis such as gut intelligence, but as with all these New Age, pseudoscientific claims, they hijack selective pieces of scientific research and make claims that cannot be proven and, therefore, should not be made.

For example, the revised outline states that: “We each have 3 separate intelligences (head, heart and gut) operating in our bodies and how these brains communicate and operate with each other is vital for congruence, success and happiness.”   However, you only need to undertake the smallest amount of research to discover that there is no such evidence.  For example, Scientific American has an article on the subject which states that: although its influence is far-reaching, the second brain is not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision-making.  It also quotes Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and an expert in the emerging field of neurogastroenterology: “The second brain doesn’t help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head…” 

Clearly there is new information being discovered all the time, and who knows where it may lead. For example, as the revised outline correctly describes, scientists have discovered networks of neurons in the intestines. These are sometimes referred to as our ‘second brain’ but right now to talk about gut intelligence is unproven and, as Carl Sagan famously said: “…I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble.”