Monday, January 21, 2019

The Art of Intuition: Ilana Glazer and David Ludden at NYC’s Rubin Museum

Ilana Glazer and David Ludden met for a short talk on intuition at the Rubin Museum on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, as part of the museum’s Fall Wisdom series. Glazer, best known as the star and writer for Comedy Central’s Broad City, was a charming and composed host, and Ludden, a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College outside of Atlanta, was a courageous and informed interlocutor.

One of the first big lessons of the night is that “intuition” is a difficult word not for a few reasons. The discerning art critic—writing in cursive in the dark—will look down, and suddenly, the word “intuition” in cursive is a forest of i’s that look like t’s and n’s that look like u’s in a huge quagmire.

In one of the first questions, Glazer showed a guru-level awareness. The audience went completely silent as the talk started, but then someone sneezed loudly. Without looking at the audience or flinching in the middle of her question to Ludden, Glazer said, “Bless you,” and the audience erupted in laughter.


Ilana Glazer and David Ludden on “Intuition” (Oct. 24, 2016). Photo Credit: Andrew Kist.

Audience member Nathan Michelson, a woodwind orchestra player from Jacksonville, said, “It reminds me of the union polarity between thinking and feeling; that sitting on that line is a great place to be—requisite variety is the spice of life.” Michelson was referring to the talk’s contrast between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking. Ludden was quick to point out the human brain couldn’t really function without both systems of thinking working together. While not the most scientific statement of the night, Glazer and Ludden said that functioning intuition is crucial to having a loving and meaningful life.

Ludden and Glazer did have a deep dive into a nuanced discussion of two different types of “scientific” intuition.

Glazer pressed Ludden on a medical miracle from the 19th century, when Phineas Gage suffered an explosion and survived a traumatic brain injury. Ludden said Gage was an example of damage to the prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain just beneath the forehead. He said the prefrontal cortex rules regulations of emotions, whereas the amygdala rules primal emotions such as fear and anxiety.

One might say this separation between the two types of intuition resembles poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote that “the things we fear just need our love,” because the prefrontal cortex’s regulation of primal emotions, such as fear, is a greater intuition.

During the talk, Ludden repeatedly brought up a concept from academic psychology called “flow.” The Rubin Museum, as a museum of Buddhist and Hindu studies, would recognize this as “satori.” Ludden said a state of flow is achieved when a person is doing something, because they’re good at what they’re doing, and they enjoy doing it.

“I thought the talk was a really genuine conversation. They came at it from their own perspectives, and they were vulnerable with what they didn’t know.”

Early in the conversation, Glazer said she was a drummer, and often, she thought of comedy as a study in rhythm. She said people in drum circles sometimes feel dissociated from their bodies.

The final time Ludden brought up flow, he said he often felt great teaching only to look at the time and realize the time was up. In a happy coincidence, at that very moment, the moderator for the talk, Director of Programming Tim McHenry, interrupted Ludden and said they were out of time.

Jon Wan of East Harlem in New York City said, “I thought the talk was a really genuine conversation. They came at it from their own perspectives, and they were vulnerable with what they didn’t know. It was interesting how they framed intuition in their own lives and careers.”

McHenry said, “My favorite thing about this talk was when the audience interacted with the speakers, and the speakers were able to use their own experiences to drive their curiosity.” This comment is more astute than it sounds, because during the question and answer, both Glazer and Ludden were intelligent and receptive regardless of the questions asked.

For example, this was clear during one open disagreement, when an audience member said he disagreed with Ludden whether or not flow could be rehearsed, or in another example, when an audience member questioned intuition because her intuitions had proven wrong so often. Glazer and Ludden showed poise and authority by not being threatened by these questions.

The comedian and the scientist made an excellent team and had a great discussion. This talk resembled the recent popular psychology book F*ck Feelings by Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett because Michael is a psychiatrist and Sarah is a successful comedy writer. The book uses both comedy and psychology in order to explain psychological concepts.

This talk also seems of kin with Stephen Colbert’s famous friendship with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Glazer and Ludden had an excellent report and were able to articulate difficult ideas in an easy and fun way. Museums would do well to make note of this excellent event.


Cover photo courtesy of Andrew Kist.

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