Situational Awareness: How the Marines Train Recruits to Use Intuition

In what The Daily Beast calls “almost, but not quite, a military effort to teach Extra-Sensory Perception, or ESP,” the Office of Naval Research’s four-year, $4 million “sensemaking” initiative “depends on extracting environmental cues, interpreting their meaning and then connecting them in a plausible story,” says John Alexander, the author of The Warrior’s Edge and an expert in fringe military research.

Via the sense making manual, Marines are not actually asked to go beyond the senses they already have. Rather, they’re asked to hone those senses and develop a higher situational IQ, as it were.

Gary Klein, a research psychologist and consultant whose work inspired the Navy’s sensemaking project, told The Daily Beast he prefers to call the process “naturalistic decisionmaking.”

“I was worried about how this could be viewed in a sensational way with ‘spidey-sense’ or something that sounds like ESP or something paranormal,” Klein said. “That’s not what the military’s interested in. They’re interested in developing expertise and the core part of expertise is tests, knowledge and the ability to make sense of situations.”

“I’m very excited they found my work relevant,” Klein added.

Marine recruits are given scenarios in training that are essentially puzzles best solved using empathy and a proper characterization of the scene they see before them in order to analyze situations and assess threats.

The ONR’s “sense making” manual breaks the program and training down into two distinct silos of training: “perspective-taking”—or empathy—and “characterizing,” or imagination.

A Marine practicing sensemaking would, through empathy, intuit the relationships and dynamics in the community and environment in which he’s operating. Having gathered this raw information, he then imagines stories that, in theory, anticipate threats and opportunities.

Good to know our fighting men and women are defying some of the stereotypes of the military as simple killing machines by training recruits to use their minds and emotions as well as their bodies and fighting skills.