Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"Do you ever have hunches?"
The steam from my near-boiling chicken soup rose as I posed the question to him. My friend, the King of Rational Thought, was just digging into his garden salad across the table. I figured he would dismiss the question as trivial, saying that hunches have no place in clear thinking. I was wrong.
"Yes," he said, after his first bite. "Quite often."
My eyebrows rose. "You do?"
"Yes," he replied, smiling. "Why does that surprise you?"
"Well, uh, I thought- I just figured, that, uh, you didn't bother with such things."
"Why wouldn't I?" he asked, still smiling.
"Well, what do you do about them?" I asked back, trying to cover my surprise by methodically stirring my soup.
"It depends," he said. "If they're interesting or important enough to explore, I'll pursue them."
"By attempting to collect facts that either prove or disprove my intuitive hunch," he replied. "You shouldn't automatically accept an intuitive hunch, but you shouldn't dismiss it either. The best course of action is to pursue it to see whether it's true. But you have to be patient. You may have to wait awhile until you get enough facts."
"Can you give me an example?" I asked, nearly scalding myself with an initial spoonful of soup.
"Sure," he said. "In fact, I'll give you an example your readers can help with, if they wish."
"Sounds good to me," I said, silently estimating that my soup would not be cool enough to consume until sometime next month.
"Ok," he began, "let me give you some background. From my observation, there seems to be a theme in history that a nation becomes great, then topples."
"Like the U.S.," I interrupted, only half-joking.
"I understand what you're saying, but we can't really use the U.S. as an example because it hasn't toppled... yet." He smiled. "But there are lots of real examples. Rome and Greece, just to name two. Now when a nation starts out, it has to be practical in order to survive. The focus is on practical things. Protecting borders, maintaining supplies, fighting off enemies, things like that.
"But as nations grow and become successful," he continued, "they seem to turn toward fantasies and away from practicalities. For example, take a guy who wants to conquer the world. Protecting yourself from enemies is one thing. That can be practical. But conquering the whole world? That's clearly a fantasy. My theory - and I admit that it's an intuitive theory - is that nations ultimately topple because, as they grow and become successful, their objectives move farther and farther away from the practical and more toward fantasy. And the more they do that, the greater the chance they will fail."
"Now that I think about it," he mused, "this would seem to apply to individuals and businesses too."
I had finally managed to cool my soup by discretely adding ice cubes from my water glass. "Makes sense to me," I said, as I put the rich chicken stock where it belonged.
"Yes," he said, "it makes sense to me too. But that doesn't make it true. What I need are examples from history. And I just haven't had time to go ferret them out at the library. Perhaps your readers, some of whom probably have facts about the history of nations at their fingertips, can suggest some examples that either confirm or deny this theory."
I stared across the table. "You want examples that deny your theory?" I asked.
He looked up. "Of course," he replied, surprised. "I'll take any examples I can get. I'm not invested in proving that 'my intuitive theory' is true. I'm interested in proving whether or not 'it' is true. Our intuition is only a guide for us to do the real work of uncovering facts that either prove or disprove our intuitive hunches." He paused. "By the way, how's your soup?"
I smiled. "Delicious. And, I have an intuitive hunch about how the cook heats it."
"What's your hunch?"
"I think he uses a nuclear laser cannon."