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Fingerspitzengefühl [ˈfɪŋɐˌʃpɪtsənɡəˌfyːl] is a German term, literally meaning "finger tips feeling" and meaning intuitive flair or instinct, which has been appropriated by the English language as a loanword. In German, it describes a great situational awareness, and the ability to respond most appropriately and tactfully. It can be applied well to diplomats, bearers of bad news, or to describe a superior ability to respond to an escalated situation.
The word is enjoying a second life in the English language in military terminology, where it is used for the stated ability of some military commanders, such as Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, to maintain with great accuracy in attention to detail an ever-changing operational and tactical situation by maintaining a mental map of the battlefield. In this sense the term is synonymous with the English expression of "keeping one's finger on the pulse". The mental image given is of a military commander who is in such intimate communication with the battlefield that it is as though he has a fingertip on each critical point, expressed in the 18th and 19th centuries as "having a feel for combat".
The term is only figurative, and cannot in itself give a realistic picture of the ability being described. It is cognitively related to personal possession of multiple intelligences, notably those pertinent to visual and spatial data processing. The term indicates that in addition to any discursive processing of information that the commander may be conducting (i.e., mental thinking through things in inner discourse), something else is going on, the simultaneous assignment of cognitive relationships between disparate pieces of information reaching the commander and immediate re-synthesis of the whole picture.
Even though there is no physical connection between the commander and his troops, other than conduits for discursive information such as radio signals, it is as if he had his own sensitive presence in each spot.
One of the functions of a static map is to allow a traveler to decide upon a course of action suitable for getting from one point to another. In times of war, the terrain and the troops and weapons deployed upon it can be changed much more rapidly than cartographers can change their maps. The mind of the superb commander must maintain such a map and adjust it by constantly incorporating any information that he gets that may allow him to tweak his inner picture.
The concept may be compared to ideas about intuition and neural net programming. The same phenomenon, but conceptualized in a radically different way, seems to be described by D.T. Suzuki in swordsmanship teaching stories recounted in his Zen and Japanese Culture, and given in analytical detail in Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (Fromm, Suzuki and De Martino).
- Brighton, Terry. Masters of Battle: Monty, Patton and Rommel at war. Retrieved 2009-08-15., Prologue
See also 
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