In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost—Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
Intuition is the ability to sense, see or feel about someone or something. It is sometimes called “gut instinct” as opposed to using evidence-based rationality. Some describe it as the ability to see any event or object from a viewpoint of “the cosmic whole, from its culmination—the seed, the flower, the fruit—to the whole: the comprehensive grip of the principles of universality. A person who develops intuition can “know anything without the barriers of time, space and any other obstructions.” Inventor and founder of the Intuition Network Buck Charleston believed that intuition “comes from a source beyond consciousness itself.”
Carlin Flora in Psychology Today (2007) defined intution as “quick and ready insight.” She added that intuition is “the act or process of coming to direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring.” It comes from the Latin word intueri which means “to see within” and is a way of knowing, of sensing the truth without explanations.
The notion of an “autonomic non-conscious processes pervading all aspects of mental and social life” is a difficult truth for many people to accept, notes Yale University psychologist John Bargh. In his article, “Intuition: understanding the nature of our gut instincts.” (Scientific American Mind, 2007) psychologist David G. Myers adds, “In reality, we fly through life mostly on autopilot,” making choices constantly on an intuitive level: when to cross the street, how to drive a car, when to pass a car.
Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman theorized that we have evolved mental shortcuts, called heuristics, that let us make efficient, snap judgments—often based on perceptual and contextual cues. Kahneman also suggested that learned associations, which surface as feelings that guide our judgments, enter from our great reservoir of experiences. For instance, when encountering a stranger, if they resembled a person who had previously harmed or threatened us, we might react warily—without needing to consciously recall the earlier experience. Professional expertise often becomes intuitive. For instance, a master chess player (who may have over 50,000 patterns stored in his brain) need only glance at the chessboard to decide her move. Two colleagues of mine who are IT specialists (both women) approach hard and software troubleshooting intuitively, often diagnosing a problem through a quick look or listen or feel, and come up with an answer that no one has conceived through the traditional decision-tree diagnosis.
“Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition,” asserts Nobel laureate psychologist Herbert Simon. Judging from his notions on art and artificial intelligence, I’m certain that he is talking about “pattern recognition”, the ability to take pieces of a whole and fill in the rest, based largely on heuristic knowledge. http://www.astralgia.com/webportfolio/omnimoment/archives/interviews/simon.html
I believe that is too sparse and limited—if not parochial—for my taste (I am a writer and not, like Hemmingway, a minimalist writer. Simon’s notions on intuition suffer from over-simplification…unless his term “recognition” also encompasses more—I don’t think so, judging from his views on creativity, wisdom and art and beauty, for that matter. Between you and me, I don’t think he really gets it (see my earlier reference on beauty. A Jungian would likely describe Simon’s ego functions in interpreting reality as “non-intuitive or sensory and thinking”. While “pattern recognition” may cover the more mundane day-to-day aspects of our intuitive life decisions, it does not address the most intriguing aspect of intuition: that of making the right important life decisions based on no prior experience. This is a different kind of “knowing” and not one we acquire through simple living. It is more like “remembering” how we fit into a larger whole, more than ourselves.
In her bestselling 1992 book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, scholar, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés provides this rich and evocative description of the process of intuition:
“We call all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what there is to see, know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/Life cycles of all nature.”
Studies by Judith Hall of Northeastern University demonstrated that women have an edge in spotting lies, genuineness of expressions and in discerning whether a couple are genuinely romantic or are posed phonies. Estés ascribes intuition as “the treasure of a woman’s psyche,” and, ultimately, the primary instinctual power of the “Wild Woman”. “Intuition,” says Estés, “is like a divining instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is the form of The One Who Knows…the Wild Woman.”
Cognitive science shows us that human minds operate a two-track system: a deliberate analytical “high road” and an autonomic, intuitive “low road”. Life experiences provide us with intuitive expertise and we learn associations that surface as intuitive feelings, says Myer. To get a sense of someone’s warmth and energy, say psychologists Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, a mere six seconds will often do. “We’re finding that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second,” said Bargh. “Thanks to pathways that run from the eye to the brain’s rapid-response emotional-control centers—bypassing the thinking part of the brain, the cortex—we often feel before we analyze,” says Myers. There is presumed biological wisdom to such instant feelings, adds Myers; for instance, when our ancestors encountered a stranger and relied on their speedy and accurate distinction of anger, fear, sadness and happiness.
“Intuition communicates with us through symbols, feelings and emotions. It usually does not speak to us in clear language,” says Angelfire.com. Explanations usually come along with messages on a “need to know basis”. Trust that when the bigger, more important messages need to surface, they will. That is also part of intuition: trust and faith. It all starts with the realization that most things are not as they seem…
Ancient philosophers deemed that intuition was the power of obtaining knowledge that could not be acquired either by inference, observation, reason or experience. They called intuition an original, independent source of knowledge, designed to account for knowledge unobtainable through other means: knowledge of necessary truths or moral principles, for instance.
Intuition provides the spark that fires the genius of excellent art and soulful living. It is the vehicle of a purposeful life and finding one’s place in the world. To exercise the courage to reject what is in the realm of rationality and heed one’s intuition is to unlock the inner wisdom of one’s subconscious mind—and universe—and to listen to one’s heart and “recall what one has always known”.