The Emerging Study of Intuition
March 5, 2013 § 12 Comments
“Cease trying to work everything out with your minds. It will get you nowhere. Live by intuition and inspiration and let your whole life be Revelation”. ~ Eileen Caddy
“The only real valuable thing is intuition”. ~ Albert Einstein
Studies and anecdotes alike suggest that we have ways of gaining information beyond that which is readily available to our conscious mind. The word intuition comes from the Latin word intueri, which translates as to look inside or to contemplate.
Psychology Today relates an experiment wherein the subject is shown images which are either calming or agitating (an image of a lake, an image of a spider…) The order is randomly generated in the moment by a computer.
Electrodes that measure tiny changes in skin resistance are attached to two fingers on the subject’s left hand; plus, a third that monitors blood flow. Consistent with other test subjects, the body does not react to calming images, but does show response to the agitating ones. In this groundbreaking experiment, researchers discovered that the subject’s body reacts to the agitating image a fraction of a second before the image has been randomly generated.
I’ll give that a minute to sink in.
Implications of nonlinear time aside—which are, in themselves, awe-inspiring—this study suggests concrete proof that “gut reactions” are a genuine function of human processing.
“Today, cognitive science is revealing a fascinating unconscious mind that Freud never told us about,” notes David G. Myers in The Powers & Perils of Intuition. “Thinking occurs not onstage but offstage, out of sight. Studies of automatic processing, subliminal priming, implicit memory, heuristics, right-brain processing, instant emotions, nonverbal communication and creativity unveil our intuitive capacities. Thinking, memory and attitude operate on two levels: the conscious/deliberate and the unconscious/automatic. ‘Dual processing,’ researchers call it. We know more than we know we know.”
“The scientific evidence is now stronger than ever for commonly reported experiences such as telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), clairvoyance (information received from a distant place) and precognition (information received from a distant time),” observes psychologist Dean Radin. “Studies suggest that we have ways of gaining information that bypass the ordinary senses.”
This acknowledgement extends even to the United States Navy, who, The New York Times reports, has started a program to investigate how members of the military can be trained to improve their intuitive ability during combat and other missions.
“The idea for the project comes in large part from the testimony of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who have reported an unexplained feeling of danger just before they encountered an enemy attack or ran into an improvised explosive device, Navy scientists said.
“’Research in human pattern recognition and decision-making suggest that there is a ‘sixth sense’ through which humans can detect and act on unique patterns without consciously and intentionally analyzing them,” the Office of Naval Research said in an announcement late last month,” citing numerous peer-reviewed studies in cognitive psychology and neuroscience.
The New York Times notes that people often “confuse” the concept of intuition with the supernatural—though many intuitive types would more likely call this a difference in perspective.
Whatever your personal beliefs as to the source of intuition, its existence is embraced by the world’s most celebrated thinkers. In Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man, William Hermanns shares a conversation with the man whose name is literally a synonym for genius:
“Einstein nodded: he was a good listener. After a pause he said, ‘The cosmic man must be restored, the whole man who is made in the image and likeness of the arch-force, which you may call God. This man thinks with his heart and not with party dogma. As I’ve explained before, there is an order in the universe – a cosmic order – and humans have the possibility of understanding these laws.’
“Einstein leaned back in his chair; so did I, putting my writing pad on my knees. He added, ‘I have no doubt that the allies will win the war.’ I smiled, ‘Oh, you are my prophet again. ‘Prophet or not,’ he scratched his head, ‘what I say is more often felt through intuition than thought through intellect.'” (Einstien’s Intuition.)
It’s important, however, to remain discerning, and not to assume that every strong feeling we receive is operating on some higher, interconnected plane.
As David G. Myers points out in The Powers & Perils of Intuition, “The history of science tells story after story of challenges to human intuition. To our ancestors, the sun’s daily travels had at least two plausible explanations: Either the sun was circling Earth, or Earth was spinning while the sun stood still. Intuition preferred the first explanation. Galileo’s scientific observations demanded the second.”
It’s also possible to confuse the strong emotion of desire (wishful thinking) with the strong feeling of a potential “gut reaction.” We must always check our guts—and analyze our motives—first and foremost for self-deception.
“The first principle,” said Einstein’s fellow physicist, Richard Feynman, “is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.”
“Nobody can dictate my behavior,” said Diana, Princess of Wales, in her last interview before her fatal accident. “I work through instinct, and instinct is my best counselor.”
“Does this mean we should ignore our hunches or intuitions?” asks Denise Cummins Ph.D in “Good Thinking.”
“Not necessarily. According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, decisions are the output of two processes, a fast intuition- or emotion-based process and a slower, deliberative one. To Kahneman, intuitive activities are very similar to perceptual activities, such as seeing and hearing.
“Ask yourself this: When you glimpse something out of the corner of your eye, what do you normally do next? You probably direct your attention to the new stimulus, allowing your visual system to process it in more detail. As it turns out, that is probably the best way to think about the role of intuition in decision-making: Your gut reaction tells you this particular choice deserves further deliberation.”
Cummins also sites an experiment by Dr. Michel Tuan Pham of Columbia Business School, which asked people to make a number of future predictions, from box office success to presidential elections. The findings indicated that people did better in fields with which they already had some knowledge. But also, those who believed in their ability more, made more accurate predictions. This was dubbed “the emotional oracle effect.”
So how to cultivate your intuition? For one, start listening to that still, small voice. Like a muscle, it benefits from excercise. Make feeling-based predictions privately to yourself, which can be proven later. This way you can begin to get an idea of what your most successful hunches felt like in their nascent stages—as well as build confidence and trust in your abilities, thereby employing the benefits of that documented “emotional oracle effect.”
Remember, the subliminal self operates on a far subtler level than we may be used to paying attention to or even noticing.
Meditation—simply giving yourself time to cultivate inner stillness—helps quiet the mind and open receptivity to subconscious knowledge.
Paying attention to how your body responds to certain situations or people can tell you a lot.
Visualization exercises can be helpful as well. They give the subconscious mind a device with which it can present you with communication from its arsenal of symbolic wisdom.
Try imagining yourself in a beautiful, calming natural environment. Take the time to really bring the sights and sounds of your inner space to life. Once this has been achieved, take a little more time simply to enjoy your creation.
Then imagine a treasure chest in this scene. Ask a question. In your mind’s eye, walk over to the chest and open it. The subconscious will present you with an answering image. It may be clear or obscure symbolism, but more often than not you will find the image that appears carries metaphorical weight and is not random.
Have fun tapping into that buried treasure!