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Intuition: powers and perils

Posted Mar 12 2009 3:16pm

highly sensitive personality, developing intuition, being intuitive

Gut reaction, hunch, instinct, nose, presentiment, second sight - the ability to gain understanding outside the usual senses and rational thought can be an invaluable guide to enhance our personal development and help realize ourselves more fully, but there are also potential limitations and distortions.

Sixth Sense MIT Part of the motivation for writing about this topic was seeing a recent TED video by Pattie Maes & Pranav Mistry of the MIT Media Lab: Unveiling the “Sixth Sense,” game-changing wearable tech.

[TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and the site is a great resource for inspiration and information.]

The ‘SixthSense’ system is a combination of computing device, camera and projector forming “a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.”

The description from the site continues, “We’ve evolved over millions of years to sense the world around us. When we encounter something, someone or some place, we use our five natural senses to perceive information about it; that information helps us make decisions and choose the right actions to take.

“But arguably the most useful information that can help us make the right decision is not naturally perceivable with our five senses, namely the data, information and knowledge that mankind has accumulated about everything and which is increasingly all available online.”

That is an intriguing new or extended definition of “sixth sense” and raises the question of where and how our gut instincts develop. Of course, what they are talking about is collecting information that still gets presented to our ‘ordinary’ senses.

What is intuition?

Wikipedia notes “ESP is also sometimes casually referred to as a sixth sense, gut instinct, hunch, or intuition. The term implies sources of information currently unexplained by science.”

Another inspiration for this topic is an article by Jenna Forrest, an empowerment coach and author of a very moving memoir on being highly sensitive: Help Is On Its Way.

AwakeningIntuition In her article, she notes, “You might refer to your intuition as your inner voice, gut instinct, or sixth sense, but no matter what you call it, one thing’s for sure, YOU’VE GOT IT! Everybody does.”

She points out that intuition “can get out of shape for lack of use. All you have to do is bring your intuition up to the surface where you can hear it more clearly.”

From her article How Intuition Works and Why You Have It - which includes a link to her followup article with more about developing intuition.

Whether it is a form of psychic ability, or non-intellectual inner wisdom, many people acclaim the virtues of intuition.

Our inner voice

Oprah Winfrey has commented, “You have to become very still and listen while your inner voice — the very essence of you — tells you who you are. You’ll know you’ve found it when every cell in your body practically vibrates; when you’re filled up by what you’re doing instead of being drained by it.”

Quoted in Intuition Newsletter, Aug 2004, by Lynn A. Robinson, author of  Divine Intuition.

Another writer, Dr. Jill Ammon-Wexler notes “We come into life equipped with five basic senses — touch, hearing, taste, sight and smell. But we also possess some more mysterious senses. One such little-understood sense - intuition - governs our ability to arrive at spontaneous non-logical’ decisions.”

From her article Your “Intuitive Intelligence”.

There are also rapid cognitions and decisions that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

More definition is provided by Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, who commented in our interview, “I definitely agree with a quote of Jean Houston when she says, ‘I think a lot of giftedness, though by no means all, has to do with having a broader palette of perceptual capacity.’ But I think it goes beyond the senses… It’s our ability to intuit the mystery.”

From interview with Judith Orloff.

That idea of “broader palette of perceptual capacity” also comes up in this quote:

“We must commit ourselves to peeling away the logical tangles, squeezing the most out of our rational, cognitive and verbal faculties. But in the end, when we come to that point where intellect can take us no further, we must bow in silence before the mystery — and participate with it on its own ineffable terms.

“Back and forth, we must switch between intellect and intuition, between rational, objective knowledge and embodied paradox.”

From the book: Radical Nature: Rediscovering the Soul of Matter, by Christian De Quincey, PhD.

Rachel Weisz A number of artists acknowledge the value of intuition, for example actor Rachel Weisz:

“You have to stop thinking too much and just use your heart and your gut and your instincts [when acting]. Any intellect just gets in the way. You just have to go with the feeling and not over-analyze.”

From the page Intuition / instinct.

But “going with feeling” and allowing intuition to work ain’t always easy.

Especially for those of us who are used to valuing rationality and our intellects so much.

“It’s hard to let insights in, if we’ve dead bolted the doors,” says alternative career coach and author Tama J. Kieves. “Sometimes we are begging for clarity, just as long as it’s a nice, tidy, respectable answer and preferably one that doesn’t really require us to change much at all.”

She adds, “Secretly, I’m looking for guidance that tells me that nothing has to change and I will get everything I want. I really don’t want to hear anything else. I certainly don’t want to hear how I might have to grow or do something different or open my mind to a new possibility…”

She wrote in her book This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love, “The heart speaks with closure to the open mind,” and adds, “When we’re ready for any answer, we’ll receive the one jewel we know is ours.”

[From Tama J. Kieves' newsletter Trusting the Journey Times, May/June 2004.]

Is intuition always trustworthy?

In her article How to Tell the Difference Between Fear and Intuition, Judith Orloff says, “My approach to transforming fear has two stages. First, take stock of what makes you afraid and distinguish irrational fears from legitimate intuitions.

“Second, take appropriate steps to heed protective fears and transform the others with courage. At times you may foresee real danger, but more frequently unproductive fears clobber you.

“Therefore as a general rule, train yourself to question fears tied to low self-esteem; we’re all worthy of what’s extraordinary.”

She gives an example: “It’s right to question the fear that you’re too emotionally damaged to love; even the severely wounded can have their hearts opened again. True intuitions will never put you down or support destructive attitudes or behavior. Here are some guidelines for distinguishing legitimate fears from irrational ones…” [see article]

In his article Intuition or Intellect, social psychologist David G. Myers warns, “Intuition is important, but we often underestimate its perils. My geographical intuition tells me that Reno is east of Los Angeles and that Rome is south of New York. But I am wrong.”

He quotes Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Myers adds, “In hundreds of experiments, people have greatly overestimated their eyewitness recollections, their interviewee assessments and their stock-picking talents. It’s humbling to realize how often we misjudge and mispredict reality and then display ‘belief perseverance’ when facing disconfirming information.”

Myers is author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils.

More cautions: “83 percent of Nobel Prize-winning scientists claim frequent or occasional assistance from unconscious intuitions, but only 7 percent say that such hunches were always correct… Albert Einstein once said he lost two years on an erroneous intuition…”

From book: David Weeks: Secrets of the Superyoung.

But we don’t want to discount or discard intuition.

Nicole Kidman “The way I work best is when my instinct is alive,” said Nicole Kidman, about developing a character, “and when I give over to that and don’t try too hard.

“You have to relax, and you have to say, OK, I will find it, or it will find me, and it may not happen on the first day of rehearsal, it may not happen until the last day of the rehearsal, but it will happen.”

That can be a helpful attitude not just about acting, but about using instinct for developing creativity of any sort.

Also see more Intuition articles.

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