What is intuition?
Intuition or the ‘gut feeling’ is the ability to gain immediate understanding without the agency of conscious reasoning. Intuitive understanding bypasses the logical arm of the mind-brain network. In all probability, the majority of us have had such an experience at some point in our lives. Intuition is also referred to as the sixth sense.
Humans are unique amongst all living species in that; we have five active senses which are working all the time during our waking hours. These five senses, which are sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell, are like the doors and windows of the mind. They point outward into the world and are a vital conduit for the exchange of information between the mind and the world.
The five senses are routed through the brain and into the mind, where inputs are quickly analyzed, and we draw inferences. Rarely is there cross-talk between the senses before data reach the mind. The senses are like antennae found on insects.
Intuition or the ‘gut feeling’ is the ability to gain immediate understanding without the agency of conscious reasoning. Intuitive understanding bypasses the logical arm of the mind-brain network.
The ability of the five senses is relatively limited. Each of the five senses has a unique set of receptors that can pick up specific impulses. The mind-brain complex does a beautiful job in creating a composite of these impulses to give us an all-round experience. For instance, during a meal at a fine dining restaurant, the sights, smell, taste, and sounds all come together to create a one of a kind gastronomic experience.
The range of each sense organ varies. For instance, the sense of touch is activated only with direct contact; the sense of taste requires a thin barrier of fluid to activate. We can smell from a reasonable distance away from the source of the odor. Our sense of hearing has a further reach. The sense of sight, by far has the furthest range. We can see the light from the sun, which is millions of miles away. The one common factor for all the five senses is that there needs to be a known external stimulus. The eyes cannot see an object which is not there.
The sixth sense or intuition works very differently. It is not connected to the five senses and is not an extension of them. Intuition cannot be measured. We can measure the functionality of the other senses. For example, visual acuity and hearing can be measured and quantified. Intuition does not lend itself to study via currently known instruments.
The source from which information comes directly, via the faculty of intuition is unknown. Perhaps there are dormant centers in the brain that become activated and link up with other similarly dormant areas of the mind. This is a field that needs further exploration.
The sixth sense or intuition is not connected to the five senses and is not an extension of them.
Compared to the other senses, intuition requires a deeper level of receptivity. It cannot operate when the mind is busy with other thoughts. A distracted mind can never be an intuitive mind. Intuition may help us garner information related to the outside world as well as information about our being.
The fact that the power of intuition is not well developed in humans suggests that its use isn’t primarily for deriving information from the outer world. It is mainly a tool to develop a deeper understanding of our true nature. We can see the world and be a direct witness to the happenings all around us. There is little meaning in developing a ‘closed eye’ intuitive ability to see what the eyes are capable of seeing.
The spread of technology and the ability to gain information quickly and effortlessly via smartphones further minimizes the need for intuitive knowledge. However, there are many applications for the ability of intuition. For instance, inventors unknowingly use the power of intuition to come up with breakthroughs. Great scientific advances have come about without any prior knowledge.
Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” He predicted the existence of black holes. Back in the early 1900s, there were no instruments to prove or disprove his theories. Indeed, his discoveries did not come about through the use of the five senses. He must have tapped into an intuitive ability to come up with such groundbreaking discoveries. They have stood the test of time. A lot of what we take for granted in the modern world, such as the GPS, depend on information from Einstein’s scientific revelations.
Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Another famous example of intuitive ability is the Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan. With no formal training in mathematics, he came up with nearly 4000 unique mathematical concepts and equations. His revelations are being deciphered even today. Years after his death, his notebooks continue to provide fresh insights and new information, all of which have spawned vast new areas in mathematics. He attributed all his discoveries to his family deity, who revealed complex mathematical concepts and equations in a series of visions.
Discoveries on the scale of Einstein and Ramanujan will probably not happen again in our lifetime. Their work strongly suggests the presence of human intuition, which can grasp information not accessible by anyone else. Even if a fraction of these abilities were available to us, it would likely speed up the mental evolution of man.
From a young age, we are taught to think logically. Our minds are highly conditioned, and habits play a significant role in how the mind functions. The mind-brain complex, for the most part, serves various habits and conditioned thought patterns. When habits take center stage, there is no room for intuition. For intuition to develop, it requires a broad and empty mental field of energy. Intuitive signals, however, can be weak and are easily overpowered by even the quietest thought.
For intuition to develop, it requires a broad and empty mental field of energy.
Certain spiritual traditions use the concept of the third eye to explain intuitive ability. This third eye is not a physical entity but considered a ‘psychic gate’ to higher realms of knowledge and consciousness. In Tibet and Nepal, the third eye is a widely depicted symbol in places of worship. Did the ancients know something that we currently do not know? This question may never be answered to the satisfaction of the scientific community.
Intuition is a subjective ability and may not lend itself to rigorous scientific study, at least by today’s measure. However, it is an area worth exploring. Any exploration into a subjective space can only be carried out individually. In other words, we cannot outsource the effort and expect to develop a subjective faculty like intuition. For instance, we cannot see through the eyes of another human being. We can only see through our eyes. We may get information about what others may be seeing, but this is second-hand knowledge. Similarly, like seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching, which are direct experiences, intuition is also a direct experience.
Accumulation of knowledge will not result in the growth of intuition. Knowledge is the end product of the information intake through the five sensory organs. No matter how deep or extensive the knowledge base may be, it cannot tell us anymore that what is contained in that base of knowledge. Different people interpret such knowledge in different ways, but ultimately, the source comes from what is already known.
Accumulation of knowledge will not result in the growth of intuition. Knowledge is the end product of the information intake through the five sensory organs.
Thoughts are the vehicles of knowledge. The mind, which is full of them, is a fascinating entity. Invisible yet it is there as a subjective experience. Thoughts cannot be measured or studied via external means, but every individual maintains near-constant interactions with thoughts.
The endproduct of intuition is wisdom. It comes in a flash and does not involve an intermediary of thoughts. It is not an interpretation of what is already in our knowledge base, but a sudden revelation. Flashes of intuition come when thoughts are inactive, and the mind space is transparent and open. The thinking mind is shut off, and the receiving mind is open and free. Intuition works best when the mind as a whole function as a receiver.
The endproduct of intuition is wisdom. It comes in a flash and does not involve an intermediary of thoughts.
Intuitive understanding comes about suddenly and sometimes very unexpectedly. It takes a lot of effort to cultivate the receptive ability to wait for those transient flashes of wisdom patiently. A famous Japanese inventor, Yoshiro Nakamatsu, also known as Dr. NakaMats swims underwater with a unique breath-holding technique while carrying a plexiglass writing pad. He says he gets his best ideas while swimming in this manner. He has about 4000 patents to his name. This technique works for him, but it may not work for others. Each individual will have to discover for himself or herself what works and what does not work.
A subjective exploration into oneself can be done anywhere and at anytime. It does not need external props or equipment. Through trial and error, we may stumble upon a way to create an internal environment wherein intuitive understanding can manifest. We cannot force it to come or modify it in any way. All we can do is create the right environment. For this, the necessary foundation is building inner awareness.
Imagine a maze with walls. Once we enter such a labyrinth, we are forced to go in a particular direction, and the barriers prevent us from seeing across the maze to find a shorter way out. Habits are like mazes in the mind. We have different habit patterns, and each one is a unique maze. Awareness helps open up the mind space, break down habit patterns, and creates the bed where the seeds of intuition can sprout.
Intuition can help us see any given situation in a manner that the thinking mind cannot conceive. Even a rudimentary intuitive capacity is more valuable than an encyclopedic mind full of accumulated knowledge. It takes a certain degree of trust and an initial leap of faith to leave the comfort of accumulated knowledge to an uncertain open space where intuition manifests.
Expert users of the mind can compartmentalize the active thinking arm of the mind from the passive, receptive side. These two sides can be thought of as the front office and the back office. Their functions are very different, but they complement each other.
Intuition can help us see any given situation in a manner that the thinking mind cannot conceive. Even a rudimentary intuitive capacity is more valuable than an encyclopedic mind full of accumulated knowledge.
We are very familiar with the thinking arm of the mind. Developing the receptive arm of the mind involves growing in self-awareness and learning how to disconnect the sensory stream. Ultimately when we learn how to sustain inner quietude and patience, new ideas and insights may start to come in through the channel of intuition.