The Evidence for Intuition
Does It Really Exist?
“Rational knowledge and rational activities certainly constitute the major part of scientific research, but that is not all there is to it. The rational part of research would, in fact, be useless if it were not complemented by the intuition that gives scientists new insights and makes them creative.” [Fritjov Capra]
Intuition is best appreciated as a natural and inborn human capacity, a gift of life, and even obviously so. It is truly beyond the need for evidence, any more than we might ask for proof that we can think, laugh and feel. Almost everyone is already well aware that they possess and utilize such an “inner knowing” faculty, and they are comfortable with it without trying to understand it. Still, there are those who have somehow missed it and ask for arguments that the term intuition means something more than its austere definition. They want to be assured, by their own criteria, that the acclaimed faculty truly exists in human beings, and therefore themselves—even while they are actually using it unawares with almost every thought. They may see it as a small threat against which they must argue and defend themselves with objective, sense-based and intellectual reasons, before they can believe that it not only exists but is an innate, universal and trustworthy capacity.
Having been one of these doubting skeptics myself when younger I do not totally disdain this group but can sympathize with their chosen approach to acquire the evidence they seek.
In the sections to follow I will try to provide the best evidence of which I am aware that intuition is real, valid and relevant to everyone’s daily life. Not everyone is alike in crossing thresholds such as this one from disbelief to belief. It usually occurs through a spontaneous experiential event that reveals the truth with a certainty that overrides all intellectual thought and other resistance. However, it sometimes needs to take place through a rational argument—scientific, biophysical, psychological or perhaps philosophical—fitting to the recipient’s background and level of receptivity on which he bases his personal stability. Either way, the final step is a very personal realization for which there is no substitute. No one can do it for another!
Evidence in Established Fields
When external means must be employed to dissolve an unbelief in intuition, it can sometimes be done by depersonalizing the putative intuition into a “phenomenon,” so it may be examined objectively and assessed rationally. The phenomenon may fall in any of several areas of established knowledge. We may begin by checking what parapsychology, for example, has to say about intuition, for this is the field where the accumulation of valid scientific evidence is the most extensive and sound—and where it is perhaps most convincing unless you happen to be a confirmed unbeliever in parapsychology itself.
Intuition in Parapsychology
Dozens of experiments in parapsychology, or psi, over the last century testify that new and accurate information has been generated non-rationally, non-sensually and without the aid of any external means. This was accomplished by certain persons, not otherwise distinguished, who practiced one of several categories of unconventional mental performance which goes under the names of clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, remote viewing, divination, past-life recall, mediumship, channeling, card reading, astrology (a largely intuitive art), psychic perception and even dreaming. These categories are not well defined and their names can be misleading, for they indicate only how the information appeared to manifest to performers and observers, not the mental process they used to generate it. Not every instance is an example of intuitive perception, and the categories typically include other phenomena besides the reception of novel information.
The strength of this evidence lies mainly in the fact that the crucial experiments were carried out according to high scientific standards, even more rigorous than those in common use today in physics, medicine and biology. The large record shows collectively, empirically and convincingly that the receptive subjects possessed an ability to obtain novel and accurate factual knowledge well beyond what their senses, reasoning minds and past experience could possibly have provided. Moreover, the alleged intuitive performance was not the result of accident, coincidence, sloppy analysis, deception or error. (Radin 1997) These findings constitute excellent evidence that intuition was indeed responsible for them.
Similar Anomalistic Evidence
Similar parapsychological investigations went further and attempted to explain how the access to new information actually took place in the subjects’ minds, the external conditions which prevailed when it occurred, what the subject did which seemed to allow it, and what kinds of persons were able to perform it. Within the last few decades these secondary issues have been investigated more thoroughly both within and outside of the laboratory. They have been partially successful, though they do not add much to the evidence for intuition. They only make the anomaly less special. [add refs]
Related varieties of anomalous performance have been added under headings such as near-death studies, controlled remote viewing, out-of-body experiences, lucid dreaming, exceptional premonitions and a variety of similar non-ordinary states of consciousness. While it is often difficult to collect reliable data and carry out systematic research on these subjective topics, the reports are just too numerous and generally credible to be passed off as misperceptions, coincidence or misreporting. They can be accounted for only as unrecognized human capacities, some of which which overlap intuition and are parallel to it. (Dossey 2000) They further strengthen the earlier conclusion and reveal just how widespread is intuitive practice.
Discoveries by creative artists, designers, inventors and criminal investigators are certainly more common than those cited above, though they are less convincing as evidence because suitable records are not customarily prepared as they are happening. Often intuitive, they tend to be simply accepted as such without a felt need to explain or report them. After all, do we not simply expect such insights from creative people?
Most recently modern remote viewers, mediums and expert intuitives are generating examples of the reception of accurate and novel information, just as reported in these pages and in journal articles and books but not ordinarily confirmed by scientific or other means. They fall in various applied areas such as scientific discovery, medicine, military intelligence, business consulting, archeology and others. (Radin 2009, Kautz 2005) They add to the case for intuition even though they fail as firm evidence. It is tempting to speculate that all of us, not just a few gifted subjects, possess this inborn intuitive potential for the intuitive reception of information, beyond what the brain can produce on its own through reasoning, sensual perception and memory.
Intuition in Psychology
As mentioned earlier, classical psychology has barely noticed intuition. It has found no place for it in its efforts to evolve a systematic body of knowledge about the human mind. This omission appears to have arisen from early attempts to fashion its discipline on scientific methodology, mainly physics, which also occurred in medicine, biology and other fields. This materialistic approach led to an emphasis on pathology, cause-and-effect thinking, over-reliance on objective proof and the sense orientation such as behaviorism, rather than a fresh brand of empiricism appropriate to mental activity and personal growth.
Freud’s successor Carl Jung broke from this path by taking a broader view that the mind, not the brain, is the creative and virtually unlimited resource at work behind all human personality and behavior. He proposed four psychological types, or ways in which human beings function mentally in their lives; namely, intuition, sensing, feeling and thinking. (Jung 1921, 1964)
Jung established a new vision for the discipline and paved the way for his successors to extend it in various directions. This trend is currently most manifest in the subfield of transpersonal psychology (see below). Mainstream psychology continues its more analytic approach. It has contributed scholarly analyses of intuition, regarded as a behavioral or cognitive process, an aspect of personality in which the brain is intimately involved. Satisfactory concepts and models on which evidence for intuition might be based have still not emerged from traditional psychology, though some preliminary ideas and theories have found their way into the applied fields of education, psychotherapy and clinical assessment. (DePaul 2010, Kahneman 1979, Charles 2004, Ruelas 2010, Watkins 2008)
It disregards the growing awareness that the human mind is much more than The more recent branch of transpersonal psychology transcends behavior, personality and ego, as the name indicates, in favor of growth, development and human potential. It proposes instead that the core processes underlying mental health lie in the deeper and more subjective levels of the psyche where they may must be accessed through qualities such as awareness, compassion, insights, direct experience and even dreams. This subfield fully acknowledges intuitive knowing in its principles, approach and applications and especially in psychotherapy. It is enjoying greater acceptance with every passing decade and surely presages the future direction of psychology as a whole. (Vaughan 2001, Walsh 1993)
Jung also hypothesized the notion of the collective unconscious, which he posited as a kind of shared memory of all past, possible and future human experience. It is resident in the psyche, without time or space limitations, and is our universal psychological heritage, he says, just as our bodies are our biological and genetic heritage. This largely unconscious domain shapes all individual development yet is intuitively accessible to every person. Jung’s related concept of archetypes particularizes the collective unconscious as a set of primordial and “inherited” predispositions or urges that exist in individual development and express themselves uniquely throughout each human life. (Jung 1936, 1981) Intuition plays a central role in this hypothetical formulation.
While these latter recognitions by Jung must be regarded as models and hypotheses and cannot by themselves constitute independent evidence that intuition exists. However, they depend upon intuition for their validity and therefore add to its credibility. Their growing acceptance among transpersonal psychologists constitutes significant support for intuition within their discipline.
Intuition in Science and Medicine
“Scientific inquiry consists of three parts: first, the finding of a problem, then an inquiry into the problem, and finally, if the search if successful, the solving of the problem. … All three parts … receive their guidance from integrative powers … largely spontaneous. We may give them the name intuition.” [Michael Polanyi]
Traditional science has contributed very little to explain how knowledge might be received directly into the mind. It is safe to say that most scientists do not even acknowledge, at least openly, that such reception is even possible. At the same time they accept the notion of spontaneous ideas for their scientific discoveries and technological inventions, as a sudden serendipitous “aha!,” and a dozen documented reports testify to their successes. While a few might be attributed to unconscious rational activity, others could have occurred only apart from sensing, reasoning and ordinary memory. They are fine examples of intuitive reception. (Harman 1984, …)
Many more than these dozen surely took place but were never reported. Indeed, I have found that most scientists (and I have personally known several “geniuses”) are not interested in learning how their mysterious insights occurred. They prefer to preserve the mystery by taking personal credit for them, without further inquiry.
The record of “miracles” in medicine is similarly abundant with thousands of documented spontaneous remissions, faith healings, placebo effects and psychic surgery that defy medical explanation. A minority of physicians who are qualified in careful research (most are not) have verified dozens of these examples through careful, double-blinded trials justas they occurred. The human mind, which is not part of medicine, is suspect and is undoubtedly at cause. This mental connection is being explored in recent decades by a zealous minority within the evolving subfield of mind-body medicine. (Dossey, …) Their impressive examples are strongly evidential of intuition at work. Unfortunately, the vast majority cannot be investigated by modern medicine’s limited research methodology, which is not suited to investigating such subjective mysteries. Several intuitively recommended healing modalities and treatments are also showing promise for further evidential examples, but they remain to be checked out for general use.
This absence of respect for unexplained intuitive insights has led two large medical programs to go astray, as reported elsewhere here. One missed opportunity arose in CAI’s intuitive study on AIDS, which found that the preferred treatment lay in immune system enhancement rather than the strong, toxic and expensive drugs currently in global use by nearly 30 million infected persons. The intuitives proposed instead a special herbal treatment protocol for completely eradicating the virus from an infected body if it were employed before drugs were given. It was claimed to be feasible and effective and might have provided strong evidence for intuition if it had been adopted.
A second example lay in the medical response to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, for which forty years of medical research have uncovered no cause, prevention or treatment. The intuitives explained that the tragedy is not a medical problem at all but has its origin in the infant itself, who is mistakenly presumed to have no working consciousness and is incapable of choosing between life and death. Separate but disregarded evidence already exists to support this more spiritual alternative, and therefore the validity of intuitive insights.
Instances of the powerful role played by intuition in the practice of medicine are ample and indisputable but the majority are only potential as evidence since means of verification are either not available in medicine’s research methodology or are not applied when available. Nevertheless, the minority are sufficient to show that the field of medicine would function much less effectively than it does if intuitive knowing were not a major operating component.
Sources of Knowledge
An epistemological approach has been taken by several philosophers, linguists and later some neurophysiologists who have inquired into the nature of human knowledge in general: what it really is, what does it mean to “know” something, and what allows fragments of new knowledge to arise spontaneously across large gaps of time and space when so much of it remains potential and completely unknown.
Plato’s very early definition of knowledge as that which is “justified, true and believed” has persisted and still seems correct, (Plato 1956) but it leaves serious gaps which later philosophers have attempted to fill. For example, justification seems to require rationality and causality, both disputed concepts within science and it limitations? How can knowledge be universal if it depends upon the erratic fluidity of personal beliefs? How can one speak of truth in a world which has no accepted criterion by which to identify it aside from functionality (practicality)? Personal vs collective knowledge, including intuitive knowing, has been mentioned by philosophers but only theoretically and speculatively, and so little that they seem not to acknowledge that it exists at all. These scholars do not attempt to answer the above questions in terms of already known and familiar knowledge. (Arms 2010)
In any case, what we commonly understand as knowledge can obviously exist independent of cognition, observation, learning and memory, if for no other reason than because significant examples of acquired knowledge can arise without apparent source. This often occurs in very young children, ancient peoples, remote tribesmen and the mentally ill. The only reasonable conclusion must be that man’s base of common knowledge must already exist in the universe in some way, ready to be selectively accessed, “remembered” and utilized by those capable of tapping it.
Such a rich reservoir must be truly huge. Even the total of one adult’s knowledge acquired in his lifetime is much too large to be stored in his adult brain or DNA. We are back to Jung’s collective unconscious, for which the term intuition emerges as the most suitable name for the human means of access to this immense knowledge base.
One reading of the writings of the most ancient philosophers, who were true mystics, reveals that they “knew” this and were trying to get our attention.
Ah, Now I Remember!
It is sometimes enough for us doubting inquirers just to recall from past experience a meaningful personal insight that could not possibly have occurred in any way other than through an intuitive “hit.” Everyone has had many such insightful personal experiences when growing up. They occur especially during the first few years of life when being human is still very fresh. A fragment of deep knowledge can easily arise before the educated brain can rationalize and discard it. These early memories may be weak but they tend to be retained and can often be recovered with a little effort.
Just one such recovered incident can take the place of many rational arguments that intuition was actively at work. It can be a worthwhile shortcut, and may at least generate a burst of curiosity that invites further inquiry.
“True intuition … is as much a part of the human as the senses of touch and taste and smell. However, few people are trained or even encouraged from an early age to explore, develop, or trust such an inner faculty.” [Christopher Childs]
As hinted above, the ultimate and most convincing evidence for intuition lies not in experiments, gathered data, analyses and scholarly reasoning but in one’s direct personal experience of it.
Such intimate contact with the intuitive knowing process transcends all beliefs, doubts, conceptions, theories and explanations conveyed from others, whether their various arguments are persuasive in their own terms or not. We humans often reject and deny these individual experiences through a fear of learning more than we feel we can handle, or because we are internally over-rely on our society’s authorities (professors, ministers, politicians, etc.), an influence to which we are all at least partially susceptible. Indeed, most persons have their individual ways of turning off information that does not fit their operating models of reality. This tendency can include our strongest intuitive insights.
The the same time, and the more obvious if you choose to look closely, is the fact stressed above that intuition participates, usually inconspicuously, in most of the ups and downs of everyday life. We are highly intuitive beings who do not really “know” how to function without intuition. The most common personal events are not rationally or sensually based, as we commonly and incorrectly assume, but could not occur as they do without our ever present intuition. Since this influence cannot be explained in objective, non-intuitive terms, other means of perception must be called upon to account for the many small ideas, interpretations and choices we make every waking hour, and some major ones as well. Most of them pass by unexamined and unexplained unless we can appreciate their internal source.
Indeed, not everyone is interested in accounting for all that happens to them. This narrowing down and discrimination is understandable because we cannot allow ourselves to be continually diverted by asking “how come” and “why?” But in doing so we too often fail to ask the most fundamental and pressing questions and therefore remain partially blind to our more genuine motivations and the processes taking place. Our failure to recognize our intuitive capacities is a part of this neglect.
Your intuition truly exists and is a natural and inborn capability. You may have missed a close familiarity with it but it can still become your best friend. As you find you can acknowledge it and learn to take advantage of it, you will be paying closer attention to the role of your intuition at the edge of awareness as you go about your day, and can gradually become more aware how it is affecting your thoughts, choices and behavior.
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- Vaughan, Francis, The Inward Arc: Healing in psychotherapy and Spirituality. (iUniverse, 2001)
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