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‘Intuition’ comes from the Latin word ‘intueri’, meaning to look inside or within, to contemplate or to consider. Intuition is described as a knowledge or conviction gained without the evident use of reason or logic.
It is a distinctive experience which allows us to access information that is not available through the five senses or the rational process as we currently understand and define them. Intuition, in effect, is above and beyond logic. It takes us straight to the answer of a problem by cutting out the process of thought.
The first documented references to intuition is believed to have come from ancient civilsations like those of the Babylonians, Aztecs, Greeks, Hebrews and their medicine people, diviners, shaman, seers or oracles. In Hinduism and Buddhism, intuition relates to spiritual states that are developed through meditation and discipline of the mind.
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Philosophers, psychics, mystics and ordinary people, throughout human history have been fascinated by the role of intuition in human experience. The ancient Greeks including Pythagorus, Plato, Plotinus and Aristotle were fascinated by the idea that knowledge, from numbers to idealism, can be obtained from intuition and exist without proof. In fact, Plotinus went further when he stated that knowledge comes from a mystical union with the object we desire to know.
Such perceptions of intuition remained the case until Christ became the mediator who allowed direct communication with God. With the subsequent triumph of science over religion, intuition fell into further disrepute.
Nonetheless, intuition continued to be recognised in other cultures as an experience that is beyond knowledge. In the Hindu Sanskrit, it is called ‘ajna’ which translates as ‘command’, the eye of intuition. In Japanese, it is said to be called ‘haragei’ which in martial art means ‘stomach art’, the communication of thoughts and feelings that is implied and not explicit. In business, ‘haragei’ means ‘belly talk’. The word is said to translate into Chinese as meaning ‘direct heart’ and the Native American people, the Lakota, are said to describe it as going ‘beyond knowing’.
Whether we are talking about the eye, the stomach or the heart, there is a sense that intuition relates to our ability to go beyond that which we know. In English, it is called gut feeling, that something that suddenly emerges from inside of us, although it may be triggered by external perceptions relating to the tone of a voice, a flitting facial expression or something as profound as deciding to quit one’s job and emigrate or knowing something but not know how we know we know it… Having an intuition does not necessarily mean we must always act on it. There are times when we are required to think twice and perhaps more.
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Interest in the theme of intuition was revived by two German philosophers, Imanuel Kant in the eighteenth century and Arthur Schopenhauer in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung helped the cause of intuition when he stated that it is one of four ways in which we process information about the world. The American philosopher Buckminister Fuller believed that, in fact, intuition is central to man’s evolution, individually and collectively. He also believed that the major breakthroughs that have been made in art, science, industry and other fields are down to intuition.
Nonetheless, because intuition is still associated with experiences which cannot be necessarily justified at the bar of reason, contemporary philosophers have tended towards antipathy, by labeling intuition at best as intellectual ‘seemings’ or instinct and at worst, as useless. For this reason, it continues to be marginalised as a serious human experience to a subject of study in psychology, new age thinking and the supernatural.
At the heart of the argument is the valid question about the accuracy of intuition. Intuition is not an experience that is universally shared. A claim by one person that something is intuitively the case, like beauty, may engender completely different and contradictory intuitions in other people. Even in the case where it is universally shared, it does not mean it is correct, as demonstrated in our physical intuitions. One such example that has been given is the intuition that many people commonly hold that if an object is dropped from a moving airplane it will fall straight down to earth. In reality, it will fall in a curve and not in a straight line.
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The thinking goes: if our intuition about physics cannot be trusted, how can our intuitions about metaphysics be trusted? It does not help that many of our religious based morality that we accept intuitively as correct, from our attitude to incest to concepts of fairness and generosity, are not necessarily based on facts.
And yet again, our intuition is said to be that which enables us to go inward, to see connections in things and make use of our individual and collective wisdom. This ability is said to evoke expressions such as “I felt it in my gut” or “a light bulb went off”. It is also said to relate to concepts, words and phrases such as visionary and prophetic, sixth sense, inner guide, inner voice, inspiration, time stood still, my heart tells me, synchronicity, awakening, meditation, impression, a little birdie told me, feel it in my bones, third eye, knowing ahead of time, inkling, hunch, guardian angel, prayer, transcendent, premonition, inner guidance and enlightenment.
Intuition is also said to be responsible for everyday experiences such as the individual or team playing in the ‘zone’, musicians who ‘click’ and the outcomes of the creative brain storming process.
Supporters of intuition as a valid human experience argue that every human being has the same potential to intuit. However, because intuition is like a muscle, it must be used to reach its full potential. Unused, it remains dormant. If it is used, it can be sharpened through exercise to the extent that it becomes part of a considered and routine response to life.
The environment in which we are born into is also said to determine to a large extent whether or how we develop the skill. In some cultures, like those in the western world, where emphasis is placed on reason, people have not been trained to develop their intuition, although women are given permission to intuit more than men. As a result, developing intuition in such an environment requires training.
There are those who believe that whilst the intellect helped human beings evolve beyond interactions based on instinct, intuition will enable us to go beyond interactions based on intellect and instinct. It is what will enable us to evolve to the state of knowing our global identity, universality and oneness. It is the key ingredient in the development of spiritual awareness which, the intuitive believe, will help us actualize the higher values that we require to evolve on to the next level of human consciousness.