The English word “Intuition” is derived from the Latin intus, meaning “within.” Intuition, therefore, is the capacity — presumed by some as intrinsic to the human spirit — to recognize and understand that body of truth and knowledge so inherent in the mind of man as to be decipherable without resorting to inference, reason, or sensory inputs from the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
In other words, the practice of intuitive reasoning is not constrained by facts, and has no explicit need to test its conclusions with experiments or by conducting further analyses. In its most basic form, intuition is casually refered to as common sense. More grandly it is the basis for what is called extrasensory perception (ESP), which is often referred to as man’s sixth sense. One authority describes intuition, along these lines, as “the appearance in the mind of accurate information about the external world, which can be shown to have come not through the five senses, nor through a rearrangement of stored memory contents.” (Bernstein, 2005).
Intuition is the cornerstone of faith and what is generally termed a belief system. As such it has served religion, including Christianity, well. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) testifies: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Within some religious traditions, intuition is believed to serve the faithful as a connection between the earthly mind and that of the Deity, and for apostates to the mind of Evil.
To the scientist, intuition is generally recognized as the precipitating engine behind most — if not all — scientific innovation. Most scientists agree, however, that applying intuition to scientific pursuits, without proving them in accord with the scientific method, is a recipe for disaster. As Richard Feynman, one of the most celebrated physicists of the 20th century, once famously explained, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” (Myers, 2002). Fooling yourself, as distinguished from making mistakes, recognizing it, and learning in the process.
Feynman was arguing in favor of the scientific method. Yet, even supposedly rigorous scientific analysis is sometimes no match for what one study referred to as the “blink of an eye” intuitive sense (Simons & Chabris, 2010). And, as Poincaré put it, “Logic sometimes breeds monsters” (Feferman, 1998). Thus, intuition is today being studied scientifically, to determine how it figures into the cognitive faculties of the human mind (Hodgkinson, et al., 2008).
Over time, many well-established, commonsense beliefs have been overturned as scientists assembled facts that proved them wrong. But how can we know what is true, and what is false? This article, which at the present stage only scratches the surface, seeks to understand how the concept of intuition deals with such questions.
- Ben-Zeev, T., and J. Star. 2002. Intuitive Mathematics: Theoretical and Educational Implications. Brown Univ.
- Bernstein, P. 2005. Intuition: What Science Says (So Far) About How and Why Intuition Works. Endophysics, Time, Quantum and the Subjective, ed. by Rosolino Buccheri et al., World Scientific Publishing, Singapore.
- Feferman, S. 1998. Mathematical Intuition vs. Mathematical Monstors. Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, MA, August 8-11, 1998.
- Hodgkinson, G. P. et al. 2008. Intuition: A fundamental bridging construct in the behavioural sciences. British Journal of Psychology (2008), 99, 1–27.
- Lieberman, M. D. 2000. Intuition: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Approach. Psychological Bulletin 126(1):109-137.
- Myers, D. G. 2002. The Powers and Perils of Intuition. Psychology Today, 1 November 2002.
- Simons, D. J. and C. F. Chabris. 2010. The Trouble With Intuition. The Chronicle. 30 May 2010.
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