Monday, October 18, 2010

On Intuition

"I don't know how to explain it, but ..."

"My instinct tells me ..."

"It's got a bad vibe."

"It just feels right."

Intuition is unreflected understanding or preference. It doesn't result from cogitation or meditation, but is a rough-and-ready response to a situation.

Infants and animals work predominantly from this sense of intuition. Adults, however, having a cogitating organ, have a choice whether to behave intuitively or whether to take a considered approach.

Women are generally believed to have a stronger sense of intuition.

What is intuition? What is its basis? Is it trustworthy?

If one understands the mental apparatus to be working at various levels, intuition can be usefully considered as subliminal processing of data. There is a vast reservoir of accumulated knowledge in the human brain, which manifests itself as subconscious reactions. This reservoir is formed both genetically (patterns at birth) and culturally (after birth).

Intuition leads to an affective pull or push towards a situation. One can intuitively feel ill at ease, and intuitively feel as if everything "clicks" and that one should go ahead.

The conscious brain and the hidden layers work in tandem to help our survival and propagation. These hidden layers are part of our collective intelligence formed over eons of responding to situations and circumstances. The neo-cortex, on the other hand, is more structured and algorithmic.

Perhaps a useful way to understand our responses is the following ladder of structural thinking, each successive rung more structured than the former:
  • Dreams
  • Moods
  • Feelings
  • Intuition
  • Verbal Thought (Language and Thinking)
  • Written Thought (Planning and Calculating)
And of course, we can consider communication (discussions, interaction, feedback) as a way to involve more than one person in the process, and digitized thought (algorithms and computers) as a way to further formalize written thought.

When one of these rungs is insufficiently informed, we feel unsure of ourselves. But usually, in times of uncertainty and ambiguity, it feels more satisfying to go with the lower rung (e.g. intuition instead of thought, a gut feeling about the market instead of following a trading algorithm), since the lower rung is more affective in nature.

Each of these rungs can lead to erroneous or sub-optimal responses, but it is important to realize that each of these rungs is a part of a spectrum of internal processing, and is based upon a certain body of accumulated knowledge which must have had validity at some point to have become part of our brains.

Intuition can be wrong because it is too diffuse and considers the variables in a fuzzy way, and structured thought can lead to ludicrous conclusions because it could be too discrete and leaves out significant variables.

An example is Diet Planning. Intuitively, one chooses foods based on taste and freshness (in general). Given that our taste centers evolved to favor fatty and sweet foods, this subconscious preference may not be healthy in modern times. On the other hand, conscious dieting may not consider the importance of taste and variety and may feel like a punishment. A good diet will taste good, and will also be low in calories. It is obviously foolish to advise someone to ignore taste and just "eat to live", and it is equally foolish to recommend someone to "live to eat".

In many other fields, however, our intuitive understanding may be very valid. A woman intuitively knows when a man is interested only in bedding her, and a man intuitively knows when he is being sold something in the garb of polite talk.

To disregard intuition is to handicap oneself and to limit oneself to the use of only conscious, structured thought. It is to assume that one's structured thought has reached such heights of efficiency that one no longer needs the collective intelligence coded into one's brain. That all beliefs, morals, the sense of conscience, the various affective memories, are not needed any more. The perils of this approach can only be imagined. In an extreme case, one may lose the plot completely and not know right from wrong, healthy from unhealthy, or become a social misfit, etc. Since structured thought can, given suitable assumptions, justify any proposition which is not inherently contradictory, a fully rational human being can become dangerously manipulative and self-serving in a way which is immune to being corrected. On what basis can you criticize a person who doesn't believe in anything other humans believe in? He will just say: "Mind your own business". The only sensible response (for a stranger) to such a person is to leave him/her alone, and the worst possible response to such a person is to emotionally invest oneself in him/her. I pity those (e.g. family members) who have no choice but to live with such a person and suffer the callous indifference.

On the other hand, to disregard structured thought is to live as an infant.

The media today is relentlessly demolishing our intuitive feelings of what is right and wrong by presenting the "wrongs" (the things our parents say are not to be done: smoking, promiscuity, drugs, drinking, gambling, driving fast and recklessly, eating unhealthy food) in a confusing way which looks "cool" and pleasurable. No wonder parents are highly stressed to be constantly course-correcting their children from dangerous behavior.

Exacerbated by media presence, it is the disease of modern times to disregard tradition as unequivocally unhealthy and stale, and to only "think for oneself" and be "on one's own". By presenting some outdated traditions as "sick", it is portrayed that to completely reject one's legacy is the only sensible way to live.

The knowledge of history and culture which could supplant intuition and lead to reasoned moral behavior is hard to impart and imbibe, and who has the time and the mental bandwidth? Affective rewards and punishments ("you will go to hell if you have sex before marriage" is an easier device to use).

In this way, the rejection of intuition (which is nothing but culture and conditioning) is related to amorality and narcissism.

...

Intuition is a very significant part of what makes us human. It is an inner compass which tells us if we are going right or wrong. If this faculty frequently leads to mistakes for a certain person, then perhaps it needs a re-tuning, rather than a rejection. An analogy would be the steering wheel of a car. If it is not working well, it needs to be fixed, rather than to be thrown out.

Intuition is the accumulated and distilled experiences of other human beings working through us. Yes, they could be wrong and we could be in a unique situation. But one would be foolish (not to say arrogant) to always only trust and depend upon oneself.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

sometimes what is mistaken for intuition are also early recognition while putting a puzzle together...they are random perceptions combined with ready evidence, pointing towards something not apparent or obvious. Because their is such a anathema attached to them as they can also be wrongful conclusions based on one's conditioning that we tend to ignore those which are sensible and genuine. We pay a heavy price for not making a distinction between seeing sense and making sense, 'at the back of the brain' and dismiss all of them as, based on our fears and conditioning. A good article, Harman.

gamzoo said...

you make it sound like the Media is not part of the social intuitions. Just like society has intuitions to be conservative, it also has intuitions to depart from the past. If this was not so, we'd still be living in caves

Harmanjit Singh said...

@gamzoo

Just like society has intuitions to be conservative, it also has intuitions to depart from the past. If this was not so, we'd still be living in caves.

technological development is different from cultural development.

however, even considering cultural development (e.g. the intuitions for/against divorce and abortion and slavery) you raise an interesting point about how cultural development happens?

The answer is complex, and I don't claim to be able to fully explain it in this comment.

My point in this article is however a simpler one. Intuition is a valuable device for human beings, and it acts as an adjunct to conscious thought. Railing against intuition as an irrational force which is counterproductive and must be discarded can have serious consequences.

Popular media (and I mean the entertainment and infotainment industry) is /obviously/ appealing to the unbridled expression of our animal instincts, and is thus almost universally considered to be damaging to social and cultural mores, many of which mores are (I think) quite beneficial for (e.g.) young people and adolescents. It is said quite often that popular media is the "idiot box" or the "boob tube" or appealing to the lowest common denominator amongst us, or catering to the prurient and voyeuristic in us, etc.

Anonymous said...

Intuition is also a thought. It is thought without reflection.Mood is thought. Dream is a thought. Just about anything that is mapped to a word is a thought.

As for traditions dear Harman, they change with time as everything does except the Self(Brahma) does.(The "I" thought is NOT the Self) Holding on to anything including traditions without understanding the fact that their relevance changes with time causes stress. One has to accept the impermanence of every creation of the mind. Just as a ripened fruit separates from the tree and falls to the ground so that a new seed may sprout, old traditions fade away to make place for new ones so society may continue to exist.

When one has his mind anchored in the Self or Brahma he can see the "I" thought and the "You" with unbiased clarity. There is no question of benefit for one over the other. The actions of such a person usually benefit all of mankind.

I do not know why you have this narcissism fixation Is'nt it time we move past it?

Anonymous said...

http://onthehuman.org/2010/10/morals-without-god/

A great article on God, religion and morals by Frans de waal.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

Thanks anon, I also found and enjoyed this article, on NY Times Blog.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/morals-without-god/

Also had added it to the comments of:

http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2010/10/facts-of-life-part-2.html

Anonymous said...

One point though I would like to make on the particular excerpt that you quote from the Frans de Waal article it states "helping is truly other oriented" while it brings a glow to one who helps.

Now the problem of narcissism can happen if one focuses more on the glow it brings to oneself vs the satisfaction it brings to the other. Or in viewing the Satisfaction of the other as just and extension of ones own satisfaction.

A true Spiritualist who is anchored in the Self(Brahma) does not concern himself either with the glow it brings to himself or the satisfaction it brings to the other. His actions are simply NOT motivated by the individual reward(Satisfaction of the "I" or the "You").

Since you talk of intuition, the biggest intuition a human being has is "God". As the article rightly says one can hardly find a Culture that does not believe in God no matter how far back in time you go.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

A true Spiritualist who is anchored in the Self(Brahma) does not concern himself either with the glow it brings to himself or the satisfaction it brings to the other. His actions are simply NOT motivated by the individual reward(Satisfaction of the "I" or the "You").

@anonymous: Are you a true spiritualist?

Anonymous said...

Just as i choose to write with an anonymous identity on your blog I also prefer not to have a name for my personal ideology.

There is so much importance one attaches to a name that it instantly conjures up in the mind so many personal biases and pre conceived notions associated with it.

Therefore I would much rather we focus on the substance of what each of us writes than concern ourselves with what our personal ideologies or names are. That way we could truly focus on the words and their meaning. Capisce?

If it bothers you do let me know I will most certainly stop writing on your blog keeping in mind your sentiments.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous, I am only curious in the basis of your claim:

"A true Spiritualist who is anchored in the Self(Brahma) does not concern himself either with the glow it brings to himself or the satisfaction it brings to the other. His actions are simply NOT motivated by the individual reward(Satisfaction of the "I" or the "You")."

It seems to me (and I might be wrong) that you have an intellectual understanding of what other people say enlightenment is like but you have not interacted with an enlightened man, nor are you yourself enlightened.

If my impression is correct, then I would like to suggest to you that your ideas may be completely in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking.

Enlightened people only BELIEVE they are not motivated by selfism or altruism, in fact both still exist in their minds. They act haughty at times, and compassionate at times.

They may SAY that they are only obeying the will of a higher power, but acceptance of this claim depends upon the gullibility of a follower.

I don't want to criticize your beliefs (Brahma/Self etc.) but just so you know: I am an atheist.

Anonymous said...

Your response hardly addresses the substance it is merely based on your assumptions.

If one were to rise above one's assumptions perhaps then one might learn to focus on the meaning else this would just be a futile exchange between the "You" and the "I".

Anonymous said...

"His actions are simply NOT motivated by the individual reward(Satisfaction of the "I" or the "You")."

That's called altruism, not spirituality. It's probably based on an intuition that it's a good idea generally; and not anything to do with the personal 'satisfaction' or 'reward' of anyone. (Who thinks like that?)

"I do not know why you have this narcissism fixation Is'nt it time we move past it?"

Heh.

Anonymous said...

Harman, I agree with the thrust of your article. Intuition is an ultra-high-bandwidth pattern recognition system that has evolved over millions of years. It isn't flawless, but we ignore it at our peril. Pure intellect is just not up to the task of sorting right from wrong, good from bad, silly from sensible, beneficial from harmful, and so on.

Bill :-)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Heh.

"His actions are simply NOT motivated by the individual reward(Satisfaction of the "I" or the "You")."

Yes of course that is Altruism as was said before and FYI it is the basis of Indian philosophy and Spirituality and the idea is expounded in the Spiritual texts of India most notedly the Gita.

If some of you came across some spiritualists who let you down by not living up to that philosophy that does not mean one has to condemn the entire tribe of Spiritualists as narcissists and speak in jeering terms of a philosophy that is respected and valued by a vast population in the world. If this is a forum where there is no tolerance for the idea of an atheist respecting a theist and a theist an atheist and is only one where each one jeers the other to show themselves one up then Best Wishes to you all in whatever it is that binds you together!!!

Harmanjit Singh said...

If this is a forum where there is no tolerance for the idea of an atheist respecting a theist and a theist an atheist and is only one where each one jeers the other to show themselves one up then Best Wishes to you all in whatever it is that binds you together!!!

Whoa. Getting a bit huffy here, are we?

Cool down mate. Really!

This is actually one of the lighter comment threads where nobody has disrespected anybody. Why are you hyperventilating?

We all respect each other as human beings, I guess, but when we discuss ideas, some of them might get exposed as contradictory/not-based-on-evidence/hearsay/imprecise, etc.

If someone is very attached to their point of view or idea (in the sense of taking personal offense when their POV is criticized), then what do you suggest should be done?

Then why even engage in a discussion/debate?

Anonymous said...

There seems to be attachment(fixation) here about one POV Spiritualism is narcissism. As for respect of POVs and human beings the tone hardly suggests that.
One does not look for "evidence" to prove matters of God and intuition.

Anonymous said...

"If this is a forum where there is no tolerance for the idea of an atheist respecting a theist and a theist an atheist and is only one where each one jeers the other to show themselves one up then Best Wishes to you all in whatever it is that binds you together!!!"

Try focusing on the words and their meaning, in other words, the substance, rather than your assumptions about personal ideologies. Rise above this, and you can help avoid these futile exchanges between the 'you' and the 'i'.

Capisce?

Anonymous said...

Good if we are all ready to focus on the words....

Consider...

A pretty actress who cannot have kids of her own chooses to adopt a kid to fill the void in her life and to bring the glow of motherhood to her face.

Goes to the orphanage picks the prettiest baby she can find dresses her up like herself and proudly presents the happy cooing baby to the press. The press hails her act as altruism = both baby and mom satisfied.

As the baby grows she develops a mental disorder and is sent away to an instituition because the actress does not have the time to meet the demands of such a child. What happened to altruism here?

Consider another case:

A nun walks by a road full of abandoned children and is moved by the sight. When she prays at night she receives a DIvine Calling that leads to the formation of her new identity( the "I") that guides her to start an orphanage that becomes an institution that outlives her continuing the work of caring for orphaned kids. The work continues because the Belief that God is guiding them continues, the belief that all the fruits of their work is directed to God continue beyond the nun who started it or the children who she saw abandoned on the road. WHat does one call this Spiritualism or narcissism or altruism?

If the same nun were to look at the abandoned kids on the road and think "Hey here is my ticket to the Nobel prize maybe these kids can bring me the prized glow while I bring them the glow of a full tummy" Do you think her work would have lived on beyond her to benefit more than just her and the orphans she saw on the road?

Anonymous said...

"Good if we are all ready to focus on the words...."

"Consider... A pretty actress who [isn't altruistic]. What happened to altruism here?"

There was none. You said it yourself at the beginning 'to fill the void in her life and to bring the glow of motherhood to her face'.

Hypothetical, straw(wo)man argument.

"Consider another case: A nun [gets spiritual and lives a life of good deeds that inspire its continuation]. If the same nun [were to get narcissistic,] do you think her work would have lived on beyond her?"

It's difficult to predict*, as you give us so little to work with. But then it's your hypothetical situation, so perhaps you should say what happens... Or are you just suggesting that narcissism is bad?

* although, instead of pleasing god by fighting the symptoms of a disease a narcissist might mistakenly decide a bigger win would be to address the disease at its root, solving the problem and becoming famous for being the person that put an end to the disease that wrecked the lives of so many children. (But then where would god find his pleasure?) Upon reflection this narcissist might realize that the bigger win would have been to have a life of saintly veneration through heroically addressing the symptoms whilst leaving the causes intact. It's fun playing with your hypotheticals isn't it?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

I don't really know what you are arguing for or against.

If you want to present theism as a good thing, of course there are beneficial aspects of religiosity in society, if one engages in helpful/charitable acts. It is a strong moral force which binds people together and continue a tradition of generosity, as you hint at. (among other things)

But there is a more virulent form of spirituality, that is about "my" salvation and exaltation, unconnected with how I behave with other human beings. That is what I generally call "hard core spirituality".

That is narcissistic.

E.g. vedantic philosophy, which regards the world as maya, or buddhist philosophy, which regards the world of senses as an unsatisfactory plane, or modern hard-core spirituality (E.g. JK or Osho etc.), with the only goal being to get out of this world into a solipsistic state of bliss (freedom from birth/death).

See, for example:

http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2010/07/start-of-delusion.html

and

http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2010/05/seeking.html

and, most recently,

http://harmanjit.blogspot.com/2010/10/misdirected-focus-on-inner.html

Anonymous said...

"The media today is relentlessly demolishing our intuitive feelings of what is right and wrong"

"the rejection of intuition (which is nothing but culture and conditioning) "

"it is the disease of modern times"

And the destruction of the last vestiges of (that enemy of empire) the tribal, (to the familial, to the individual, to... the global citizen).

What an irony that our leaders have not noticed how this disease is playing into the hands of their empire.

Anonymous said...

Where in vedantic philosophy do you come across the salvation of the "i" without regard to how "i" behave with other human beings?

Anonymous said...

Vedantic philosophy even the so called mayavadin sect is based on Brahma satya jagat mithya(not maya),Jivo brahmaiva naparaha. It means Brahma is the unchanging Truth while the world is changing or transient (not illusion)
The Self is not separate from Brahma.
The "I" thought is NOT the Self.
It is an illusion(maya) created by the "I' thought that prevents us from seeing the Truth that the Self is not separate from Brahma. Actions motivated by the Self(Brahma) go beyond the interests of the "You" and the "I".

Whatever the school of vedic thought, none asks you to reject the world and pursue salvation without caring about how you behave with others, I don't believe any scripture would tell you that though I have not read Buddhist scriptures.

Glad you got the benefits of the belief in God. That is the core of Spirituality no matter what faith it is in. It is supposed to be a safeguard against narcissism. In fact rejecting God and believing just "you" and "I" are enough for altruism could probably create even more narcissists.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

The "I" thought is NOT the Self.
It is an illusion(maya) created by the "I' thought that prevents us from seeing the Truth that the Self is not separate from Brahma. Actions motivated by the Self(Brahma) go beyond the interests of the "You" and the "I".


I have already told you I am an atheist. The above is a rehash of rejected philosophy for me, and I have no inclination to get in an argument about these beliefs.

Whatever the school of vedic thought, none asks you to reject the world and pursue salvation without caring about how you behave with others, I don't believe any scripture would tell you that though I have not read Buddhist scriptures.

I am not talking of Vedas, but of Vedanta. Yoga has the notion of Karma Yoga, but Vedanta is primarily about Jnana.

"Thus, the path to liberation is finally only through knowledge (jñāna)" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedanta#Advaita_Ved.C4.81nta)

Glad you got the benefits of the belief in God.

Thank you, teacher. :)

That is the core of Spirituality no matter what faith it is in. It is supposed to be a safeguard against narcissism. In fact rejecting God and believing just "you" and "I" are enough for altruism could probably create even more narcissists.

God is a tribal belief and while it holds tribes together, and can lead to beneficial acts of charity, I don't need to go into its harmful effects (including religious warfare and fatalistic superstition). This is a very complex debate, and morality without god has been debated for centuries, with no clear answer yet. I have met many nice atheists and many self-centered, narcissistic believers.

Where in vedantic philosophy do you come across the salvation of the "i" without regard to how "i" behave with other human beings?

Which "Others" when all is the "Self"?

Krishna says in Gita 2.28 that since soul is immortal and unmanifest in its origin, don't lament about someone's physical death. If you don't lament about others' death, then is there anything left to lament upon in the tangible world? If not, then why bother when others cry? Whither "helping" others?

Have you ever met an enlightened man in the vedantic tradition?

The very difference in Vedanta and Vedas (not that Vedas are being recommended) is the disemphasis on "action" and the emphasis on "Self" and regarding the world as a creation of Brahma (which is the same as the "Self").

Vedanta is hard core, if followed correctly.

Anonymous said...

I respect the idea that you do not want to engage in a debate about vedanta since you already rejected it but none can advocate the idea "why bother to help if someone is dying".

THE SELF IS NOT THE "I" THOUGHT. So seeing the Self in yourself and others is seeing the GOD in yourself and others.

The is a difference between "I" help "You" vs "I" help the Self(in you) to help "You".

Help is not a transaction just between "I" and "You".
It is about getting in touch with that "Self" which is the same in "I" and "You". If you do not like to call that "Self" "God" that is OK.


Since you keep asking if I have met any enlightened people? I certainly have met people who claimed to be enlightened or some others claimed they were. Like you said about atheists some had nice personalities and some seemed narcissistic. And those that appeared narcissistic it was my observation(not to say it is the right one) that once they set up a big following and organizations around them they seemed to have lost touch with the "Self". Instead the "I" needed to run the organization was so big they began to mistake it for Brahma.


To perform the right Action one has to be in touch with the" Self". Never mind if you don't want to call it God.

Anonymous said...

:THE SELF IS NOT THE "I" THOUGHT

And the Teapot is not the "Teapot" thought. I think most children get this.

Why are you shouting it?

But wait...

"Help is not a transaction just between "I" and "You"."

Is that like saying 'pouring tea is not just a transaction between the teapot thought and the teacup thought'?!

Anonymous said...

Pouring tea is not a mechanical transaction a lot more goes into it like grace,gentleness,love,care,respect......so much more that all human beings care about.

Yes I am emphasizing the "I" is NOT the Self because that is where the whole misconception of Spirituality being narcissistic seems to have come in.

Anonymous said...

Harman:

What would you do if a software program does not run correctly(i.e does not perform the right actions)?

Would you be able to get it to perform the right actions without going into the code to debug it?

Harmanjit Singh said...

What would you do if a software program does not run correctly(i.e does not perform the right actions)?

Would you be able to get it to perform the right actions without going into the code to debug it?


You understand the code first, before attempting to debug it.

And try to interact with those "programs" who claim to be bug-free.

Anonymous said...

And How would you understand the code?

Harmanjit Singh said...

And How would you understand the code?

By reflection, observation, study, interaction, dialogue, reading, experiences, testing, hypothesizing, research, etc.

all the tools of science.

Anonymous said...

Notice where how much of all that happens?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: No, I didn't notice. Why don't you enlighten the others by writing something other than condescending pithy questions?

In case you have something original to add (something other than spirituality or actualism), that is.

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adayinthelifeofindia said...

there are no impulsive or just "like that" decisions, all decisions have a reason behind them. Most of the time we think both ways, suppose we are gambling; at that time we have a fair enough idea that we might win or loose, but we are playing in first place to win. In such a case our intuition (as some would call) have thought about both the ways, and when one wins he would say i knew i would win, i had an intuition. What we are doing is a calculated guess in places where rational inquiry wont lead to any answers, such decisions we mostly give the name of intuition..