Monday, July 23, 2007

The Perils of Intuition?
The June/July 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind magazine contains some articles on intuition. One, "The Powers and Perils of Intuition," by David G. Meyers, falls in line with the scientific, brain-oriented slant of the magazine by examining potential pitfalls of intuition — things I don't personally consider to be much connected with intuition at all. He's looking at what can lead us astray from mental clarity, interpreting intuition mostly as "gut instinct." He speaks of "automatic nonconscious processes" that pervade our mental and social life, saying we go through life mostly on autopilot, and that intuition, according to Daniel Kahneman, is "fast, automatic, effortless, associative, implicit (not available for introspection), and often emotionally charged." He says our intuition is often affected negatively by 1) mental shortcuts called "heuristics" which can trigger illusions and misperceptions, (a fuzzy-looking object is farther away than a clear one, except on a foggy morning); and by 2) learned associations that surface as feelings and guide our judgments (we react negatively to a boss who looks like the father who abused us). He says, under the subtitle "Intuitive Expertise," that if experience informs intuition, as we learn to associate cues with particular feelings, many judgments should become automatic (like driving a car). He seems to lean toward associating intuition with "automaticity" (his word); his language emphasizes left-brain mental activity and never describes what a holistic intuitive experience actually is.

I think it is important to distinguish between instinctual responses (which are related to the reptile brain and survival) and our higher, intuitive knowing (which relates to the eternal part of our awareness, our soul). He is not doing this — but is keeping the discussion focused on automatic responses, prejudices, knee-jerk reactions, emotional distortions to judgment-making (snap judgments), and "nonconscious learning." Meyers is not speaking as one who is in the process of becoming mindful of the magnificent subtleties of superconscious perception, but one who is focused on thought processes, and how the body and emotions get in the way. He is not talking about a way of living where you are more in tune with and can perceive the soul in all living things, where you focus on trust as a way of life (without giving up logic and common sense), and refine your awareness to be able to work efficiently back and forth between the pre-form and form worlds, where you experience the powerful "mind of the heart" and its revelations of a new way of living, where emotion refines into empathic knowing and teaches us about universal oneness.

I always teach that as we learn to discriminate the truth and anxiety signals in the body, we will absolutely come upon fear reactions, idea associations that may not even be our own, and old habits and thoughtforms. Everything must be examined and eventually dissolved, and new responses allowed to be generated freshly in each moment. The whole point of intuition is not that we are on autopilot — to me, autopilot is a way of being mostly unconscious because we are fear-based — but that we are moving totally in the other direction into full awareness and presence. The process of intuition development is about examining and dissolving fears (the blocks to direct knowing), and building new consciousness based on love and unity. With true intuition that we trust, we surrender to the One Mind that coordinates us all and all the actions in the world, and we don't interfere with and stop the flow of our insights and motives because we're afraid we might make a mistake. We learn to move through the world more intentionally and superconsciously — as Don Juan says, as "spiritual warriors."

I think at heart, science, spirituality, psychology, and metaphysics are all trying to describe the same thing. Personally, I'm not sure that articles like this one have a lot of value. Does it improve the quality of our life experience to know that we have automatic "intuitive prejudices" (another of Meyer's terms that seems like a misnomer to me; true intuition doesn't stop and lock down thought, doesn't ever become reactionary, because it's never in the past)? That we can master a skill so it becomes second-nature (again, not something I chalk up to intuition)? Isn't it obvious to anyone who's just lived for a little while that repetition builds habits and mastery? That earlier experiences, whether colored by positive or negative emotions, can affect the way we perceive similar present-moment experiences if we're not practicing centered mindfulness? Do we have to have science dissect these things for us? Or are the scientists doing it for their own sake so they can talk themselves into letting go into a freer, more expansive kind of knowing?