Did you know that your mind can probably access knowledge in two distinct ways? There is the quick way via intuition, and the slow way via the rational mind, or intellect. Intuition involves an immediate grasp of the truth of some proposition. Philosophical, religious, anecdotal and even some experimental sources, suggest that the intuitive faculty is an important part of the mind, distinct from the intellectual faculty.
The neocortex, the brain's grey matter, was the most recent part of the human brain to have formed from an evolutionary perspective. It is responsible for higher order thought, beyond survival based thought of the older limbic brain. The neocortex is divided into two halves or hemispheres, the right and the left, which work together, but are each responsible for different functions.
The division of mind into intellectual and intuitive capabilities, is based on the right and left brain theory of mind. Reason is a left brain function, while intuition is a right brain function. The theory also suggests that each person favors one mode of thought over the other mode, but that some people have a good balance between right and left brain capabilities.
The problem is that society and the educational system have generally devalued right brain and intuitive activities, while encouraging left brain, rational activities and capabilities. Moreover, the rational mind is inherently active, seeking to make sense of things and impose its conclusions onto the individual.
Of course this isn't a bad thing, however, the rational mind inherently tries to trump its more passive counterpart, the intuitive mind. Intuitive knowledge comes in sudden, unexpected bursts, assuming that a person is even aware of their intuition in the first place. A more common term for intuition is a “gut feeling.”
Keep reading, as I will present a case for intuition in a left brain dominant world, and show you how you can strengthen your non-dominant hemisphere to achieve a more a more balanced way of thinking.
Right and Left Brain Thinking
Left Brain Modalities:
Back to the example of people being hunted by mountain lions. Big cats are notorious stalkers. They have the ability to quietly shadow prey without being seen or heard. In this situation, where something is stalking you but you cannot see or, hear it, the rational mind might be saying “everything is fine, there is no reason to worry, you have been here before,” while the intuitive mind is screaming "danger!" There is sometimes no rational explanation for the feeling of fear, yet some people report being unable to shake it, turning around to go back to their car only to see big cat footprints, notice someone following them, etc.
These types of experiences suggest that not only does intuition exists, but that an intuitive or “gut” feeling is strongly connected to sensations in the body, such as tensing up, having you neck hair stand on end, and so forth.
The Case For Intuition
Intuition is also highly regarded in Buddhism. According to the Oxford Companion to the Mind, sudden enlightenment, or satori, can only come through intuition. The Buddhist koan is a sacred riddle or a paradox, which masters tell students. The point of the koan is to get the get the student out of left brain because paradoxes are inaccessible to the rational mind. Satori can only come through the intuitive mind.
The biologist Rupert Sheldrake, conducted a series of experiments which seem to suggest that there is an evolutionary 6th sense that all animals have, which we have developed to protect us from danger or predation (consider the anecdotes about being stalked by a cougar). Have you quickly turned for no discernible reason, only to find someone staring at you? This experience happens to me often enough for me to believe that the 6th sense is real, and that it tends to be more involuntary than intellectual thought.
Additionally, recent medical research suggests that the human gut is almost akin to a second brain. This "gut brain," made up of complex microflora, is important for overall health. Interestingly, describing intuition as a gut feeling, implies a connection between the right brain and the gut. Pay attention to what the gut brain is telling you.
Left Brain Dominance
Many people in today's world tend to be left brain dominant, and doubt the existence of intuition altogether. I acknowledge that the intuitive right brain, and the actual experience of intuitive flashes of knowledge, are certainly more subjective than objective. However, that does not mean that intuition does not exist.
I believe that we need to make peace with such a more holistic understanding of thought. There is ample evidence to suggest that not only does intuition exists, but that the right brain should be given more prominence in society and in education.
How to Balance Your Intellect and Intuition
People who have a right brain imbalance on the the other hand, tend to be more stuck in the intuitive, feeling, subjective mind. Doing too much meditation and not enough reasoning, logic, and fact checking can make you a space cadet who is not all that in touch with reality. Right brain individuals tend to be more sensitive, passive, and gullible. You can develop the left brain by studying logic, math, physics, critical thinking, reading, or any activity which engages the intellect.
Educational curricula should focus on more whole brain educational models, giving more importance to the arts and other creative activities. Rather than focusing on highly specialized subjects all of the time, a more integral approach to knowledge, which holistically draws information from diverse subjects, should be part of a typical educational curriculum.
Individuals who want to be more inutive should consider working with their own negative emotions, since habitual negativity can make it impossible to distinguish between strong emotions and intuitive gut feelings. Feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression in particular, may cause you to doubt your own inner knowledge.
The goal of each individual should be to achieve balance between the brain hemispheres so that both the intellect and intuition function in tandem, without either mode of thought dominating the other.
What do you think? Please share and comment.
This post was included in the Finding Personal Peace Blog Carnival!