Intuition as a way of knowing: a realistic appraisal

Posted July 19, 2014 by NoetPoet in Open

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commented on Aug. 28, 2014
by SufferingServant



It seems to be a popular notion around here that scientific investigation is only one way of knowing among other equally valid ways of knowing. In particular, science seems to be regarded as equal or even inferior to intuition as a way of knowing about reality. This attitude is even reflected in the name of IONS: the term "noetic" derives from a Greek word which means "intuition".

Certainly intuition can be a valuable tool in the quest for knowledge. However treating it as equal or superior to science as a way of understanding reality is a dicey proposition. I recently came across this blog article, which does an excellent job of highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of intuition as a way of knowing:


Some of the key points from this article (which I highly recommend that you read in full):

*Intuition is a great way of knowing when it comes to subjective matters of opinion (e.g. love, art, humour, friendship).

*However, intuition doesn't work so well when it comes to understanding what is objectively true and how things work. This is because the human brain is hard-wired to perceive in certain distorted ways, and as such intuition has an unfortunate tendency to tell us what we want to hear and what we expect to see based on our preconceptions.

*Intuition is a great way to make connections between disparate concepts and information, thus leading to new insights and creative possibilities.

*However, although intuition may be good at initially *proposing* interesting new ideas and insights with respect to the nature of reality, it is necessary to employ the scientific method to test those ideas to see if they have any actual merit. The scientific method is suitable for this testing the intuition's ideas because it is specifically designed to counter the aforementioned biases and distortions in human perception and thought.

*While intuition may have inspired some scientists to make great discoveries, it was only the *beginning* part of such discoveries. The rest of those discoveries involved extensive and rigorous scientific testing and refinement. In other words, intuition provides the lead, but it is up to science to act as detective by following and investigating the lead.

The key message that I take from this article is that intuition is valuable and important, but it is not a substitute for science. Rather, intuition and science are complementary in such a way that science has the final word. We should however spare no effort to use both intuition AND science to investigate how we can enhance and better utilize intuition in the context of scientific investigation.

  • Anonymous Icon

    SufferingServant Aug 28, 2014

    I'm my mind 'intuition' is a feeling that originates from our subconscious mind and is 'felt' within our conscious mind.

    In other words, intuition is one way our subconscious mind communicates with our conscious mind.

    In even more other words, intuition is when our subconscious is aware of something we are not consciously aware of, and it 'knows' (based on our subconscious belief system or how our subconscious mind makes decisions) we should consciously be aware of whatever it is that we are 'feeling intuition' about.

    Maybe, anyways. Just a thought.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Aug 28, 2014

    Again, Kahneman addressing intuition:

    n the book he creates a model that use the terms System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 2 in this case might refer to conscious thought.


  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jul 23, 2014

    Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking: Fast and Slow" addresses this question by suggesting and alternative to the conscious/unconscious model.
    His model is a two-par system; System 1 is the fast (intuitive) thinking which can seem impulsive and often wrong, and System 2 which is thoughtful and analytical. The two can ideally act in concert with System 2 checking System 1 and creating a balance.

    There is also something to be said about this notice of being "wrong," since it evolves from a survival framework. Being wrong can also be a learning opportunity as science demonstrate.
    It would seem that our social and cultural influences contribute to a considerable of imbalance in these areas.

  • NoetPoet Jul 22, 2014

    "Think of it this way: intuitions, contrary to much popular lore, are not infallible. Cognitive scientists treat them as quick first assessments of a given situation, as provisional hypotheses in need of further checking."

    Exactly. Intuition assumes more risk for a greater potential return (and also a greater chance of being wrong), while rational thought on its own is more risk-averse but also less inclined to deliver big leaps forward in understanding and insight.

    The key question is: what can we do to facilitate and optimise the functioning of the intuition so that it can be used in harmony with rigorous rational methodology?

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jul 22, 2014

    "Intuition works in an associative manner: it feels effortless (even though it does use a significant amount of brain power), and it’s fast. Rational thinking, on the contrary, is analytical, requires effort, and is slow. Why, then, would we ever want to use a system that makes us work hard and doesn’t deliver rapid results? Think of it this way: intuitions, contrary to much popular lore, are not infallible. Cognitive scientists treat them as quick first assessments of a given situation, as provisional hypotheses in need of further checking.


  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Jul 22, 2014

    A primer on what intuition is and isn’t, compared and contrasted with the history of understanding consciousness:

    The word intuition comes from the Latin intuir, which appropriately means ‘knowledge from within.’ Until recently, intuition, like consciousness, was the sort of thing that self-respecting scientists stayed clear of, on penalty of being accused of engaging in New Age woo-woo rather than serious science. Heck, even most philosophers — who historically had been very happy to talk about consciousness, far ahead of the rise of neurobiology — found themselves with not much to say about intuition. However, these days cognitive scientists think of intuition as a set of nonconscious cognitive and affective processes; the outcome of these processes is often difficult to articulate and is not based on deliberate thinking, but it’s real and (sometimes) effective nonetheless. It was William James, the father of modern psychology, who first proposed the idea that cognition takes place in two different modes, and his insight anticipated modern so-called dual theories of cognition. " CUNY philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci

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