The Science of Intuition and How it Guides Us

April 26, 2023
IONS Communications Team

Intuition can be one of our most trusted sources of information and insight. However, to many people, it remains a mysterious feeling that can’t fully be put into words. 

In this article, we’ll see that the seemingly mystic phenomenon of intuition is strongly backed by science. And it is this role of bridging the spiritual and the scientific, the seen and the unseen, that makes intuition such a fascinating concept! Most of us have direct experience with intuition and may be familiar with the consequences of following your intuition versus ignoring it. 

What Is Intuition?

Intuition plays a key role in noetic experiences. Noetic refers to accessing information and energy not limited by the boundaries of space and time. It’s when you just “know” something, but without using some external source to attain that knowledge. According to research on the Noetic Signature™, this noetic access can be achieved in a variety of ways. Intuition seems to be the most commonly experienced. 

Intuition can be described as a direct and immediate knowing — or inner knowing — without underlying reason or conscious intake of information. Like other noetic experiences, instances of intuition are often described as ineffable beyond words. At times, intuition happens in conjunction with psi experiences, such as presentiment or precognition. 

How do we experience intuition? Intuition can be perceived physically, mentally, emotionally, and through what can be described as a “sixth sense” – just knowing. Other common experiences include:

  • Having a gut feeling or intuitive “hit”
  • Feeling things in your body — goosebumps, pressure, relaxation
  • Feeling other people’s emotions or physical pain
  • Hearing thoughts that seem to be other than your own
  • Pictures or images dropping into your mind

Another common way of categorizing intuitive experiences is:

  • Intuitive – Receiving mental information or thoughts, the experience of “just knowing”. This information arrives fully formed and without effort. This category also includes “aha” moments, and information “popping up” or downloading. 
  • Embodied – Arrives physically and in the body.
  • Super senses – Remote sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.
  • Emotions – Knowing through emotions that appear suddenly, out of the blue.
  • Direct – Signs, symbols, synchronicities, energy. Contact with deceased people and other non-physical beings. 

The Science of Trusting a “Gut Feeling”

There is a vast amount of research on the subject of intuition from a variety of fields of inquiry. For example, our researchers at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) conducted a study exploring whether there was a correlation between the gut feelings of one person and the emotions of a second person at another location. During this study, one person was placed in an electromagnetically shielded room, and the electrical activity of their brain was measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG). At the same time, the other person looked at images that provoked positive, negative, and neutral emotions. 

The results showed that the person in the shielded room had measurable brain wave changes when the outside person was subjected to positive or negative emotions. 

A study on intuition and insight shows that intuition has certain characteristics:

  1. It occurs through non-conscious processing. There’s very little conscious awareness of the underlying cognitive process. 
  2. Intuition is automatic and uncontrollable. It appears as instantaneous and spontaneous ideas. They can neither be intentionally invoked, nor ignored.
  3. Experientiality. Intuitive processing activates knowledge the person has taken in unconsciously throughout their life.

These three traits combined give the sense familiar to many: “knowing without knowing why”. The study distinguishes between intuition and insight – insight means suddenly apprehending the solution to a problem after studying different sources of information, while intuition occurs without the conscious intake of facts. The processes have in common that they lead to a sudden knowing without being able to explain why and how. 

Intuition and the Reticular Activating System

It’s entirely possible that the amount of information we’re subjected to in a single day could surpass the amount of information our grandparents were exposed to in a year. Because of this increase, the ability to discern the validity of the information is increasingly important. 

Decision-making is often thought of as a strictly logical process, in which we do things like comparing the pros against the cons. But most of us have experienced that our decisions can be influenced by something not entirely logical, something we just can’t pinpoint. Intuition is a function that allows us to access information beyond what our five senses can perceive or what our logic can deduct. 

How does intuition work? While our minds pick up on millions of bits of data each second, our conscious minds can only process a small fraction of the information we’re subjected to at a given moment. The processing unit of your brain, called the reticular activating system (RAS), filters out “irrelevant” information. 

However, the RAS is calibrated by your beliefs – so what’s filtered out might be relevant information that could serve you. This information can suddenly surface in moments when we’re in a relaxed state, and the barriers to the subconscious are lower. It can also arise through conscious efforts such as intentions. 

This subconscious information can also appear as physical sensations or emotions rather than thoughts. For example, a tingling sensation or a knot in the stomach. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio theorizes that these intuitive hits were essential to our survival. During the stone age, if a person was about to get attacked by a hungry tiger, instinctively taking flight seemed indeed like a smarter move than making a list of pros and cons about whether to run.

Let Your Intuition Guide You

A question that often pops up regarding intuition is: How do I discern intuition from other kinds of thought?  Teachers of intuition suggest that  the ability to differentiate is a muscle you can train, just like you can strengthen your biceps at the gym: 

  • Start by being in a relaxed state of mind – such as just after waking up or after meditating. 
  • Release your judgment, and try not to expect your intuition to come through in a specific form. 
  • Be in a state of curious observation and stay open to any inputs in the form of sudden thoughts, bodily sensations, or emotions. You’ll notice they have a slightly different flavor than information from outside stimuli. 

With practice, you’ll be able to notice your intuitive hunches even when you’re going on with your daily life. 

An Innate Evolutionary Ability

Intuition is often regarded as a less reliable source of information since its underlying mechanisms are obscured from the human eye. It’s not as straightforward as reading a book and processing the words. But even though intuition might be harder to understand, its efficacy is sound, supported by vast scientific research.

Many of the world’s inventions, initiatives, and works of art are the result of intuitive insight. The more we can understand and harness the power of intuition, the more we can grow and evolve as individuals and one humanity.

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