How can we recognize a person we have not seen in forty years by a face or a voice, or tell what a person is like from a few words? How can we tell at a glance when someone is happy or upset? Our brains process information of this kind far more quickly than we can describe. This is the essence of intuition.
Intuition is a pathway to revealed Truth but it works best in our interactions with other living beings, especially other humans; next best to predict behavior of physical objects from a little data; and not at all as far as we know in predicting circumstances or events outside our experience. As scientific naturalists, we are skeptical about claims of extra-sensory perception, claims about the intentions of proposed gods and claims to knowledge about the ultimate nature or origins of things. Intuition does not reach that far. Its value is in relation to things we know well, especially other living beings, especially people. In that realm, it is invaluable because it allows us to make rapid and accurate judgments about others. This was especially important in our evolutionary past, when it was more important to assess the intentions of other living beings, like predators or marauders, than it is today. But I do not know anyone who would like to be without the insights it offers us.
Common sense is indispensable in everyday life. Most of us have known someone with an advanced degree or a prodigious intellect but little common sense, and therefore little ability to function socially or even maintain a stable life.
Common sense helps us make everyday decisions and it can also help professionals “check their work” against the big picture of reality, as a student checks a mathematics answer to see if it makes sense. A person with common sense should recognize that 5 + 25 + 42 does not yield 7,622. Common sense keeps us from leering at a woman’s breasts, sneering at the jury and telling off the police officer who has just pulled us over. It should also prevent us from taking foolish risks or allowing young children to set their own hours entirely.
Still, be wary of anything people call “common sense.” Thomas Paine wrote an excellent short book by that title but too often the label is used as an excuse to defy reason and study without thinking carefully and objectively. Common sense has its place but it does not trump advanced science where scientific theories have been proved, reproduced and successfully applied. Common sense should not be used as a justification for laziness or in defense of prejudice.
Few people who do not know me will understand, I think, how much I get of the mood of a friend who is engaged in oral conversation with somebody else. My hand follows his motions; I touch his hand, his arm, his face. I can tell when he is full of glee over a good joke which has not been repeated to me, or when he is telling a lively story. One of my friends is rather aggressive, and his hand always announces the coming of a dispute. By his impatient jerk I know he has argument ready for some one. I have felt him start as a sudden recollection or a new idea shot through his mind. I have felt grief in his hand. I have felt his soul wrap itself in darkness majestically as in a garment. Another friend has positive, emphatic hands which show great pertinacity of opinion. [Helen Keller, The World I Live In (1907), chapter II, “The Hands of Others.”]
- Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown and Company, 2005).
- Adam Begley, The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (Tim Duggan Books, 2017): a book about a man who knew when a photograph was right.
- Linda Gordon, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009): intuitive Truth through evocative photography.
- Christopher de Bellaigue, The Lion House: The Coming of a King (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2022): “Neither exactly a novel nor exactly a history, it is a hard-to-classify book that assembles the known facts about the period and grouts them together with brisk and muscular prose. The method falls somewhere between mosaic, archaeology and taxidermy. Written in a sure-footed historical present, the book creates a simulacrum of the 16th century through the painstaking accumulation of attested details. . . .”
From the dark side:
- Lisa Duggan, Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed (University of California Press, 2019): in her ideological zealotry, Rand lost sight of the human condition, and humanity itself.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Frederick Grinell, Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, 2011): the Op-Ed columnist’s summary of the field.
- Matthew D. Lieberman, "Intuition: A Social Cognitive Neuroscience Approach," Psychological Bulletin (2000), Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 109-37.
- W.J. Kuo, T. Sjöström, Y.P. Chen, Y.H. Wang and C.Y. Huang, "Intuition and deliberation: two systems for strategizing in the brain," Science, 2009 Apr 24;324(5926):519-22.
- S. Dehaene, "Origins of mathematic intuition: the case of arithmetic," Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 2009 Mar; 1156:232-59.
- K.G. Volz, R. Rübsamen and D.Y. von Cramon, "Cortical regions activated by the subjective sense of perceptual coherence of environmental sounds: a proposal for a neuroscience of intuition," Cognitive, affective & behavioral neuroscience, 2008 Sep; 8(3):318-28.
- M. Pessiglione, P. Petrovic, J. Daunizeau, S. Palminteri, R.J. Dolan and C.D. Frith, "Subliminal instrumental conditioning demonstrated in the human brain," Neuron, 2008 Aug 28; 59(4):561-7.
- J. Woodward and J. Allman, "Moral intuition: its neural substrates and normative significance," Journal of Physiology, Paris, 2007 Jul-Nov; 101(4-6):179-202. Epub 2008 Jan 8.
- S.J. Segalowitz, "Knowing before we know: conscious versus preconscious top-down processing and a neuroscience of intuition," Brain and Cognition, 2007 Nov; 65(2):143-4. Epub 2007 Aug 24.
- G.P. Hodgkinson, J. Langan-Fox and E. Sadler-Smith, "Intuition: a fundamental bridging construct in the behavioral sciences," British Journal of Psychology, 2008 Feb; 99(Pt 1):1-27.
- K.G. Volz, and D.Y. von Cramon, "What neuroscience can tell us about intuitive processes in the context of perceptual discovery," Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2006 Dec; 18(12):2077-87.
- M.J. Frank, R.C. O'Reilly and T. Curran, "When memory fails, intuition reigns: midazolam enhances implicit inference in humans," Psychological Science, 2006 Aug; 17(8):700-7.
- O.H. Turnbull, C.E. Evans, A. Bunce, B. Carzolio and J. O'Connor, "Emotion-based learning and central executive resources: an investigation of intuition and the Iowa Gambling Task," Brain and Cognition, 2005 Apr; 57(3):244-7.
- O.R. Goodenough and K. Prehn, "A neuroscientific approach to normative judgment in law and justice," Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, 2004 Nov 29; 359(1451):1709-26.
- C.E. Evans, K. Kemish and O.H. Turnbull, "Paradoxical Effects of Education on the Iowa Gambling Task," Brain and Cognition, 2004 Apr; 54(3):240-4.
- J. Greene and J. Haidt, "How (and where) does moral judgment work?," Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2002 Dec 1; 6(12):517-523.
- J.C. Walsh, M. Lynch, A.W. Murphy and K. Daly, "Factors influencing the decision to seek treatment for symptoms of acute myocardial infarction: an evaluation of the Self-Regulatory Model of illness behaviour," Journal of Psychomatic Research, 2004 Jan; 56(1):67-73.
Long before the cognitive neuroscience emerged, Henri Bergson argued for the role of intuition in the life of the mind.
- Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (The MacMillan Company, 1911).
- Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (Cosimo Classics, 2007; originally published 1912).
- Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (Henry Holt & Co., 1913).
- Henri Bergson, Dreams (B.W. Huebsch, 1914).
- Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics (Replica, 1999, originally published 1946).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Daniel Emodi, It’s How You Say It: The Science of Emotions
Intuition: In this scene from Hugo’s Les Misérables, the child Cosette encounters Valjean for the first time. Her abusive caretakers have forced her to fetch water from deep in a woods, on a winter night. As she is carrying the bucket of water, which is far too heavy for her, suddenly she feels her burden lifted. She seems to sense Valjean’s kindness immediately.
She panted with a sort of painful rattle; sobs contracted her throat, but she dared not weep, so afraid was she of the Thénardier, even at a distance: it was her custom to imagine the Thénardier always present. However, she could not make much headway in that manner, and she went on very slowly. In spite of diminishing the length of her stops, and of walking as long as possible between them, she reflected with anguish that it would take her more than an hour to return to Montfermeil in this manner, and that the Thénardier would beat her. This anguish was mingled with her terror at being alone in the woods at night; she was worn out with fatigue, and had not yet emerged from the forest. On arriving near an old chestnut-tree with which she was acquainted, made a last halt, longer than the rest, in order that she might get well rested; then she summoned up all her strength, picked up her bucket again, and courageously resumed her march, but the poor little desperate creature could not refrain from crying, "O my God! my God!" At that moment she suddenly became conscious that her bucket no longer weighed anything at all: a hand, which seemed to her enormous, had just seized the handle, and lifted it vigorously. She raised her head. A large black form, straight and erect, was walking beside her through the darkness; it was a man who had come up behind her, and whose approach she had not heard. This man, without uttering a word, had seized the handle of the bucket which she was carrying. There are instincts for all the encounters of life. The child was not afraid. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Third – Accomplishment of a Promise Made To a Dead Woman, Chapter V, The Little One All Alone.]
Common Sense, from Mark Twain: Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way. [Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1906), Chapter III, “We Ambuscade the A-rabs”.]
- Lynd Ward, Six Novels in Woodcuts (The Library of America, 2010) is a collection of graphic novels, in which the author tells stories exclusively through artistic visual depiction.
- John Irving, The Cider House Rules: A Novel (Modern Library, 1985).
- Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (Del Ray, 1997): it allows the bearer to see what others wish to conceal.
- Audrey Schulman, Three Weeks in December: A Novel (Europa Editinos, 2012): “It’s a story about the senses, about perception and observation, the signals we send out into the world.”
- Marie-Helene Bertino, Parakeet: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): “It’s about an ambivalent bride. It’s about PTSD, grief, forgiveness, bad mothers, womanhood, monogamy and the nature of time itself. It’s about being a woman trapped by her subconscious and social conventions. It’s a Homeric quest to reclaim control over the heroine’s own life and sanity.”
The following extended passage from Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Book Eleven, Chapter XX, illustrates the idea and experience of intuition.
Meanwhile Moscow was empty. There were still people in it, perhaps a fiftieth part of its former inhabitants had remained, but it was empty. It was empty in the sense that a dying queenless hive is empty.
In a queenless hive no life is left though to a superficial glance it seems as much alive as other hives.
The bees circle round a queenless hive in the hot beams of the midday sun as gaily as around the living hives; from a distance it smells of honey like the others, and bees fly in and out in the same way. But one has only to observe that hive to realize that there is no longer any life in it. The bees do not fly in the same way, the smell and the sound that meet the beekeeper are not the same. To the beekeeper's tap on the wall of the sick hive, instead of the former instant unanimous humming of tens of thousands of bees with their abdomens threateningly compressed, and producing by the rapid vibration of their wings an aerial living sound, the only reply is a disconnected buzzing from different parts of the deserted hive. From the alighting board, instead of the former spirituous fragrant smell of honey and venom, and the warm whiffs of crowded life, comes an odor of emptiness and decay mingling with the smell of honey. There are no longer sentinels sounding the alarm with their abdomens raised, and ready to die in defense of the hive. There is no longer the measured quiet sound of throbbing activity, like the sound of boiling water, but diverse discordant sounds of disorder. In and out of the hive long black robber bees smeared with honey fly timidly and shiftily. They do not sting, but crawl away from danger. Formerly only bees laden with honey flew into the hive, and they flew out empty; now they fly out laden. The beekeeper opens the lower part of the hive and peers in. Instead of black, glossy bees - tamed by toil, clinging to one another's legs and drawing out the wax, with a ceaseless hum of labor - that used to hang in long clusters down to the floor of the hive, drowsy shriveled bees crawl about separately in various directions on the floor and walls of the hive. Instead of a neatly glued floor, swept by the bees with the fanning of their wings, there is a floor littered with bits of wax, excrement, dying bees scarcely moving their legs, and dead ones that have not been cleared away.
The beekeeper opens the upper part of the hive and examines the super. Instead of serried rows of bees sealing up every gap in the combs and keeping the brood warm, he sees the skillful complex structures of the combs, but no longer in their former state of purity. All is neglected and foul. Black robber bees are swiftly and stealthily prowling about the combs, and the short home bees, shriveled and listless as if they were old, creep slowly about without trying to hinder the robbers, having lost all motive and all sense of life. Drones, bumblebees, wasps, and butterflies knock awkwardly against the walls of the hive in their flight. Here and there among the cells containing dead brood and honey an angry buzzing can sometimes be heard. Here and there a couple of bees, by force of habit and custom cleaning out the brood cells, with efforts beyond their strength laboriously drag away a dead bee or bumblebee without knowing why they do it. In another corner two old bees are languidly fighting, or cleaning themselves, or feeding one another, without themselves knowing whether they do it with friendly or hostile intent. In a third place a crowd of bees, crushing one another, attack some victim and fight and smother it, and the victim, enfeebled or killed, drops from above slowly and lightly as a feather, among the heap of corpses. The keeper opens the two center partitions to examine the brood cells. In place of the former close dark circles formed by thousands of bees sitting back to back and guarding the high mystery of generation, he sees hundreds of dull, listless, and sleepy shells of bees. They have almost all died unawares, sitting in the sanctuary they had guarded and which is now no more. They reek of decay and death. Only a few of them still move, rise, and feebly fly to settle on the enemy's hand, lacking the spirit to die stinging him; the rest are dead and fall as lightly as fish scales. The beekeeper closes the hive, chalks a mark on it, and when he has time tears out its contents and burns it clean.
Film and Stage
- The Major and the Minor: the “girl” isn’t fooling anyone, or, the radar-like quality of hormones
- Sita Sings the Blues: a female cartoonist becomes fascinated with the character Sitafrom the Hindu folk tale “The Ramayana,” only to discover that the character’s plight mirrors her own (see the entire film here)
- Jajouka, Something Good Comes to You: (Jajouka, Quelque Chose de Bon Vient Vers Toi) this hybrid fictional and documentary film tells of the Moroccan band, Master Musicians of Jajouka, presenting “an intuitive and intricate exploration into the feeling of sound.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet No. 10 in E flat Major, Op. 74, “Harp” (1809) (approx. 29-33 minutes) is a middle-period quartet of great feeling, with “a dash of impressionistic pointillism”. It “gets its name from the unusually prominent use of pizzicato in its first movement. Structured in the standard four-movement pattern, it features a sonata-form first movement with slow introduction, a songful slow movement, and a whirlwind scherzo connected without a break to a theme-and-variations finale.” “This quartet is wholly beautiful, almost impressionistic in an approach of sonority and diabolical for its character.” “There’s an unbearable lightness of being to this quartet. The writing is original and challenging, yet not overpowering.” Best recordings are by Quartetto Italiano in 1956, Vlach String Quartet in 1960, Alban Berg Quartet in 1979, Vermeer Quartet in 1984, Takács Quartet in 2001, The Lindsays in 2002, Pražák Quartet in 2003, Engegård Quartet in 2010, Artemis Quartet in 2011, Suske Quartett in 2013, Ariana String Quartet in 2017, Quatuor Ébène in 2019, Cuarteto Casals in 2019, and Ehnes Quartet in 2021.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 4 (1934) (approx. 30-36’), is craggy, tough and uncompromising. Many music afficionados of the time surmised that he composed it in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. Vaughan Williams denied this but Adrian Boult insisted that RVW “foresaw the whole thing”. Perhaps socio-political events influenced him without his being aware of it; or perhaps he was expressing “towering rages” within himself. If either of those things is true, then intuition was a driving force behind this symphony. But then, that is true of nearly all great music. Top recorded performances are conducted by Vaughan Williams in 1937, Barbirolli in 1950, Boult in 1953, Mitropoulos in 1956, Sargent in 1963, Thomson in 1987, Handley in 1990, Haitink in 1996 ***, Oundjian in 2011, Elder in 2017, Pappano in 2021 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4).
During an interview, Alan Lomax asked early-style jazz clarinetist George Lewis whether he could read music, to which Lewis replied that people “don’t come to hear you read; they come to hear you play.” Most good musicians can play without a written score but Lewis took this idea a step further, playing in a style that a music teacher probably would consider improper. But then he wasn’t playing to be proper; he was playing to convey feeling and give enjoyment.
- Just a Closer Walk with Thee
- Careless Love
- St. Louis Blues
- Old Rugged Cross
- In November 1953
- Lewis and others; New Orleans jazz style
- In Tokyo, 1963
- many tracks
Andrea Motis is a young woman who sings, and plays trumpet and saxophone, all with an ease and charm. Her training is apparent but her playing and singing reveal something else: an intuitive feel for it.
- Numerous tracks, going back to her late teens
- San Javier, 2019
- Live and casual in 2020, with Carla Motis
- With Joan Chamorro, 2021
- At Teatro Coliseum, Barcelona, in 2011 (age 16)
- At Jamboree, Barcelona, 2013
- 50 Heineken Jazzaldia, 2015
- Concierto Cierra Campamento Musical, 2018
- Concert de les Festes d’Amposta, 2018
- “Feeling Good” album (2012) (61’)
- “Do Outro Lado Do Azul” album (2019) (59’)
- “Colors & Shadows” album (2022) (64’), with WDR Big Band
The pivotal movement in Handel’s oratorio Belshazzar is his vision of “the handwriting on the wall.” This is best seen as a metaphor for what we know subconsciously before it penetrates fully into consciousness (performances conducted by Pinnock, Schnetzler and Jacobs).
- Joseph Jongen (1873-1853), piano music: French impressionism in music.
- Holmboe, String Sinfonias I-IV, "Kairos" (Time), Op. 73 (1957-1962): “kairos” means time in a psychological sense, as we experience it, not as it is measured by a clock.
- Bernstein, Touches (1981)
- Dun, Traces (1989, rev. 1992)
- Wolfgang Rihm, Jagden und Formen (Hunts and Forms) (2001): the title “relates to Rihm’s highly intuitive approach to composing the work”. [Gavin Dixon, Fanfare magazine, July/August 2022.]
- Kenny Barron Trio, “Book of Intuition” (2016) (60’), displays “easy, seamless mastery”.
- William Goldstein, “Instant Composition: Continuing the Tradition of Mozart” (2016) (69’): Goldstein says: “The audiences gather from my performances that it is possible for some of us to create an actual composition with a beginning, development and end in real time . . . There aren’t many composers out there that can do this anymore.”
- Justin Chart, “Intuition” (2021) (60’)
- Steven Halpern, “Spectrum Suite” (1975) (73’): “What you won’t hear are recognizable melodies, familiar chord progressions or a continuous rhythm, as is found in most music. Indeed, it was precisely because of the unique approach to tonal composition that you are able to respond in a more healing and intuitive, rather than intellectual manner.”
- Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp, “Fruition” (2022) (59’): “The music flows naturally from their fruitful exchanges, informed by mutual listening, skill and imagination. In the span of four minutes, ideas and images follow one after the other, become distinct then disappear, the players' energies converging into a single stream which one flees from as the other diverts it in a new and unforeseen direction . . .”
- Dhafer Youssef, “Streets of Minarets” (2023) (60): “. . . after a particularly difficult time for the oud master, the music finally revealed itself to him. With an opportunity to pick his dream band, Youssef in a reversal of his normal practice of writing the music first, hand picked the musicians and then set about rewriting the music and arrangements for the new musicians. The resulting music is astonishing and quite a departure, yet paradoxically a logical follow on from his previous albums.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Paul Simon, “Proof”
You say you love; but with a voice
Chaster than a nun’s, who singeth
The soft vespers to herself
While the chime-bell ringeth—
O love me truly!
You say you love; but with a smile
Cold as sunrise in September,
As you were Saint Cupid’s nun,
And kept his weeks of Ember—
O love me truly!
You say you love; but then your lips
Coral tinted teach no blisses,
More than coral in the sea—
They never pout for kisses—
O love me truly!
You say you love; but then your hand
No soft squeeze for squeeze returneth;
It is like a statue’s, dead,—
While mine for passion burneth—
O love me truly!
O breathe a word or two of fire!
Smile, as if those words should burn me,
Squeeze as lovers should—O kiss
And in thy heart inurn me—
O love me truly!
[John Keats, “You Say You Love”]