Intuition…the innate process by which information outside the range of our conscious awareness is perceived by our mind. In other words, it’s our ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning. It’s the processing of the collected information that we have gathered consciously or unconsciously that enables us to understand our environment. Other’s have referred to this as our ‘gut feeling’ or 6th sense. Einstein himself thought of intuition as our greatest asset.
This innate ability is one that can not only be developed but built upon. In fact, by paying attention to this skill, we give ourselves access to our creativity and possibly interesting problem solving. I propose that intuition is one way of optimizing our mental functioning.
An interesting article in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine (McCraty et al, 2004 Apr;10(2):325-36) aimed to extend the results of previous experiments by demonstrating that the body could respond to emotionally arousing stimulus seconds before it was actually experienced.
The results showed that both the heart and brain appear to receive and respond to intuitive information with the heart responding faster than the brain. Differences between males and females were evident with females processing pre-stimulus information better. The authors concluded that both the heart and brain are involved in receiving, processing and decoding intuitive information.
Newer research in 2012 showed that our intestines or gut also plays an important role not only in our physical but also in our mental well-being. The ENS or enteric nervous system helps you sense environmental threats and then influences your response. It operates in conjunction with and also independently from the brain. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York.
Could this be the origin of our ‘gut feeling’ or ‘gut instinct’ in which we seemingly understand which action to engage in or which direction to take for our best interest?
Research has already shown that intuition arises within a particular and selective cognitive domain. In the case of chess mastery, for example, intuitive playing takes years of training to develop and intuition in this domain may not easily transfer from one domain of expertise to another, although I think it primes for developing intuition in any domain. As such, professionals, who may spend many years sharpening their skills, are in high demand for their proficiency which is intuition based.
Brain correlates to intuition
Xiaohong Wan et al. (2012) in the Journal of Neuroscience elegantly showed that intuition was linked with the caudate nucleus, which is part of the basal ganglia—a set of interlinked brain areas responsible for learning, executing habits and automatic behaviors. The basal ganglia receives vast amounts of information from the cortex, the thin outer surface of the brain. These structures project back to the cortex, creating a series of cortical–basal ganglia loops. This is actually quite functional as it is here within these feedback loops where we join conscious perception and analysis of our outer world, through our cortex, with the site in our brain which processes unconscious thought due to our expertise and experience. This area, the caudate nucleus, couples with our cortex to allow intuitive solutions to problems without conscious thought intervening …the very definition of intuition.
It is actually in our best interest to augment our intuitive ability. Creativity, problem solving and an ability to choose better choices are all possible through intuition. I suggest Intuition can be heightened or made more pronounced, by the following:
- Creating an intention for noticing your inner hunch or urges
- Keeping a journal : Record when you followed your instincts and the outcome – where do your hunches lead you?
- Meditation with or without brain wave technology – this works by maintaining your brain waves to the alpha level, where intuition is said to become active.