Friday, 29 January 2016

Intuition and Science - a Follow-up

"The heart as lion is truly king of beasts, a bestial King, and our inner beauty, our dignity, nobility, proportion, our portion of lordliness, comes, as lore of character has always assumed, from the animal of the heart."

- James Hillman

I came across this article in 'Psychology Today' about the the science of intuition  - yes, what a paradox - and thought I would share this quote with you by the scholar who wrote it because it sums up just how difficult it is to be taken seriously be academia or the establishment if you are not prepared to talk in terms of 'numbers and science':
I was aware, of course, that intuition had a bad reputation. It was seen, at best, as a woman's gift in a man's world. Intuition is denigrated by a Western culture obsessed by "facts" and science. it struck me that the only way intuition could be accepted was to subjugate it to the methods of science itself-an apparently absurd contradiction. I've since learned that like all the either/or arguments, such as nature vs. nurture, the fact is that neither really has primacy. Both interact. And can be made to reflect each other.[1]
As well as pointing out that intuition is probably synonymous with the survival instinct, he also makes a commentary on modern society and the inadvertent consequences of elevating science and logic to what some might call a religion:
In elevating rational-scientific thinking, and dismissing intuition, the Enlightenment confined its approval to a very narrow band of human intelligence - logical, deductive, proof-oriented mental operations. That intelligence has brought us the scientific revolution, high technology, and a great many material goods. But it does not take an intuitive genius (all geniuses are) to observe that the wanton application of this line of thinking now endangers human society and its terrestrial home. The earth is so terribly befouled and overpopulated that our very advances now threaten our very survival. By their very nature, the study and control of these titanic forces cannot be accomplished by exact science.[1]
I think, as a species, we realise this on some deep, dare I say it, intuitive level. Hence the rise in popularity of television series such as 'Jordskott' in which we are returned to the natural home of intuition - the animated world of myth where imagination, intuition and nature intersect. Because these things are intimately connected.

As Thomas Moore recently wrote:
The natural world is not made up of objects but of presences, profound metaphors, living signs telling us the secrets of life.
This is the world of the mundus imaginalis, so elegantly described by Henry Corbin, where the laws of physics do not apply and where things like astrology and divination become possible.

This is something which the sages of old totally understood, not because they were 'primitive' and didn't know better, but, perhaps, because they were wise and understood the way the world REALLY works.

In a talk delivered to the Jupiter Trust in 2008, Angela Voss puts it another way.

At the risk of a gross oversimplification, one could say that one of the ways the Aristotelian and Platonic methods of philosophising became differentiated in the Renaissance was through the opposition of human and divine modes of seeing and understanding the world. Human modes were characterised by rational, theoretical and analytical attempts to grasp the world of nature through the observation and deduction of sense-perception, whereas divine modes embodied a deep intuitive sense of transcendent principles governing and emanating throughout creation, apprehended only through the highest intellectual principle in the soul which recognised the images of its divine source.  The former entailed the separation of the observer from the object observed, the latter direct participation in it in order to know it.  The former took place in time, the latter in a timeless place beyond the working out of cause and effect.  Such contrasting modes lie behind the statement of Henry Corbin that “the Active Imagination is not a theory, it is an initiation to vision.[2]

Indeed, Henry Corbin, like many sages and initiates of old, realised that in order to achieve such vision, one had to change one's perception entirely of how the world works until, as Tom Cheetham puts it, the world turns “inside out” and reveals its hidden secrets.[3]

According to Voss, this "act of intellectual penetration...depends on a vital, dynamic connection between the soul of man and the soul of the world in a cosmos illuminated and animated with divine energy." This is the animated world of the poet, the shaman and the seer - the world of legend and myth - a completely alien planet to that of the scientist.

And so to return to intuition and why it is so often associated with instinct. In trying to explain the difference between intuition and knowledge in his text, aptly entitled, On the Mysteries, Iamblichus, the Syrian Neoplatonist, called intuition a “unitary connection with the gods that is natural and indivisible,” while " separated from its object by some degree of otherness.”[4]

Which may be why attempts to study, quantify or analyse it usually fail in some way, as Jung discovered to his cost.There is a reason why nobody worth their academic salt cares to advertise or admit to using or subscribing to Jungian ideas or theories in the world of psychology anymore - these days, it is all about CBT and other equally dry and soulless forms of therapy. And people wonder why so-called 'mental illness' is stigmatised instead of seeing it as a call to initiation and transformation  - as the shamans do. 


[1] D. Cappon, 'The Anatomy of Intuition' in Psychology Today, May 1993 -
[2] H. Corbin, Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi (Princeton, 1969, repr. Mythos, 1981), 93
[3] Tom Cheetham, The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism (Woodstock, Conn.: Spring, 2003)
[4] Iamblichus, On the Mysteries, I.3, trans. E. Clarke, J. Dillon & J. Herschbell (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Studies, 2003), 13