Intuition: A Link Between Psi and Spirituality

by Jeffrey Mishlove, Director

Over the past 110 years, the discipline of psychical research and its offshoots have defined and investigated a variety of mental phenomena with labels ranging from apparitions to xenoglossy and including mediumship, telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, extrasensory perception, psi, remote viewing, anomalous cognition, out of body experience and near-death experience. Some of these terms are derived from popular culture, others from field research and others from laboratory experience. Yet, in every case, it appears as if the effort has been made to describe phenomena that could somehow be understood as distinct from normal experience. Hence, for example, the term "parapsychology" -- suggesting the study of experiences that are beyond those of normal psychology.[1]

It has long been recognized that a wide range of extraordinary phenomena occur, and can be studied, in the fabric of daily life. But, even then the attempt has generally been focused on rigorous procedures for excluding conventional hypotheses. The procedures for field studies in the area of psychical research are most explicit on this point. A veridical dream of a future event, for example, was considered of little value to the research community if the dream itself had not been well-documented before the predicted event actually occurred. We already know that anomalous cognitions occur in the laboratory, and in certain pronounced types of life experience. The very term "anomalous" implies that the reasonable possibility of conventional explanations has been eliminated. This term is finding increasingly more common usage among psi researchers. Yet, once we acknowledge that anomalous experiences do occur, there is little merit in applying Occam's Razor to such a degree that we accept the existence of anomalous experience only in those rare circumstances in which elimination of other hypotheses is possible. The emphasis on verification has meant that psi researchers have almost completely ignored a large class of experiences -- those in which the validity of extrasensory perceptions are not, in principle, verifiable. This can occur for two primary reasons: (1) Extrasensory perception may be directed toward metaphysical realities that are not testable through empirical methods. (2) Extrasensory perception may be inextricably intertwined with normal sensory perceptions, or to use the more recent rubric anomalous cognitions may be inextricably intertwined with normal cognition. One apt term for the types of experiences to which I am referring is intuition. It is the premise of this article that we can learn a great deal about psi through the indirect approach of monitoring the use of the term intuition in various cultural contexts.

Intuition is a wonderful word because it means so many different things to different people. It has a long tradition of use in philosophy, mathematics, business, psychology, engineering, linguistics, music, literature, religion, and science -- particularly with reference to the creative process.[2] Some of the many definitions and understandings of intuition are mutually inconsistent. Still, the basic definition is simple. According to the Random House Dictionary of the English Language(second edition, unabridged), intuition is "direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension." Another definition from the same dictionary refers to intuition as "a keen and quick insight." Other definitions stress that the intuitive process is itself unconscious. Intuition, then, is "knowing without knowing how you know."

Naturally, attempts have been made to reduce to intuitive process to something less mysterious. Norman Simon, the Nobel laureate economist and cognitive scientist, has suggested that intuition is nothing more than the brain's capacity for subliminal computation.[3] Some social scientists view intuition as nothing more than learned habits and social conditioning. This is what they mean when they express delight that their studies have resulted in "counter-intuitive" results. Others believe that intuition is predicated upon biological instinct, for example, the intuition of a salmon in locating its spawning ground. If we eliminate the "nothing more," it is apparent that all of these hypotheses are of some merit. The fabric of intuition may well include these threads, as well as others.

The Meaning of Intuition in Different Walks of Life

While we can learn more about intuition by examining instances of its operation in daily life, we are in the ironic position of being unable to identify times in which intuition is not operating. Philosophers such as Immanual Kant, for example, maintain that it is through intuition that we construct and maintain the basic elements of our world -- our sense of space and time, our sense of identity, our sense of the truth of things, our sense of beauty and goodness. Intuition, derived from the very structure or essence of our minds, is viewed in philosophy as being prior to all perception and all reasoning. In linguistics, intuition is understood as the process by which listeners recognize the meaning of words and sentences, and speakers form words and sentences to create meaning. From these perspectives, our intuitions serve as the Hindu deity Vishnu, the sustainer of reality, providing continuity and meaning in our lives, moment by moment. All of our sensory perceptions and rational cognitions would fall apart like cards in the wind were it not for the glue of intuition holding the house of our lives together.

This fundamental form of intuition which Kant labeled, a priori, cannot be reduced to such mechanisms as subliminal computation -- since all computations begin with premises and axioms that are, themselves, ultimately beyond computation. Nor, can we reduce a priori intuitions to the effects of social conditioning. Developmental psychologists have documented the existence of both spatial awareness and "innate grammar" in infants, prior to any possibility of social conditioning.[4] In other contexts, intuition requires, and then adds to, years of experience and training filled with thoughtful reasoning and social conditioning.

Virtually every profession distinguishes between the highly intuitive sense of the virtuoso or genius as opposed to the competent, workmanlike performance of other professionals. In many diverse fields of endeavor -- including music, dance, drama, comedy, athletics, gambling, psychotherapy, financial management, and marketing -- the factor that seems to distinguish great intuitive genius is that of timing. It is as if, at this level, one's whole being is fully engaged in the apprehension of the nuances and rhythms of the relevant activities, both internal and external. Intuition is an exquisite sensitivity, within one's deepest being, to the pulses of life's energies.

Mathematical intuition is an interesting case. The realm of pure numbers and geometrical forms is Platonic in nature -- it does not exist in the natural world and cannot be directly observed. Yet, one significant aspect of mathematical intuition is the ability to apprehend, and even visualize, this realm. Cases are on record of mathematicians who have developed the capacity to accurately visualize the details of geometrical forms in four dimensions of space.[5] Interestingly, however, these visualizations are subject to verification -- not through empirical methods -- but through the logical proofs of mathematics and geometry.

In ancient times, the Pythagoreans, Kabbalists and Neo-Platonists drew comparisons between the intuitions of mathematicians and those of mystics and visionaries. In the nineteenth century, comparison began to take on momentum as mathematicians began exploring the fourth dimension of space. In 1884, a delightful little book titled Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions, by schoolmaster and theologian Edwin A. Abbott, popularized the idea that higher dimensions of space influence our three-dimensional sensory world and may provide a logic basis for accepting the ontological status of our spiritual intuitions.[6]

One contemporary writer intrigued by this idea is Martin Gardner. Although he is generally known as a hardline debunker of matters psychic and mystical, in 1983 Gardner wrote a fascinating essay titled, "IMMORTALITY: Why I Do Not Think It Impossible."[7] Here Gardner argues that from the perspective of higher dimensional space, the process that we think of as death may be no more significant than a snake shedding its skin. Perhaps no one has taken intuitions regarding hyperspace and consciousness further than physicist Saul-Paul Sirag.[8] It is generally believed by physicists working on unified field theory that space-time is hyperdimensional, with all but four of the dimensions being invisible. The reason for this invisibility is a major subject of research. Beside space-time dimensions, there are also other internal (or invisible) dimensions called gauge dimensions. The reality of these gauge dimensions is also a topic of controversy and research. If the extra space-time dimensions or the gauge dimensions are real, this provides scope for considering ordinary reality a substructure within a hyperdimensional reality. This idea has, of course, been suggested before -- e.g. it is implicit in the Cave Parable of Plato.

The field of invention is an area in which intuition plays an essential role in searching out undiscovered possibilities. From the perspective of psi research, one might think of inventors as exercising precognition, i.e., looking into the future to a time when they themselves can observe the concrete demonstration of their own ideas. In this sense, the intuitions of inventors are subject to empirical verification. In another sense, inventors are like mathematicians, exploring a world of logical relations.

For some years, the Intuition Network has been receiving support from an inventor, Lynn Charlson, who made his fortune in the field of hydraulics. He cultivated a daily habit of spending thirty minutes every night before going to sleep in visualization and contemplation of specific technical problems. It was this process that led him to develop the first hydraulic power steering unit and other fundamental patents in the area of hydraulic motors.

I think it is of significance that Charlson, in retrospect, has come to view his intuitions as having a connection with higher spiritual sources. This is a viewpoint shared by other inventors, such as Chester Carlson (inventor of the xerox process) and Arthur M. Young (inventor of the Bell Helicopter) -- who have also made significant financial contributions to psi research and related fields. These inventors join the company of Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison in having a deep and abiding interest in the subject of reincarnation. All of this suggests to me a continuum of perceptions. At one end of the spectrum, we have verifiable extrasensory perceptions of two or three dimensional, physical targets. Then, we see intuitive apprehension of engineering and design concepts. These receive their verification at some future point in time through empirical tests of the inventions themselves. Next, there are direct intuitive apprehension of mathematical realms that can only be verified through logical inferences. There is the intuition that expresses itself in excellent timing, and is generally verified in the context of a strikingly successful professional career. From here, we enter into a realm that, in modern times, has been relegated to metaphysics -- beyond all possible verification. This is the realm that positivist philosophy once suggested we should "pass over in silence."

Is there any possibility of rationally investigating spiritual intuitions? Can we begin to reasonably probe the realm of spirits and the mysterious journeying of the human soul? Modern scholarship is divided on this issue. In spite of the diverse perspectives offered through different cultural lenses, the penetrating minds of Aldous Huxley and Huston Smith claim that they can recognize a "perennial philosophy" o ra "primordial tradition" that flows through all esoteric thinking. This common ground, they maintain, involves a pattern in which the human soul grows in depth and wisdom as it approaches its ultimate destination of divine union. Other scholars, in the post-modern deconstructionist tradition, such as Ninian Smart, maintain that the experiences of the world's mystics are unique and cannot be compared.

It is not new that scholars disagree. But, we can resolve this disagreement if an adequate method can be found. There are hints of possible new methods on the horizon. The concept of "state specific sciences," originally proposed by Charles Tart in 1972 suggests that we view advanced practitioners of various esoteric disciplines as engaging in a type of systematic observation very much akin to science.[9] If there are differences in the portrait of reality painted by the various schools of esoteric practice, they may well be the result of cultural projections. However, Tart's model implies that we might also consider these differences to be akin to the differences we might find between the various approaches we know of in psychology, biology, chemistry and physics. The fact that there are differences between these perspectives offers no grounds for invalidation of any particular perspective. We are still seeking for principles of unification of our conventional sciences. Ultimately, I believe, our search will lead to larger worldview in which we will begin to see the unity between the knowledge brought forth by intuitive disciplines and that produced through mainstream science.

In fact, reported intuitions of spiritual dimensions constitute an enormous area of study. The ancient literature includes the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Torah and New Testament, the Zohar, the Tulmud, the Upanishads, the Dammapata, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Each of these works has for generations commanded the lifetimes of countless scholars.

Modern religions have also been founded upon such intuitions. The Church of the New Jerusalem is based on the writing of Emmanual Swedenborg, an eighteenth century scientist whose detailed writings of spiritual worlds fills encyclopedic volumes. Witness the Kardecian "espiritistas" of Brazil whose teachings result from the systematic effort of a nineteenth century French pedagogue to correlate accounts of the afterlife provided by different spirit mediums. Kardec's rule was to admit no finding that was not verified by seven different mediums.

These converging insights and methodologies from psi research, the testimony of spiritual experience, and the broad field of intuition suggest to me that we have the potential to use intuitive consensus in a disciplined fashion as a tool for exploring realms of consciousness that have previous been relegated to philosophy, mythology and theology.

1. Although I hold a doctoral diploma in "Parapsychology," I used to be concerned that this name had done more to harm than to help the discipline of  psi research.  When I considered the original Greek meaning of the term "Psychology" to be the study of the soul, it seemed very odd that J. B. Rhine felt a need to define his area of study as being of another order of experience.  Subsequently, having found the same root, para, in the Buddhist prajnaparamita wisdom writings, I have become quite comfortable with the term.

2. Jeffrey Mishlove, "Intuition: The Source of True Knowing," Noetic Sciences Review, Spring 1994, 31-36.

3. Norman Simon, "Making Management Decisions: The Role of Intuition and Emotions," in Weston Agor (ed.), Intuition in Organizations. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publication, 1989.

4. Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1994.

5. H.S. M. Coxeter, "Cases of Hyperdimensional Awareness," in Charles Muses and Arthur M. Young (Eds.), Consciousness and Reality. New York: Outerbridge & Lazard, 1972, pp. 95-101.

6. Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963.

7. Martin Gardner, The Whys of a Philosophical Srivener. New York: Quill, 1983.

8. Saul-Paul Sirag article "Consciousness: A Hyperspace View" which appears as an appendix to the second edition of Jeffrey Mishlove, The Roots of Consciousness, (Tulsa, OK: Council Oak, 1993) represents, I believe, an important attempt to apply the principles of scientific unification to the problems of consciousness.

9. Charles Tart, "States of Consciousness and State Specific Sciences," Science, 1972, vol. 176, 1203-1210.

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Last updated 23 April, 1998