As an Adjunct University Professor at the School of Social Work at Arizona State University (ASU), Jonas Nordstrom has authored a chapter entitled ”The Science of Instincts and Intuition: Intuitive Intelligence (II) in Times of Information Overload”, based on dissertation research, for a comprehensive textbook on Stress Management.
You can read excerpts from the chapter below, as well as listen to Maria Lindhe Nordstrom’s lecture on Emotional Management and Jonas Nordstrom’s lecture on Intuitive Intelligence (by first listening to the first lecture it is easier to comprehend the second lecture).
Lecture 1: Emotional Management (17 min)
Lecture 2: Intuitive Intelligence (21 min)
CLICK HERE to read the entire chapter “The Science of Instincts and Intuition: Intuitive Intelligence (II) in Times of Information Overload”.
Understanding Intuitive Intelligence
In this chapter, a model for intuitive decision-making will be presented that intends to assist the reader in learning to choose and make decisions in times of information overload. This model is called Intuitive Intelligence. Intuitive Intelligence primarily expands from two different frameworks; the naturalistic decision making (NDM) model and the mind-boggling research relating to noetic science and nonlocal intuition. While the NDM framework focuses primarily “on the way people build expertise and apply it to cognitive functions such as judgment and decision making,”[i] noetic science uses rigorous scientific methods “to study the nature of direct inner knowing and the boundaries between the subjective and the objective.”[ii]
By combining the NDM model with the research relating to noetic science, Intuitive Intelligence is designed to both use the idea that intuitive perception is based on an individual’s unconscious mind accessing information from prior experiences and the ability to recognize various patterns, as in NDM, as well as the human possibility to intuitively perceive information from a distant or future source, as has been demonstrated in the field of noetic science.[iii] [iv] [v] Thus, Intuitive Intelligence intends to teach the practitioner how to use intuition to access one’s direct inner knowing, which is the actual meaning of the Greek word noetikus.[vi]
However, before deepening our knowledge about intuition, we will examine how intuition is related to animal and human instincts. Like all animals in the animal kingdom, we as mammals possess instincts. Yet as humans, most people no longer have fine-tuned instincts due to a large dependence on receiving information from language and machines. Therefore, let us take a moment to understand a bit more about instincts and how we can recapture our inherent ability to instinctually respond to our experiences.
Instincts and the Inheritance from the Animal Kingdom
In the field of behavioral science, instinct is “generally understood as the innate part of behavior that emerges without any training or education in humans.”[vii] That means that an instinct is a natural ability that makes an organism act in a particular way without needing to learn it or think about it.[viii]
One fundamental instinct is the self-preservation instinct and the sexual instinct. While the self-preservation instinct helps us to either avoid or respond to danger, such as in the fight, flight, or freeze response, the sexual instinct plays a vital function in animal and human reproduction. Instinctual reactions are typically automatic, due to being governed by the older parts of the brain, located in the brainstem and the limbic system. Responding intuitively, on the other hand, involves processing instinctual data using logical and analytical reasoning, associated with newer parts of the brain, such as the neocortex.
Animals detecting danger through their instincts. To better understand the purpose of human instincts, let us investigate the role instincts have for animals in detecting danger. British biologist Rupert Sheldrake has written extensively about how animals are able to anticipate disasters and sense impending danger with the help of their instincts.[ix] For example, he discovered that animals were behaving as if they were able to sense when an earthquake was about to happen. Sheldrake describes,
Some cats were said to be hiding for no apparent reason up to 12 hours before the earthquake; others were behaving in an anxious way or “freaking out” an hour or two before; some dogs were barking “frantically” before the earthquake struck; and goats and other animals were showing obvious signs of fear.”[x]
Sheldrake, as well as Chinese researchers, have found that numerous animals also behave in a similar way before avalanches, tsunamis, as well as man made disasters such as military air raids. As an example, in relation to the tsunami occurring in the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, elephants, leopards, monkeys, and birds miraculously were reported to escape by seeking refuge in higher terrain.[xi] Thus, instincts seem to play a vital role for animals to detect danger, even ahead of time, and as a result be able to successfully escape into safety. Humans may not be tuned to their instincts on such a deep level, yet our bodies are continually communicating with us, offering information to help us make accurate decisions, and yes, even prevent danger or unpleasant experiences.
Subconsciously reacting to danger ahead of time. Similarly to animals, the human autonomic nervous system responds to danger even before it happens. While nothing specific happens when watching a calm picture, the autonomic nervous system reacts several seconds before seeing a threatening picture. For instance, the electrodermal activity of the heart changes approximately four to seven seconds ahead of seeing a threatening picture.[xii] [xiii] [xiv] [xv] [xvi] [xvii] Imagine that!
When functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to reveal which part of the brain was active before and during seeing the threatening picture, the result revealed that regions near the amygdala, which is a part of the limbic system, were particularly active.[xviii] Since these regions are involved in processing threat and sensory data with emotional content, such as fear and rage, one may conclude that the emotional picture activated a stress response in the test subject.
When measuring the electric activity of the brain and the heart, with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) respectively electrocardiography (ECG), the results revealed “that the heart appears to receive intuitive information [about 1.3 seconds] before the brain,”[xix] something that will be important to remember further on when practicing how to use intuition. These findings suggest that instinctual foreknowledge involves perception of implicit information by the body’s psychophysiological systems, something that will be examined more in-depth further ahead. However, before that, a quick question: Did you ever feel that someone was staring at you without actually seeing the person? Maybe you thought you were losing your mind, yet, research has shown that maybe you were right on!
Instinctively detecting when being stared at. Another aspect of detecting danger is that both animals and humans seem to be able to instinctively detect when they are being stared at. For instance, unconscious effects have been measured in the autonomic nervous system when an individual is being stared at.[xx] [xxi] Interestingly enough, it seems like the autonomic nervous system is reacting even when the person watching is looking through a closed-circuit television (CCTV).
Sheldrake argues that the ability to detect when being stared at is part of a natural survival mechanism, originally alerting prey animals when a predator is looking at them.[xxii] [xxiii] [xxiv] When Sheldrake investigated if it was possible to consciously sense when being stared at, in addition to the unconscious effects reported above, he found that the individual being stared at was able to guess right in 54.7 percent of the time, compared to 50 percent expected by chance.
When the test subjects were given a chance to receive feedback, whether they were guessing right or wrong, the scores drastically improved. For instance, eight to nine-year-old children in a German school, after having received training, were able to achieve an accuracy of as high as 90 percent. Since these results reveal that it is possible to learn how to become aware of unconscious instinctual information, they also indicate that intuition is a skill that can be enhanced through training.[xxv] What a treat to have this amazing tool to help us navigate through life’s experiences!
To conclude this section, we have learned that instincts, and foremost the self-preservation instinct, play a vital role in detecting implicit information relating to danger. When the autonomic nervous system is receiving and processing large amounts of sensory impressions, it appears that the human organism is even able to perceive beyond the traditional boundaries of space and time. The next topic to investigate is how instinctual responses are part of the intuitive decision-making process, as well as to find out how the self-preservation instinct and the sexual instinct also can compromise and distort true intuitive impressions.
Intuition and the Intuitive Genius Within
One major difference between instinct and intuition is that instinct is associated with automatic responses below the conscious level, while intuition is a refined process in which unconscious data has been processed and presented as conscious hunches, insights, or understandings. That means that intuition is “a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and nonconscious parts of our mind, and also between instinct and reason.”[xxvi] By learning to acknowledge information related to our instincts, gut feelings, and hunches, and subsequently combining these valuable impressions with analytical reasoning, an individual can learn to make intuitive decisions and become very adaptive in a world of rapid changes.
Researchers have studied individuals that need to make critical decisions under difficult conditions, such as intensive care personnel, military pilots, and firemen.[xxvii] [xxviii] Klein and his team found that when conditions were unstable, time was limited, and the stakes were high, some individuals were still able to perform exceptionally well. To the researchers’ big surprise, they discovered that instead of using analogical reasoning and comparing different options, the key point was to use instinct and intuition.
Expert intuition in firemen. When studying firemen commanders in their natural environment, it became evident to Klein that some of the commanders just intuitively knew what to do. The key aspect was to recognize familiar patterns in what was happening around them. Instead of asking, “What do I do now?” the commanders asked themselves, ”What is going on here?” The commanders then used their experience to assess the situation, match relevant cues to patterns they had already learned, and then decide the best course of action. This is something you too can do! It can be easy when you are mindful, quiet the “monkey mind” and pay attention to your “gut.”
Although the researchers initially were biased to find that the commanders were wrestling with different choices and struggling with comparing them to each other, as described in various formal decision-making processes, the results clearly demonstrated that they did not need to do that. Instead, after having used their imagination to internally experience if an option would work or not, the commanders went along with the first identified reasonable action. That means that the commanders could immediately rule out an action if it did not intuitively feel right to them, or go ahead if it seemed to be the right one, and as a result save a lot of valuable time.
This process is referred to as mental simulation, and is defined as, “the ability to imagine people and objects consciously and to transform those people and objects through several transitions, finally picturing them in a different way than at the start.”[xxix] Mental simulation was studied in chess masters as early as 1946 and has been found to be a crucial strategy for making successful decisions. Just as chess masters use their imagination to play out a sequence of actions and then determine if that sequence is doable or not, successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, airline pilots, anesthesiologists, nurses, and military officers do the same.[xxx] [xxxi] [xxxii]
By using prior knowledge and experience to rapidly recognize familiar patterns and scenarios, these experts did not need to make their mental simulations very elaborate. Instead, the experts seemed to play out the scenario through only a few different transition states. Often it was sufficient to use only two or three key factors in each transition state, making it possible to run through the scenario without getting stuck in unnecessary details and as a consequence lose valuable time.
“Felt sense” and how intuitive impressions are experienced. To better understand this automatic and subconscious process of recognizing patterns, we can compare it to spelling or reading a word. When reading an incorrect spelled word, most people often automatically sense that something is wrong. For instance, when you read the words “shcool,” “uƨe,” and “mispelled,” the brain often automatically recognizes the incorrect spelling and a subtle sensation is created, informing us that something is wrong. On the other hand, when the words are spelled correctly, as in “school,” “use,” and “misspelled,” the brain automatically compares the word to the earlier learned correct spelling, and a subtle, often not even noticeable, positive or familiar sensation is created.
The perception of these subtle sensations is referred to as “felt sense.” The term refers to the discovery psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin did when he discovered that successful patients of psychotherapy intuitively focus on subtle internal bodily impressions, also called somatic markers, containing information about how to resolve the problem the client is experiencing.[xxxiii] These somatic markers are pre-conceptual, meaning they exist before any mental constructions, abstractions or generalizations are created about a particular, lived experience. By using felt sense, intuitive impressions can be experienced on four different levels, the physical, emotional, mental, and universal level.[xxxiv]
The first level of intuitive signals relates to the physical level of awareness and includes physical sensations, such as gut feelings, tensions, tingling sensations, or various kinds of pain; for example, in the stomach or in the head. The second level of intuitive signals is the emotional level, conveying intuitive information in the form of sudden changes of feelings, or an immediate attraction or aversion for something without logically understanding why. The third level of intuitive signals relates to the mental level of awareness and includes mental insights, immediate comprehensions, or sudden flashes of knowledge. On the fourth level, the universal level, also referred to as the spiritual level, the impressions often come as a greater understanding, with a sense of a grander interconnectedness between different ideas, issues or individuals. Now use exercise one to better understand the experience of felt sense.
Reaching for the intuitive genius within. To conclude this section and get back to something that by now hopefully is a little easier to understand; by using intuition it is possible to reduce the amount of time to make a decision and still make the decision very sound and accurate. Research relating to how entrepreneurs, business leaders, pilots, firemen, and military personnel make intuitive decisions even demonstrates that intuitive decisions produce better results compared to when only using analytical and logical reasoning. Thus, by building expertise, learning to recognize patterns, and paying full attention to one’s intuitive impressions, it is possible to establish a direct connection with one’s inner wisdom and make full use of intuition in one’s everyday life.
This is a process that is very similar to how Albert Einstein described how he used intuition to guide him as a scientist. Einstein explained that he very often got scientific ideas from short intuitive insights and that he then used analytical thinking to penetrate deeper into these ideas.[xxxv] Many very successful individuals in the fields of science, business, politics, and sports, have described how they do the same. Some of the most well known of these “intuitive geniuses” are inventors, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla, entrepreneurs and business leaders, such as Jeff Besos, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs, political leaders and freedom fighters, such as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and sport legends, such as Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.[xxxvi] [xxxvii] [xxxviii]
Although these individuals often relied on their intellect, logic, and reason, the true incentive to their achievement was that they listened to their internal intuitive voice. By paying attention to their intuitive and creative impulses, they excelled in their respective fields and were able to inspire and come up with new ideas that have transformed the world. This connection with our “intuitive genius within” is something that is possible for everyone. You know that experience when you are in the flow, when everything seems to happen naturally and you easily achieve at your best. Most people just happen to end up in this state by coincidence, but they do not really know how to remain there. It turns out that listening to intuition is the actual key to remaining in this state, which is what we will talk more about in the next section.
CLICK HERE to read the entire chapter “The Science of Instincts and Intuition: Intuitive Intelligence (II) in Times of Information Overload”.
[i] Page 69 in Klein, G. (2011). Expert intuition and naturalistic decision making. Presented in Handbook of Intuition Research, edited by Marta Sinclair. pp. 69-78. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, Northampton, MA.
[ii] Page xiii in Radin, D. (2009). The Noetic Universe: The Scientific Evidence for Psychic Phenomena. Transworld Publishers, London, Great Britain.
[iii] Radin D. (1997). Unconscious perception of future emotions: An experiment in presentiment. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11:163–180.
[iv] Bradley, R.T. (2007). Psychophysiology of intuition: A quantum-holographic theory of
non-local communication. World Future: The Journal of General Evolution, 63(2): 61-97.
[v] Bradley, R.T., Gillin, M., McCraty, R. & Atkinson, M. (2010). Nonlocal intuition in entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs: Results of two experiments using electrophysiological measures. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 10:324-348.
[vi] Radin (2009)
[vii] Page 35 in Spink, A. (2010). Information Behavior: An Evolutionary Instinct. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Germany.
[viii] Merriam-Webster (2013a). Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/instinct
[ix] Sheldrake, R. (2005). Listen to the Animals: Why did so many animals escape December’s Tsunami? The Ecologist, March 2005.
[x] Ibid, p. 1
[xi] Mott, M. (2005). Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming? National Geographic News, January 4, 2005. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0104_050104_tsunami_animals_2.html
[xii] Bierman D.J. (2000). Anomalous baseline effects in mainstream emotion research using psychophysiological variables. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The 43rd Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, 2000:34–47.
[xiii] McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., and Bradley, R (2004a). Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Volume 10, Number 1, 2004, pp. 133–143. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/intuition-part1.pdf
[xiv] McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., and Bradley, R.T. (2004b). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 2. A system-wide process? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(2): 325-336. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/intuition-part2.pdf
[xv] Radin D. (1997). Unconscious perception of future emotions: An experiment in presentiment. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 11:163–180.
[xvi] Radin D. (2004). Electrodermal presentiments of future emotions. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 18: 253-273.
[xvii] Spottiswoode J., and May E.C. (2003). Skin conductance prestimulus response: Analyses, artifacts and a pilot study. Journal of Scientific Exploration 17:617–642.
[xviii] Bierman, D.J., and Scholte, H.S. (2002). Anomalous anticipatory response on randomized future exposure of emotional and neutral pictures. Paper presented at the Toward a Science of Consciousness IV conference, Tucson, AZ, 4-8 April.
[xix] Page 325 in McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., and Bradley, R.T. (2004b). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 2. A system-wide process? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10(2): 325-336. Retrieved October 28, 2013 from http://www.heartmath.org/templates/ihm/downloads/pdf/research/publications/intuition-part2.pdf
[xx] Radin, D. (2006). Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, New York, United States of America.
[xxi] Schmidt, S., Schneider, R., Utts, J., and Walsch, H. (2004). Distant intentionality and the feeling of being stared at: Two meta-analyses. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 235-247.
[xxii] Sheldrake, R. (1998). The sense of being stared at: Experiments in schools. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 62, pp. 311–23.
[xxiii] Sheldrake, R. (2005). Sheldrake and His Critics: The Sense of Being Glared At. A special edition of the Journal of Consciousness Studies (2005) Vol 12 No. 6
[xxiv] Sheldrake, R. (2005). The Sense of Being Stared At. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, No. 6, 2005, pp. 10–31.
[xxv] Colwell, J, Schröder, S, and Sladen, D. (2000) The ability to detect unseen staring: A literature review and empirical tests. British Journal of Psychology, 91, pp. 71–85.
[xxvi] Paragraph 6 in Cholle, F. P. (2011). The Intuitive Compass: Why the best decisions balance reason and instinct. Retrieved October 24, 2013 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intuitive-compass/201108/what-is-intuition-and-how-do-we-use-it
[xxvii] Klein, G. (1998). Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
[xxviii] Klein (2011)
[xxix] Page 45 in Klein (1998)
[xxxi] Klein (2011)
[xxxiii] Gendlin, E. (1982). Focusing. Bantam Books. New York, United States of America.
[xxxiv] Vaughan, F. (1979). Awakening Intuition. Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Garden City, New York City, United States of America.
[xxxvi] Lodovico, G. J. (2008). The Genius Code: The Twelve Pillars of Creative Geniuses. iUniverse. Bloomington, IN.
[xxxvii] Mills, K.L. (2012). Invisible Genius: The Intuition Secrets of the World’s Greatest Leaders and How to Profit From Them. Imaginicity Pty Ltd. Buderim, Australia.