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The Intuitive Function

photo by Eloise Christensen,

From a clinical perspective, intuition is a psychic function that manifests through various phenomena, from the simple elegance of subtle perception and instinctual execution, to the grander acausal realm of premonitions and synchronicities. This section includes literature on the phenomenology of the intuitive function, investigating the unconscious origins and conscious environment in which intuition becomes known. The specific topics covered are how intuition relates to instincts, transmits the numinous, guides moral development, and is expressed through personality typology. Jungian theory is the main school of thought of this investigation because it orients intuition as a primary psychological function, from both nonsecular and secular point of view.

A word about intuition and skepticism. Inherent characteristics of the intuitive function have generated foes. For example, intuition is always a few steps ahead or behind the present moment, whether it be three seconds or three years. Two, the integral origins of the function cannot be consciously known without great study and effort, and due to the complex relationship to time it is sometimes discovered the origins surpass the measure of science. Three, intuition historically has been associated with primitive psychological states and a child’s mind, which caused a collective avoidance in effort to avoid mental states that are regressive and destablizing to rationality (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 61).

Influenced by this skepticism, the psychology field tends to refer to intuition with aliases like anomalous, extraordinary knowing, or Psi (Dossey, 2009; Mayer, 2007; Rosenbaum, 2011), with the exception of psychoanalysts like Wilfred Bion, who claimed approaching the patient with memory and desire obscures intuition (Bion, 1970, p. 31). While unconscious intuitive phenomena such as telepathy and intersubjective communication are central to the practice of psychotherapy rarely are they discussed as aspects of the intuitive function (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 59; Reiner, 2004; Williams, 2006). This “approach-avoidant relationship” to the direct discussion of the intuitive function began early on in the field of psychoanalysis and is evident through Freud’s on and off relationship with parapsychological phenomena (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 60; Reiner, 2004). According to Rosenbaum (2011):

At various points over the subsequent two decades, Freud (1922/1973, 1925/1973, 1933/1965, 1941/1973) attempted to include telepathy in psychoanalytic discourse. He postulated that telepathy was most likely an activity of the unconscious mind, and that much could be learned about repressed unconscious wishes from telepathically received material, similar to the way one could learn from dreams. He theorized, in his analysis of readings of fortunetellers—one of whom he referred to as “a genuine ‘medium’ ” (Freud, 1941, p. 62)—that an unconscious wish, along with the thoughts and factual material connected with it, could be transferred from one person to another. In fact, some of the fortunetellers’ errors appeared to derive from their ascertaining the clients’ psychic reality—their unspoken wishes and fantasies—more accurately than their observable reality. (p. 59)

Freud’s theory of the unconscious wish being telepathically perceived by another did not gain ground among analysts. He addressed the topic of telepathy several times over a 20-year span and the subject was ignored by the psychoanalytic community (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 59). Perhaps this cool response influenced Freud’s later avoidance of parapsychological phenomena, or it may have been his protective efforts to avoid non-scientific people, like mediums. It was also speculated Freud was resistant to exploring of his own “infantile” psyche (Servadio, 1935/1973, p. 210; as cited in Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 61-62). Freud gave the impression he thought heightened numinous states and religion to be unsubstantiated longing (Jung, 1961/1989, as cited in Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 152). “After all, his [Freud] major objection to religion was its appeal to childish, wishful thinking: ‘The whole thing,’ he remarked, ‘is so patently infantile’ ” (Freud, 1930, p. 22, as cited in Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 62). In psychoanalytic circles, mystical experiences were generally seen as states akin to passion and romance, creative immersions and psychosis, all states that unseat rationality and dissolve psychic boundaries (Loewald, 1978, as cited in Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 62). These states are not only akin to mysticism but the home of intuition.

Because psychoanalysis was a new field there was a need to gain credibility. Any subject that threatened that, like telepathy or intuition, was passed over. The theories trended toward the secular explanations while phenomena relating to spiritual underpinnings were ignored or pathologized, unless the depth practitioner fell in the Jungian school of thought, where spirit and the numinous were included in the discourse. There was a tendency in psychoanalysis to focus on the phenomenon as opposed to the noumenon (Bion, 1973/1990, p. 41, as cited in Reiner, 2004, p. 313). The noumenon is “a thing that is not to be thought of as an object of the senses but rather as a thing in itself” (Kant, 1781/1998, p. 350, para. 310).

While psychoanalysis responded ambivalently, parapsychological research made strides in statistically validating intuitive occurrences of telepathy, precognition, prediction, premonitions, remote viewing, and psychokinesis, all of which were labeled as Psi phenomenon (Dossey, 2009; Mayer, 2007, p. 114; Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 57-58). These phenomena were studied with scientific rigor to provide empirical evidence of acausal phenomena. Despite these efforts and conclusive statistical validation in parapsychological research, psychoanalytic circles and the psychology field as a whole has hesitated to acknowledge the significance and sometimes even the existence of the intuitive function.

Despite the cool reception of the field, scholars such as Bion (1970) described the state of “O” (p. 27) which speaks to a faith in mystery allowing for “an unknown psychic reality [to] evolve” (Williams, 2006, p. 87). Bion, like Jung, examined the transcendent aspects of the psyche (Grotstein, 1997; Reiner, 2004). “There are significant similarities between Jung’s and Bion’s views of the unconscious, in particular that it is not only, like Freud’s unconscious, a receptacle for repressed feelings, but also has a transcendent aspect beyond psychical reckoning” (Reiner, 2004, p. 333). Due to saturation in the literature Bion’s work will only be reviewed peripherally.

More recently, the view of intuition is changing and the topic has begun to be directly addressed by a few from the psychoanalytic field (Mayer, 2007; Reiner, 2004; Rosenbaum, 2011; Williams, 2006). Some of the writing tends to cover the entire spectrum of intuitive phenomena, such as Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer’s (2007) book, Extraordinary Knowing. This broad approach hypothetically accomplishes two things, one it attempts to explain the phenomenon in entirety, and two, it acts as an appeal to the skeptics, who have cast out intuition because it hints at the spiritual aspects of the psyche. Psychoanalyst Mayer (2007) and physician Larry Dossey (2009) wrote books covering the history of on-the-record and off-the-record experimental research, a brief synopsis of physics theory, and personal experiences with intuition. Ruth Rosenbaum (2011), psychoanalyst, wrote an article in a similar style, but differed from Mayer (2007) and Dossey (2009) because the audience she addressed was narrowed to a clinical audience, specifically psychoanalysts. An interesting characteristic shared by these three sources is each author included their subjective experiences of intuitive phenomenon, signifying an abandonment of the traditional objective research stance in which personal experiences are omitted.

Mayer (2007) described the turning point in her own life after discovering acausal intuition and how it impacted her work with clients. She began to encourage patients who hinted at odd experiences to discuss them, rather than guide them toward a more traditional rational based response.

I was somewhat stalled with one deeply troubled patient, a woman who was isolated and very frightened of the world. For years she’d insisted she couldn’t remember any of her dreams, and indeed she’d reported almost none to me through our work together. Then, during one session, she told me that the night before she’d dreamed of my going to Arizona. I had indeed been planning a trip to Arizona that week, but I’d told none of my colleagues or patients about it. I asked her, why Arizona? She had no idea, no associations. I told her that I was in fact going to Arizona and wondered if she’d somehow picked that up. For a moment, she was quiet. Then she hesitantly told me that she often had dreams in which she knew where people were going, and it turned out she was right. She couldn’t begin to explain it. She’d learned not to tell people; it was too weird. She had dreams like that as a child and her parents had raged at her and called her crazy. They would sometimes beat her until she said she’d made it all up. So she’d learned to shut up and started pretending that she didn’t have dreams, that a lot of things she experienced weren’t real. Pretending to others, to herself, had made her feel safe, but it had also made her feel that she wasn’t very real. That exchange with my patient was a turning point in her psychotherapy. It was also a turning point for me. My evident curiosity about her dream had liberated a flood of experiences. As my patient started believing that I could believe her—and considered her neither crazy nor dangerous—a new world opened up between us. . . . Bit by bit her comfort in the world took new root. Her life changed in profoundly positive ways. She told me that she started feeling she could be real. (Mayer, 2007, p.7)

Psychic integration leads to an experience of feeling more oneself, and in turn helps people become more related to others. Skepticism can cause intuitive people to be inhibited, and to avoid discussion of how they make decisions on a process outside of reason. It may be a great disservice to those in the medical field who use it in their work to help patients. An example of a physician who integrated his intuitive function to heal people is Larry Dossey, M.D.

Throughout his career as a physician, Dossey (2009) struggled with his intuitive function. It would inform him of patient’s needs unexpectedly. Like Mayer (2007), Dossey claimed the intuitive function is used regularly by doctors and healthcare providers to understand what patients are experiencing. This level of understanding is typically disguised or hidden from colleagues because it often cannot be explained.

My training in medicine has sensitized me to premonitions. Health and illness, clinics and hospitals, are prime stalking grounds for these phenomena. Yet we physicians have a tortured relationship with them. We are trained to honor evidence-based medicine, with its rigid algorithms and decision trees. This approach deliberately excludes hunches, intuition, premonitions, and other varieties of knowing that don’t conform to reason and analysis. (Dossey, 2009, p. xix)

As mentioned earlier Jung’s theories are the foundation of this investigation because of this historical complex in the psychology field with the topic of intuition. He approached intuition not only in an unbiased way, but as a clinician, by examining all the forms of the function. His theoretical approach illuminates what the Alcoholics Anonymous literature hints at––that intuitive function is central in recovery. This review incorporates various depth and cognitive theories to support and further Jung’s theories. Each section on a particular trait of the intuitive function will begin with Jung’s perspective. Other neighboring theories are woven in to demonstrate how the theories were carried forward. It is suggested the reader hold both nonsecular and secular theories simultaneously as these phenomena are explored from a clinical perspective.

Throughout his career, Jung explored the role of intuitive function in the subject areas of instincts, archetypes, a priori knowledge, the psychoid archetype, synchronicity, and typology. He investigated the following traits of intuition: the ability to sense potential, assess timing of action, hold two types of time simultaneously, track the collective unconscious trends, and bridge to the numinous.

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