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The Elusive Nature of the Intuitive Function

photo by Eloise Christensen,

Jung (1971/1976) described intuition as an unconscious function, which draws from perception, memory, and precognition. He stated intuition informs the conscious psyche in ways the other functions could not.

The peculiarity of intuition is that it is neither a sense perception, nor feeling, nor intellectual inference, although it may appear in these forms. In intuition a content presents itself whole and complete, without our being able to explain or discover how this content came into matter or of what contents. (p. 453, [CW 6, para. 770])

The content made conscious can be strong, precise, or vague, and come in the form of a feeling, sense, image, or dream. It is not arrived at through reasoning. Learning to recognize and discern intuitive knowledge is a complex and worthwhile task. “These images have the value of specific insights which have a decisive influence on action whenever intuition is given priority” (Jung, 1971/1976, p. 366 [CW 6, para. 611]). The “value of specific insight’ means that the intuitive function provides insight and a glimpse of potential in objects where other functions cannot (Jung, 1971/1976, p. 553 [CW 6, para. 983]). When intuition is “given priority” the psyche is allowed to wander away from sensory stimulus, conscious feelings, and thoughts to explore the unconscious realm. The mind must be free to wander unencumbered from the mental environment of expectancy-laden feelings or thoughts. “Sensation is a hindrance to clear, unbiased, naïve perception; its intrusive sensory stimuli direct attention to the physical surface, to the very things around and beyond which intuition tries to peer” (Jung, 1971/1976, p. 611 [CW 6, para. 611]). The mental capacity to drift away from sensation promotes the consciousness of intuitive knowledge along with the ability to discern the elusive nature of intuition in the sea of internal thoughts and feelings.

Mayer (2007) attempted to explain the phenomenological state that accompanies the intuitive function. What Jung referred to as drifting away from the sensate function, the researcher of this study refers to as a state of cognitive doubt because at times consciousness questions intuitive information. Mayer (2007) described it as a state of suspended mental control and directed thought.

Our instinct for replication sets us up for a huge problem in the effort to understand anomalous knowing. We can only set the stage for replication by instigating control. Experimental controls are an attempt to do away with chance and random interference. They aim at giving us certainty; we know that we know, because we can count on making it happen again. . . . However, if we want to study anomalous knowing seriously, we’ll have to reconceive our notion of replication and control. The control to which we’re accustomed appears antithetical to the state of mind in which we say, “I know—but I know that I don’t know at the same time.” It’s an elusive state: difficult to regulate at will, and even harder to command. It requires suspension between ordinary polarities of certainty and uncertainty, active thought and receptive attention. (Mayer, 2007, pp. 41-42)

If the state of cognitive doubt is not recognized as a forum for intuitive knowledge it will be overlooked by other psychic functions. This mental environment must become familiar with the sense of doubt for the intuitive function to flourish. The very phenomenological quality has led to the diminishing of intuitive thought because of its juxtaposition to rationality (Dossey, 2009; Jung, 1974; Mayer, 2007). Cognitive scientists and neurobiologists describe this tendency as reverting to analytic thinking when under pressure: “Individuals forgo intuitive processing for more consciously controlled analytic strategies when the stakes are high. . . . Consciously controlled impression formation tends to occur more with increases in the importance of the behavioral performance” (Lieberman, 2000, p. 112).

Mayer (2007) conducted interviews with people who were comfortable in an intuitive state, such as a professional poker player who shared how he continuously won: “Here’s the key. I know (what the other player’s cards are)—but I know that I don’t know at the same time. That’s the truth about how I do it” (p. 40). It was not only articulated through the experience of others but through Mayer’s (2007) own personal experiences with the intuitive function.

I was starting to see, feel, taste the spectrum of extraordinary knowing. It seemed to depend on a state of mind that had a markedly sensory, absorbing, kinesthetic quality. . . . It was a purely visceral state, one that bypassed conscious thought and paradoxically bound together absolute intention with lack of intention. (p. 60)

To understand cognitive doubt Mayer (2007) delved into neuroscience and experimental research. She reported that studies of meditators, conducted by Newberg and D’Aquili (2001), indicated a dissipation of spatial awareness which creates a sense of a unified field. This feeling indicates activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe. The neurons assigned to spatial recognition do not lose capability to assess distance, rather they shift into a resting mode in which they “stop receiving and decoding sensory information” (Mayer, 2007, p. 65). Mayer (2007) theorized this state of mind, a “subjective state of oneness,” not only happens during meditation, but also correlates to “the felt state out of which intuitive knowing appears to emerge, whether anomalous or nonanomalous” (p. 66).

In Psi events, as in word and thought formation, the initial feeling that gives rise to the chain of preconceptions leading to a realization in the environment may be a response to a very particular kind of absence, reflecting a need to merge with that which is beyond the self. (Rosenbaum, 2011, p. 79)

The blurring of boundaries between psychic functions allows the unconscious and conscious to collaborate by sharing information.

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