Intuitions are a vivid aspect of our subjective experience. We often use the term ‘intuition’ as a catch-all label for a variety of effortless, inescapable, self-evident perceptions or flashes of insight that seem to arrive fully-formed and without warning. Intuitions are hard to define and difficult to talk about with precision. Their origins are hidden and murky. They are the product of neural processes well below the level of conscious awareness or any reasoned discernment.

It seems that the explicit conscious thoughts that we can articulate are just the tip of our cognitive iceberg. The subconscious mind, introduced by Freud and still in the very early stages of exploration by neuroscience, remains mysterious and enigmatic.

Intuition allows us make judgments in the blink of an eye without careful deliberation or systematic analysis of all the available facts. We trust our “gut” reactions and first impressions. They enable us to discern the sincerity of a conversation partner, read the prevailing ambience in a room or feel a sense of impending doom. These insights are palpable and we ignore them at our peril. They are only irrational in the sense that the cognitive fragments and experiential memories that support them remain largely hidden.
 

KNOWLEDGE QUESTIONS: CLASS ACTIVITY IN PROGRESS

What are the losses and/or gains when analysis and reason are abandoned in favor of intuition? 

How much of intuition can be attributed to hard wired instinct? 

Can intuition be attributed to pattern recognition and associative memory below the level of consciousness? Can we differentiate between intuition and emotion? Does this matter? 

Can intuition be honed? What is the relationship between learning and intuition? Does the trained musician, dancer or mathematician have richer insights in their respective fields? 

Is intuition the stuff of creativity? 

Mathematical proof hinges on hard logic and an assumption of certainty, but the axioms of mathematics are taken as self-evident. Is the edifice of mathematics founded on a fragile base of intuition? 

When we make judgments in context are we relying mostly on intuition? Is there a genetically determined ethical instinct?