Intuition vs. Rationality
From Anne Lamott‘s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”
A similar sentiment comes from one of history’s most celebrated heroes of science, the alleged pinnacle of rationality — Albert Einstein:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Steve Jobs reflects in Walter Isaacson’s much-discussed biography of him:
“The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and the intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world… Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.
Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic, it is learned and it is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.”
In the olden days, librarians were expected to use intuition to categorize books. Jessa Crispin on unscience, white lab coats, and the line between things we know and things we can prove:
“There are certain things we know, and certain things we can prove. Often the “know” category is presided over by the philosophers and the poets, the witches and the healers. The “proven” is the realm of the white lab coat. It can take centuries to go from “known” to “proven.” Louis Pasteur may have discovered penicillin, but mold has been used to treat infections since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Likewise, the idea of the unconscious — that there were drives completely out of our control, and out of our sphere of awareness, working as the engine behind our behavior — used to be a joke. Now it’s an accepted truth.”
“Jonah Lehrer’s Times article about dreams did not come as an Earth-shocking revelation because it’s something we’ve all kind of known. No one is going to scientifically prove Carl Jung’s theories about dreams, of course, because the theories are bonkers.”
“Moving from the “known” to the “proven” column can be a little messy. The point of finding proof is to shed light on the idea, and in the case of Sigmund Freud’s realm, to bring order to the disordered. And yet there’s resistance. There’s a lot of charisma in the disorder.”
Astrophysicists, Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s underlying ethos and echoes other great thinkers’ ideas about intuition and rationality, blending the psychosocial with the political:
“Some of the most creative leaps ever taken by the human mind are decidedly irrational, even primal. Emotive forces are what drive the greatest artistic and inventive expressions of our species. How else could the sentence ‘He’s either a madman or a genius’ be understood?
It’s okay to be entirely rational, provided everybody else is too. But apparently this state of existence has been achieved only in fiction [where] societal decisions get made with efficiency and dispatch, devoid of pomp, passion, and pretense.
To govern a society shared by people of emotion, people of reason, and everybody in between — as well as people who think their actions are shaped by logic but in fact are shaped by feelings and nonempirical philosophies — you need politics. At its best, politics navigates all the minds-states for the sake of the greater good, alert to the rocky shoals of community, identity, and the economy. At its worst, politics thrives on the incomplete disclosure or misrepresentation of data required by an electorate to make informed decisions, whether arrived at logically or emotionally.”
Ranganathan, David Weinberger explains, expected librarians to have a spiritual bent, using intuition to categorize books. With intuition, he wrote, a person “sees beyond the phenomenal occurrences. He transcends space and time. He sees … the perfect harmony of everything.” As I just sorted through the complete disorder of my own personal library to retrieve that quotation, I know now there’s a certain charisma in my own system of disorder.
When did we lose this value system in how we think about the categorization — curation, systematization, organization — of today’s information sphere and, perhaps more importantly, of the heart’s sphere?
By Maria Popova