#26 from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 2          February 1993                       

Intuition from Instinct
by Daniel Cappon, M.D.

Dr. Cappon is a physician in psychological medicine and professor of environmental studies at York University, Ontario, Canada.  He is developing an Intuition Quotient Test  (IQ2) and has a book, Intuition (Bedford House Press, 1991), and invented a board game on this subject. www.informedliving.com

Intuition is the oldest, most vital part of human intelligence.  It is in daily use and accounts for human survival as well as for the secret of most successes.

I think intuition has been reduced to a myth and allowed to sink into the province of mystics and fringe groups because its operation is unconscious.  In the course of the evolution of human intelligence, intuition had to become unconscious for the sake of the brain's economic effectiveness.

Intuition from Instinct 

This evolution of intuition has its seed in ancestral instincts for survival and adaptation.  For our ancestor's survival, there was no time for thinking or conscious and laborious logic.  Their responses had to be instantaneous.  The sound of movement in the brush caused an immediate reaction.  Those who failed to respond were removed from the gene pool by voracious predators.  Therefore these original instincts, now distilled as intuition, had to be based on a rapid-access fast track system separate from conscious thought, and unencumbered by hesitation and doubt. 

Think about this time, before speech was born some quarter of a million years ago. There was little likelihood for full, alert awareness.  Besides hunting, gathering, and preparing food, they enjoyed satiety and sleep on the one hand, and apprehension on the other.  They must have lived in a sort of twilight, dreamy state.  What we now call myths and figures of speech (like metaphors) were realities.  And instinctual, now called intuitive, reasoning was their only daily intelligence.

After speech was developed, allowing oral and written tradition and eventually the transfer of information, the mind sharpened into the cone of consciousness, and fantasy separated from reality.  And techno-intelligence, stimulated by the evolution of the human eye, the prehensile hand, and the rapid growth of the ten billion-celled new brain (the neocortex), began to bend the environment to suit Man.  Thus logical, speech-promoted intelligence took over at the expense of instinct.

Homo sapiens did this adaptive jumping by compelling the environment to adapt to it, rather than adapting itself to the environment.  The inventive and creative aspect of techno-intelligence had to be built on the experiential basis of those instincts.  Hence, there is a parallel system for the slower-than-survival-oriented emergence of intuition.  This kind of slow-track intuition accounts for human success in science and technology as much as in the arts and, indeed, all human endeavors.

Yet the largest function of intuition necessarily rests with social intelligence rather than techno-intelligence, because humans are far more variable and their actions are far less scientifically predictable than the world of things.  To wit, it took less intelligence to land a man on the moon than it does to resolve the conflict of a married couple.

Once the conscious, new brain evolved, with its two cerebral hemispheres joined by connective nerve fibers (corpus callosum), the mind had to protect its cone of consciousness—its precious, concentrated thinking—by thinking about a thing at a time.  The mind thus evolved barriers, dams or censors to protect that pinpoint of clear, alert reasoning from invasion by items stored in the brain's memory banks.  These barriers become porous while dreaming, and defective in psychopathics, schizophrenics, and during collapse to senility.

Beyond the admittedly sketchy explanation above, I suggest two indirect evidences that intuition evolved from instinct.  The first comes from language.  Despite the fact that many people have little respect for the concept of intuition (in these days of over-reasoning), all of us, including myself, still refer to it as instinct: "I have a good instinct for this," or "It was an instinctive reaction."

The second evidence comes from prehistory.  There could hardly have been much conscious thinking before speech evolved some 250,000 years ago.  Yet Pith's (Pithecanthropus erectus) ancestry goes back some 4.5 million years.  He could not possibly have survived his predators or such natural threats as ice ages without intuitive decisions—such as where to make fire, when to store meat, or when to move to the highlands for the summer.

Even today, in daily life, most humans don't exhibit well-reasoned thoughts, let alone much originality.  What do they rely on?  Customs, traditions and intuition.  Most people today don't think at all.  They're too busy being hungry.  Nor are they well enough informed or trained for logical, deductive reasoning.  Their work and their daily lives are set by habit and their upbringing and culture. 

At best the good things they are doing are dictated in the long run by gut feeling and judgment (intuitive) calls about right and wrong.  They answer the burning questions of "why?" by inductive, hence intuitive, faith.  In the short run of mere survival, only intuition saves them from accidents, foolish risks, disease and emergency decisions in the social crises of marriage, childraising, and personal disputes.

The Secret of Success

Is intuition the secret of research success?  Ask any Nobel Prize winner (I asked four) or any great inventor: "To what capacity do you owe your success?"  The more self-assured, the more honest the respondent, the more success will attributed to intuition. 

Intuition operates with increasing accuracy only after a longish period of experience built on inner-derived constructive observation and married to outer-derived knowledge.  This then becomes the area of expertise in which the skills of intuition operate with more familiarity, certainty, and confidence than in hit-and-miss, trial and error areas. 

Burgeoning areas of expertise produce guestimates and coincidence.  Hence the sudden emergence of the Aha! or Eureka!—the feeling of certitude which heralds a valid intuition.

Ignorance at best produces lucky strikes, not the continual success of well-trained and well-applied intuition.

Whoever today neglects intuition does so at the peril of failure, especially in the hard-boiled realm of research and development.  The reason is that in every research project, intuition is crucial at the beginning (the hunch), in the middle (the choice of optimal method), and in the end (application).  As for a "thing" (an industrial product) coming into the hands of people, its marketing and selling can hardly be done without the nose, the Midas touch, the gut feeling—intuition.  Ask any successful industrial leader!

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