Intuition & Logic

It might seem absurd to say it, but within a handful of years, a new ‘anti-tech’ movement will emerge. The new movement, when it emerges, will be held with the fervour of a religion, and will divide those in favour of technology, from those against it.

It present, technology is regarded as a universal ‘good’. This will change. Norbert Wiener, who founded cybernetics, stated that the impact of automation on society would make the depression of the last century seem like a ‘pleasant joke’. Geoffrey Hinton, who founded AI, had the same reservations, and only last year resigned his position at Google so he could speak freely about the risks.

Developments in technology have inspired reactionary movements before – nuclear weapons, environmental damage, and mass-vaccination programs – but these have been largely fringe movements. Technological unemployment will affect the masses. It is possible to predict this, not owing to any clairvoyance, but owing to the nature of logic.

Logic forces us to see the world in terms of ‘right and wrong’ or ‘good and evil’. Aristotle, who founded logic, said, ‘If no B is A, neither can any A be B.’ The clarity of logic is highly useful in physics and chemistry, but not so useful in society. Black and white logic has given rise to ideologies, pogroms, inquisitions, witch-hunts, and revolutions.

Intuition works differently from logic. Intuitively we can know when an unkind remark is careless or malicious, or when an account is honest or misleading, or when an enjoyment has become unhealthy. The intuitive mind is the watching mind, and if we attend to it, we can vary our responses accordingly.

We face a future where ongoing change will be met with the fixed attitudes of logic. This is unavoidable. As individuals, however, we can develop coping strategies. One of these is the practice of ‘equanimity’, which is essential to intuition.

I am in the process of setting up Intuition Workshops here in Bath. For those who want to know more about intuition and its methods, the workshops may be of interest. The link below provides more details:

(Artwork: Circle Limit IV by M. C. Escher)

Intuition and Sufism

In Sufism, there is a method of teaching known as ‘scatter’. This means that its principle ideas are conveyed, quite deliberately, by indirect and apparently absurd means. From a logical point of view, this is unnecessary and misleading. From an intuitive point of view, this makes perfect sense.

Such is the influence of logic that, if an unorthodox idea is presented to us in the form of an argument, we will automatically reject it. Scatter sidesteps this by presenting ideas out of context and by indirect means. In this way, an idea may be considered on its merits before it is automatically rejected.

Another method employed in Sufism is the use of humour to reveal the absurdity of conventional logic. The most well-known example of this is the Mulla Nasrudin stories – or a wiseman who appears foolish:

‘A king had a gallows built outside the city gates. Anyone who wanted to enter had to state their reasons. If they told the truth they were allowed in; if they lied, they would be hanged. First up was Nasrudin.
‘Why do you want to enter the city?’ asked the Gatekeeper.
‘To be hanged,’ said Nasrudin.
‘That can’t be true,’ said the Gatekeeper.
‘If it isn’t,’ said Nasrudin, ‘Then hang me.’

It is interesting to note a joke has two meanings – the one presented at the outset, and the hidden punchline. A joke appears absurd until the punchline is delivered and then suddenly it makes sense. In this respect, a joke is like an insight, where we suddenly see something from a new and unexpected point of view. Idris Shah, who wrote extensively on the Sufis, had the following to say about the Nasrudin stories:

‘The Sufis, who believe that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge, use these stories almost like exercises.’

If we are happy with our present knowledge – of the world, of ourselves and others – then conventional logic is fine. If we suspect there is more to the world than meets the eye, it is because our innate intuition points to the hidden in life. Like humour, a sudden insight can reveal what was always there, but unattended.

Innate intuition however will not take us far. We need methods, practice and training, to enhance and develop that innate sense into a practical ability. This is what Sufism is about.

I am in the process of setting up Intuition Workshops here in Bath. For those who are interested in learning about intuition and its methods, the workshops may be of interest. The link below provides more details:

(Artwork: Nasrudin riding a donkey backwards)

Paradigms

Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo period (1603 – 1868) did not portray shadows. This is because the artists did not regard shadows as real and saw no reason to depict them.

A paradigm is a shared way of looking at the world. We live in an age dominated by logic, and the principles of logic inform everything we do, from politics to religion, to education, science, philosophy, morality, and even to the media. It is for this reason that any statement, idea, or action must be judged and labelled as either correct or incorrect. This is logic.

It is owing to the dominance of logic that intuition is regarded as little more than a refined instinct. Being regarded as such, it is assumed we can do nothing about our intuition. But of course, we can.

Logic became dominant in Western culture owing to the Church, which adopted it as the means to attack the heresies. It is telling that the word ‘heretic’ means ‘one who chooses’. The twelfth century Alain de Lille, who wrote Contra Haereticos (Against the Heretics), had the following to say about them:

‘The perfect freedom with which they were endowed meant repudiation of all formal religious institutions and law. No hierarchy was needed.’

From the point of view of logic, something is either right or wrong. Intuitively however we can know that something can be mostly right but wrong in parts, or even wrong but understandable. Logical judgement is black and white; intuitive judgement is conditional. It is owing to  history that are taught to think logically at school, but not to think intuitively.

Just as we can become better at mathematics, language, music, or art through practice, we can become better at applying intuitive judgement through practice and understanding. If we don’t attend to our intuition, we will still use it, but we may mistake it for raw emotion or self-certainty. We ignore our intuition at our own cost.

I am in the process of setting up Intuition Workshops here in Bath. For those who are interested in a fuller understanding of the inner life than conventional logic will allow, the workshops may be of interest. The link below provides more information:

(artwork by Utagawa Hiroshige)

Inspiration

Where do new ideas come from? Logic is under our control – indeed, the purpose of logic is to govern our thought processes – but inspired ideas arrive whole, and instantly, and are more like a gift than a laboured product.

I have had three songs come to me in dreams. This is not a brag – I had no control over the process – but it means that how this can happen is a puzzle to me.

In each dream I thought the song belonged to someone else. It was only after I was unable to place the melody that I realised the song was original. Other songwriters have been inspired by dreams, including Keith Richards with Satisfaction, Jimi Hendrix with Purple Haze, and Paul McCartney with Yesterday. He too was convinced the melody was unconsciously filched:

‘For about a month I went round to people in the music business and asked them whether they had ever heard it before. Eventually it became like handing something into the police. I thought if no one claimed it after a few weeks then I could have it.’

Dreams were also responsible for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Beyond the arts, Niels Bohr, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of the structure of the atom, recalled that the image of electrons revolving around a nucleus, like a solar system, came to him in a dream. And Larry Page stated that he got his vision for the Google landing page from a dream.

Dreams, by their nature, are visionary, immediate, emotional, and above all illogical. It may be that overcoming the constraints of logic is essential to the creative process. If logic deals with the known world, intuition deals with the unknown. Carl Jung wrote:

‘Through our feelings we experience the known, but our intuitions point to things that are unknown and hidden.’

This indicates that intuition may be the key to creativity. To be creative, we have to imagine what is ‘not there’. This can, in highly creative people like William Blake, appear in the form of actual visions. He began to have such visions from a very young age; they stayed with him all his life and informed his art. He wrote:

For double the vision my eyes do see,
And a double vision is always with me.

Just as it is possible to be better at mathematics or grammar through practice and attention, so too is it possible to improve our intuitive ability in the same way. We are all born with a natural degree of intuitive ability, but we do nothing about it and hope it will kick in when we need it. It is possible we have more inspired ideas than we realise, but if the logical (or chattering) mind has our attention, we won’t hear them.

For those who are interested, I am in the process of setting up Intuition Workshops here in Bath. The workshops are not discussions about intuition, but actual practices aimed at putting us in touch with the intuitive mind. The link below provides more information:

Jim Blackmann

Artwork: Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897

Enigmas

What is an enigma?

In 809 AD, the Arab ruler, Harun al-Rashid, presented a peace offering to Charlemagne, the Holy Roman emperor. The peace offering was an elaborate water clock. At noon a weight dropped, bells sounded, and twelve brass horsemen emerged from twelve windows. Charlemagne did not understand what the clock was for, and thought it was merely a device for making sounds.

An enigma is something we don’t understand. The problem is not the enigma itself, but in our limited understanding.

There are obvious enigmas, such as how the ancients knew of the precession of the equinoxes, or how the proportions of the human body are an expression of mathematics, but such enigmas are not pressing enough to cause us to question our understanding of the world.

There are also enigmas which present themselves to us on a daily basis and demand our attention. One such enigma is human nature.

The dominant view of human nature is that we are no more than machines, or as Daniel Dennett put it ‘robots made of robots made of robots’. If we are satisfied with this explanation, then we will see mechanical people and look no further.

Our direct experience of people is that there is always something in them which is not revealed to our direct observation. It was for this reason that the diplomat, Lord Chesterfield, advised his son to ‘look into people, as well as at them’. It follows that what we see depends as much on the mind as on the eye.

Logic deals with what we know; once we know what something is we can define, label and categorise it. But to discover what we don’t know – what is hidden – we have to apply intuition. Just as logic has its methods, so too does intuition.

In Zen, the practice of silent observation in order to experience the essential nature of a thing is called observing its ‘isness’. To observe without thinking is absurd from a logical point of view. From an intuitive point of view however, silent observation allows the less obvious, or hidden elements to come to the fore in our attention. We can study all nature in this way, from simple items to the seasons to human beings.

I am in the process of setting up Intuition Workshops here in Bath. For those who are interested in learning about intuition and its methods, the workshops may be of interest. The link below provides more details:

(artwork: Flammarion engraving, 1888, unknown artist)

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