Reason and Intuition


“It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery has conveyed a survival advantage…provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would be valid also in our search…and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.

– Stephen Hawking quoted in “A Brief History of Time.”


“Intuition is the indubitable conception of a clear and attentive mind which proceeds solely from the light of reason…By ‘intuition’ I do not mean the fluctuating testimony of the senses or the deceptive judgement of the imagination as it botches things together, but the conception of a clear and attentive mind, which is so easy and so distinct that there can be no room for doubt about what we are understanding…another mode of knowing in addition to intuition (is) deduction, by which we mean the inference of something as following necessarily from some other propositions which are known with certainty…because immediate self-evidence is not required for deduction, as it is for intuition…but the first principles themselves are known only through intuition, and the remote conclusions only through deduction.

– Rene Descartes from “Rules for the Direction of the Mind,” written circa 1628, first Latin edition published in 1701.

“Language is entwined with human life…it reflects the way we grasp reality…It is…a window into human nature…Human intelligence, with its capacity to think an unlimited number of abstract thoughts, evolved out of primate circuitry for coping with the physical and social world, augmented by a capacity to extend these circuits to new domains by metaphorical abstraction…some metaphors can express truths about the world…So even if language and thought use metaphors, that doesn’t imply that knowledge and truth are obsolete. It may imply that metaphors can objectively and truthfully capture aspects of reality.”

– Steven Pinker, from his book, “The Stuff of Thought.”


There is something in the air, out in the world, something inside of me, that is pervasive. It’s always there, relentlessly seeking me. It feels like an embrace, and yet it does not always bring me peace. Sometimes, I cannot easily face it. In my life, I have known there is the possibility of pain–the other side of joy–and also of fear, as there has always been. Early in my life, I did not understand–did not see why I had to feel certain things. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why can’t everything just be okay? When you’re young, there’s no way to process or fully understand thoughts like that. There is a keener sense of the unknown; a resistance to potent emotions, inexplicable or mysterious energies, anything that suggests aspects of our reality which may be beyond our normal understanding.


Logically, of course, science and reason can provide us with a methodical and considered approach when it comes to investigating the unknown, and can often point to reasonable scientific principles which are clearly at work in certain situations; we can observe them, we experience them and assume because we know WHY these things happen, that we understand them. In my experience, truly apprehending the nature of things requires something more. Naturally, we see what we see, we hear what we hear; we consider information we bring in from the objective world; we interpret what comes through our senses and process the information utilizing the various talents of specific brain regions. We come to conclusions which often can be affirmed by comparing them to our experiences and memories, and by testing them through our subsequent actions, and we may even make choices regarding potential future actions.


As we observe what happens out there, we say, “So that’s why the planets are all traveling in loops around the sun,” or “no wonder it seems that light suddenly appears since it travels so reliably and predictably at the same speed.” All of these aspects of our reality that we can observe and affirm, tell us why things work the way they do, because the laws of physics require them to conform in this way. When all of our observations confirm the laws, we feel confident in establishing those principles as true. I haven’t always been convinced by what I see or hear or observe, not because I supposed that my senses weren’t working properly, but rather because those aspects did not conform precisely with my personal recollections of previous experiences. It’s possible for us to be mistaken about what our senses tell us, as in the case of optical illusions, and we can occasionally be easily misled by the clever application of deliberate or manipulative deception, but it can be much more difficult to persuade us of any suggested explanation of events which does not match up with the way we intuitively feel as we process that input.


Experience has taught me to trust the way I feel, especially when it comes to connections to other individuals, places, and ideas which resonate so strongly within me in particular circumstances, but our modern chaotic world doesn’t always encourage us to trust our intuition or to have the confidence always to listen to our genuine “gut” feelings. Throughout my life, there have been innumerable examples of instances where my inner urgings and startling responses to unexpected provocations have been right on the mark. There have been times when it seemed to me that I was virtually “standing on a precipice,” dangerously close to and looking over an edge, either about to fall, or maybe even getting ready to “take a leap of faith.” Conventional wisdom might suggest that if you’re near some sort of a virtual edge and you fall, it’s not necessarily your fault, and yet, at the same time, somehow you got yourself out on that ledge. That same wisdom might suggest that if you find yourself on that proverbial ledge and you decide to jump, for whatever reason, that is a choice for which you alone are responsible.



We can’t always control what happens TO us, and sometimes we may even feel compelled to make choices that we don’t necessarily agree with completely, and why we feel that way is not always crystal clear. All sorts of influences and pressures from even trusted sources can weigh on us as we contemplate our next steps, distorting or mitigating our normal process of reasoning or, if we are fortunate, clarifying it. Our reasoning can be faulty and we can occasionally even refuse to consider outside influences which are meant to be helpful, but ultimately we must choose, one way or another.

The struggle between reason and intuition has become something of an epic battle these days, and considered and informed opinions may seem less prevalent in our modern social interactions, and so giving attention to sorting it all out is even more important now.



5 thoughts on “Reason and Intuition

  1. I have often wondered whether there is ANYONE who does not struggle in this life. In a sense your post reminds me to think about cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea that our normal mind is not necessarily logical and does not always see the world clearly or as it is. And that if we use reason and think our way through a situation as an outsider might see it, we may realize that our problems are not so great after all.

    I suppose that is little more than common sense really.

    But I think you are right and that intuition or gut feel must also play a large part in our lives. I am not sure for instance that reason would lead man down the path of love. Because reason seems to require some tangible benefit or at least a tangible answer to questions which are asked of it.

    The spirit seems something else, far more mysterious. Related to the feelings and qualia one can experience at the same time. Does reason require me to love my neighbor or lead a good life? I’m not sure it does. Reason would seem to ask the question “why should I do that, where is the benefit to me and my life”? The spirit or intuition would seem to give me a good answer: “because it is right to live that way, because I just sense that that is the proper way to be”.

    Which brings me back to my first point. Is there anyone out there who leads a life of perfect equanimity? I have always wanted to meet such a being but my gut feel is that doubt and uncertainty probably hits us all.

    1. Anthony,

      Your comment in this instance was especially compelling, and it pressed me to consider it at length, thus, causing a bit of a delay in my response. I always appreciate it when you and other readers here take time to consider my writing closely, and my most recent posting owes a good portion of its inspiration to your comment here. Please know that your thoughtful and considered responses are received with commensurate consideration on my part.

      As a student of history and philosophy, and having expended an enormous amount of energy and time exploring the subjects surrounding human nature, I feel confident in suggesting that struggle in this life is absolutely universal, although the proportion of it varies widely throughout the many epochs and cultural milieus of human history. Likewise, the human mind in all its iterations over millennia has demonstrated a broad range of capacity for logic and reasoning, and has unraveled many mysteries and discovered many solutions through our sciences, providing 21st century humans with a much greater ability to realize that our problems are not so great after all.

      Reasoning is not often associated with the path of love, and all of our emotionally charged endeavors in life have often prevented reasoning from entering into the equations and calculations along those paths. The heart is not a logical organ, to be sure, and the mind can be easily distracted during emotional episodes of every sort, and often we must simply take a leap of faith when deciding such matters. Reason does require that we consider what might result from our choices, if we are thoughtful about them, but we can also be influenced to accept a greater degree of risk, when the potential benefits of those risks are great. Our intuition blends these two forces by incorporating our experience and reasoning with our instinctive and introspective talents, often resulting in positive outcomes. It is a gradual progression of these combined talents throughout our lives that enhances our ability to produce consistently better outcomes.

      In my next posting, thanks to your own keenly insightful comment, I will argue that we humans may need to redouble our efforts in the introspective category in order to be successful in the future. Balancing our lives with each of the many talents we possess will provide our best hope for better outcomes for the generations to come. Thanks again for your generous contributions to our ongoing dialog.

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