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.

 

 

Entering the Inner Fortress

Capture44

“Awakening to that mystical dimension where the very essence of self is suddenly perceived to be one with the ultimate forces of nature, is at once the secret and the transforming journey of human life.” – Joseph Campbell

In my last post, I introduced the story of how I began the journey of discovery which is now unfolding here on the pages of my blog. It was, in many ways, a tumultuous and transformative time in my early life; a time when my temporal life was in a bit of a tailspin, and when my inner world was finally free to expand in whatever direction seemed right to me. Although I had no preconceived notion about just what direction I might go, my awareness of a transcendent aspect to my world of experience had finally been released from the confines of my earlier restrictive religious background, and with those restrictions no longer in place, it seems my inner world, which had been more like a fortress against exploration, now had become my “inner fortress” of my experience of consciousness.

According to specialists in cognitive studies, there is a stream of consciousness within each of us that never ceases, regardless of whether we are awake or asleep. Exactly what is responsible for our experience of consciousness and a comprehensive explanation of its functioning are still subjects of considerable speculation and study. Assuming that we continue to expand our knowledge and insight into cognitive functioning, it seems reasonable to conclude that we will eventually gain a greater comprehension of its workings, perhaps resulting in a greater degree of access to this stream. We must therefore seek it out, and nourish our individual paths which connect us to it, and also be open to what we uncover as we search.

The nature and study of human consciousness has been a compelling subject for me for more than twenty years. I have spent a great deal of my time and energies trying to come to terms with my own very particular “inner experience” of life, and to somehow understand how the events and flow of my temporal life have directly been influenced by the workings within. Sharing what I have come to understand about my own “Inner Evolution,” has tasked my intellect and communications skills in a big way. I am only just beginning to feel confident enough in the results of my study and contemplation to bring out into the open, the many various aspects of what I have uncovered within myself. I am hopeful that my own subjective and personal experience of my own “human spirit” will resonate with others, and encourage them to explore their own.

Way back in 1973, as a young man embarking on the journey of a lifetime, I experienced what Carl Jung described as “the eruption of unconscious contents,” which compelled me to seek the path I continue to pursue to this day. The path of discovery has led me through an astonishingly diverse range of explorations in philosophy, science, and religion, as well as the many compelling ideas in the literature and scriptures of the cultures of the world. There is, in my view, a compelling thread made up of components of each, that runs through the fabric of life.

transcendent-john-milton-128084

The awakening to the knowledge of the transcendent within each of us can be a difficult, dangerous, and deeply personal undertaking. Without a sense of urgency that we can reconcile against the relentless struggle to survive and maintain our daily lives, many of us never even attempt to access this knowledge. For some of us, the awakening can begin without a conscious choice.

Forty years ago, as a young soldier stationed in Massachusetts, I experienced what could only be described as a revelation. I was off-duty in the base cafeteria near the post exchange in the middle of what had become my traditional Sunday noontime meal. As I sat down to begin eating, there was no reason I knew about for that Sunday to feel any different than all the others which preceded it, when suddenly I was struck by an overwhelming sense of being unable to control my body. Fearful at first that I might be ill, I tried desperately to settle my mind, and I began to tremble noticeably. Reaching out, I spilled my drink on the table. The harder I struggled against the experience, the more difficult it became to remain calm, when I was inexplicably overcome by a sudden, compelling urge to write something down.

I got up from the table, went into the post exchange, bought a notepad and pen without waiting for my change, returned to my table in the cafeteria, pushed my meal aside and began to write. What disturbed me the most was that I didn’t seem to have any control over what my hand was doing–it felt more like I was outside of my body watching someone else writing.

Sweat dripped from my forehead onto the pages, smearing the words in several places. I was writing frantically, cramming the words onto page after page. The resulting text was incomprehensible to me, and I was in such a state of excitement that I found it impossible to concentrate. I can only remember wondering what the few people around me must be thinking about this nut, spilling drinks and writing like a madman.

As suddenly as it began, the frenzy stopped. The pen dropped from between my fingers and I went limp. I lifted my head, now throbbing with a headache, and looked at the clock on the wall. Nearly two hours had passed since my arrival at my table around noon. Shaken, but slowly calming down, I had to drag myself away to the men’s room to throw up. When I sat back down at the table, I turned back to the first page of the notepad, having half-filled it with what looked like scribbling. The initial pages were only marginally legible, but as I gradually turned over the pages, I was able to make out most of the words. It seemed like a description of a journey, but the terms were suggestive of travels not found on any map. The language seemed almost surreal and incoherent to me. The single item that made any immediate sense was a name–Jonas Rice.

Deeply disturbed by the incident, when I returned to my barracks, I ripped the pages out of the notebook, put them in an envelope, and hid it under some clothing at the bottom of my closet. I told no one of the experience.

library-research

The following weekend, I bought a bus ticket to the nearby city of Worcester, with the intention of investigating the name and whatever else I could find to help me understand what had occurred. Without fully knowing why, I felt certain that I could resolve the matter, even though I had no conscious knowledge about the city of Worcester prior to that day. Upon my arrival, I immediately set out walking, simply moving instinctively forward toward what felt like the center of town. I shortly came upon the city commons, where I noticed a collection of headstones marking the graves of prominent former citizens, interred there in the 1700’s. My heart began to pound wildly as I stood in front of the headstone of Jonas Rice.

CEM4

Photo by Susan Fenner

Momentarily dazed, I found myself gasping for breath, unable to speak or move. Only with great effort was I able to gather my wits long enough to suspend my state of shock long enough to walk away. I realized at that moment that I was dealing with a phenomenon of an extraordinary nature, and unless I could come to terms with it somehow, it would be difficult for me to find any sort of peace of mind. I managed to find my way to the public library, and began what ended up being decades of investigation, which included life in colonial America, psychology, mythology, philosophy, and a whole range of religious and metaphysical subjects, trying to understand the experience, and the nature of what had been thrust into my consciousness.

Subsequent to the initial episode in 1973, I occasionally experienced recurrences of lesser intensity, which seemed to point me in new directions as the research progressed. Over the years, I began to view my research as part of the process of awakening, and kept a more detailed record of the significant events and important milestones, hoping to incorporate the essential information into a more comprehensive narrative at some point. Without fully understanding why, I nonetheless submitted myself to the unfolding drama, at times, overcome be a sense of powerlessness to stop myself. The resulting path of discovery and illumination brought me face-to-face with a fascinating and perplexing inner world.

**Somehow…this posting was deleted by WordPress.com. It was originally posted on January 1, 2014**