Harvesting Intuition

Abstract of Harvesting Intuition


Harvesting Intuition

Are your ripe fruits of intuition rotting on the vine, going ignored? Or are you making full use of all those sweet signals? Intuition does not need be mysterious, its there for all who want it.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and forgotten the gift.” ~Albert Einstein ~

Powerful words from a scientist, and genius non the less. So how can we honor our gift? First, lets discuss what intuition is.

What is intuition?

What would your mental process look like without words? Without a language to channel your discursive mental meanderings? The concept of our thoughts as a stream of words is easily grasped. But consider your thoughts as pictures instead… It’s interesting to note, that Einstein, who is famous for thinking in pictures rather than words, places intuition on such a pedestal, as quoted above. There in lies a connection I believe. But pictures (visual/spatial) thinking is only one mode, aside from verbal (auditory/sequential), there is also somatic, kinesthetic and others.

Intuition is answers with out words (sometimes to questions we haven’t even asked yet)

There are of course many definitions from Descartes to Hume to Kant and many more but if were to harvest our own intuition we need to break it down and understand it simply. When you have an answer you can’t put into words, when you understand a concept but cant explain it (at least not verbally), or even when you feel (somatic awareness) somethings up but your not sure what yet, your intuition is plugging away.

If you have a square peg and have to choose between a round hole and a square one, you know where it goes. Even if you don’t know the word for ‘square’. Your visual spatial sense understands it. Its possible to know the answer with out knowing the words to defend that answer.

The exact definition of intuition will probably continue to be debated for a long time. The one we’re working with here lines up partially with tacit knowledge (though not completely). This is my preferred definition because, we can wrap our heads around it, break it down to fundamentals we can acquire, and it doesn’t involve any ‘woo woo’ factors.

Unblocking your intuition

  • Be in your body. A common statement” from business leaders and others is “I just had a gut feeling”. Lets unpack that a little. Your gut is sometimes referred to as a second brain for its extensive nervous system components. It can even operate autonomously from your brain. So there are signals there. Butterflys in your stomach before public speaking ect.. If we are in a dynamic situation with many variables were trying to process we may feel something in our stomach or our hands get a little sweaty, we just got a clue what our next decision should be. Post mortem we can analyze and isolate what we are responding to, but if we are in our bodies, present, we can respond rapidly in the moment to our gut response.
  • Toggle between contemplation and concentration. Some times our best approach is contemplative. Non-linear or lateral thinking, a visual/spatial approach where we are exploring the outside edges of the problem or project. Other times concentration is key, what we might think of as a brute force analytical approach. The intuitive mind sees analytical thought as a tool to pick up or put down as the need arise. Not every problem can be handled analytically. As Picasso said: “Computers are useless, they only give answers”. Sometimes the best course is to ask a better question. This is the result of a more intuitive contemplative approach.
  • Pick patterns over pieces. This is really just an extension of the previous point, but represents an important avenue we want to burn into our process. Many definitions of intuition include pattern recognition. Constantly being aware of patterns even as we deal with a project piece by piece will allow us to take short cuts and sometimes even leaps of insight as we grasp a concept spatially and thereby enable our selves to skip certain mental steps. Here’s also a great example of where an analytical approach can serve your intuition well. Put in the brute force of analyzing as many different patterns that may apply to your field of study. For example in Daniel Kahnemans book “Thinking Fast and Slow” he mentions the pitfalls of intuitive rapid judgements ( to be sure, just because a person makes a decision rapidly doesn’t mean it’s intuitive, or even that they’ve trained their intuition effectively). He uses examples of reputable stock brokers who basically have less than a 50/50 win/loss ratio. But notice this quote of Josh Waitzkin of Search for Bobby Fischer fame “In my experience, really high level thinkers have integrated cognitive bias’ into there intuitive process”. A cognitive bias is essentially a pattern of rationality in judgement. We sound down these patterns through both previous study and deconstructing our own experiences. So don’t loose sight of the patterns as you examine the pieces.
  • Embrace a positive attitude. Daniel Khaneman in the afore mentioned book also points out that positive mood, intuition, and creativity form a bottom up cluster. This makes sense from a neurobiological stand point as well. Dopamine in the brain is often related to positive moods and high engagement. Dopamine lowers the signal to noise ratio in our head’s there by increasing pattern recognition.
  • Respect the unseen. You can’t see a black hole. It’s existence is basically intuited by it’s effects on everything around it. Miles Davis said “Don’t play what’s there, play whats not there”. As an artist, I tend to categorize this as negative space. This really falls under pattern recognition but it helps to look at it independently. The examples are endless of our getting caught up in what is there that we overlook what is not there. We can train our intuition to be sensitive to negative space and the space between the pieces of whichever mental puzzle we might be looking at. Research Chinese and Japanese Art for great examples of balancing positive and negative aspects in a painting. Another great thought experiment is to imagine removing material (much as a sculptor might) to find your painting.

The Beauty of Non-Linear Thinking

I’ve used this term of non-linear thinking a few times in this post, it really is a term that resonates with me personally. It’s important to understand just what we might mean in discussing linear and non-linear thinking. A line is the shortest route between two points. But consider, linear thinking is not necessarily the shortest distance between two ideas. Consider an analogy:

Imagine a bird flying above a mountain highway, perhaps it makes sense to follow the highways course, good visibility, road kill ect… But, assuming the same destination, if the road hits a series of switch backs, the bird can ignore the roads course and take a straight line. It’s not restricted by the road. The road is a linear, sequential process. Step by rolling step. But if we think like a bird we are not bound by that sequential process. With greater perspective and mobility we can take shortcuts that a linear, sequential course would not allow. When were driving we of course don’t have a choice, but our thinking process is not so limited.

The Dark Side of Intuition

Setting aside my intuition cheer leading for a minute, there are some blind spots we might consider.

Intuition, once burned in is not always a one size fits all. If we spent years burning in rugby habits, these won’t all transfer over to playing football. Our intuitive footwork will be real good to us on a football field. Our intuitive ball handling will probably get us in trouble, perhaps even worse than if we didn’t have any rugby experience to begin with.

Josh Waitzkin had an interesting comment when asked about his consulting of elite individuals. ‘Most of that last 1% is about unlearning.’ His clients, highly trained experts in their field, had honed their intuitions to incredible degrees to reach 99%. But that last 1% was about unlearning. Things they’ve cultivated and burned in that they can perform intuitively, were great for the first 99%. But their intuitions needed some adjustments for that last little step to be the best of the best.

Another example. Looking at a huge series of dominoes, you see at the end a glass of water perched to tip over. You intuitively know this with out having to analyze each domino one at a time right down the line. Quick look and your spatial reasoning will see the projected outcome. On the other hand if you do a brute force systematic analyzation of each domino and halfway down the line see it split… one chain reaction turns into two? Clearly our intuition would of misled us, or only been half right at best. In this case, our intuition is based on our visual spatial senses. If there are factors outside our visual spatial view, then our intuition can be compromised.

Invest In Your Intuition

It’s not uncommon (more so in yesteryear) for martial artists to be credited with some mystical ability because of their preternatural movement. But whats the truth of it?

Intuition is a bottom up process, that is to say habits that we have burned in so deeply through practice, come back up automatically. We can invest in our intuition, that is to say train it up. Obviously some personality types are more sensitive to intuition, as Carl Jung is famous for elucidating. But we all have it.

Again, leaning on Josh Waitzkins book “The Art of Learning” what looks like magic to us in an exceptional martial artist, is actually years of training. As an onlooker we my see a move that appears to be 3 or 4 components. An expert may see 20 or more. We may see a preternatural movement but not realize the martial artist has spent years breaking the move down into minuscule components and then putting it back together.

Physical analogies are great as they are so easy for us to visualize, but even the more esoteric aspects of intuition can be trained. Intuition is a skill, the deeper we train it, the more it will give back.

Embrace the Deep Now

The Art of Creativity

Organic Abstract Art of Creativity

©deepnow.blog  The Art of Creativity

The Art of Creativity

Oh the allure of reaching into the imagination and pulling out something tangible, useful, and then making it real.

“One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions, those which came from the hypergeometric series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours. ~ Henri Poincaré ~

We want more of that in our lives. There’s powerful resonance there, just dreaming about it, let alone even doing it. So how can we get more?

Its easy to see why chasing creativity is such a concern in this 21st century. Feels good, rewarding and useful to others. Of course (cue in sound of distant shoe falling), it is elusive and almost never there when its made the goal for it’s own right. But we can find it.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”. ~ Henry David Thoreau ~

You can’t force a plant to grow, but you can plant seeds. You can cultivate the soil. Then…growth.

So that’s what this blogs all about, how to tease out those little details and routines to cultivate a creative life of wonders. My take on this process is that creativity is one piece in a three piece puzzle of this ultimate human experience, the other two being mastery and flow. But now, creativity, what is it?

What is Creativity

I can think of no other word that has had as an organic, elusive definition. Current favorite among thought leaders: An idea that is novel, good, and useful. Some others:

  • Recombination of novel information and older existing ideas.
  • Pattern recognition and matching.
  • Find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression.
  • Bringing into existence something new to the individual.
  • Thinking outside the box.

My personal definition is: the bridge between the imagination and the real. Which is really inspired by this statement by Ed Catmull about creativity: “there is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.”

Why? Creativity in Action

Richard Feynman, perhaps one of the most unarguable manifestations of creative genius, after Einstein, in recent years is a great example. If your unfamiliar with him please check him out. Aside from quick wiki read you might also check our Feynman’s own somewhat whimsical autobiography(from quantum physics to how to pick up girls in a bar) or James Gleick’s quite thorough biography (which I leaned on heavily for the following story).

At a time when Feynman was at the top of his game as a scientist and professor Caltech asked him to teach introductory physics course. Something usually handled by Assistant Proffesor’s and Graduate students. Feynman, far from seeing this as beneath him, commenced a one year odyssey which was so successful that his audience was as much faculty and graduate students as it was first year freshman. Note Feynman’s perspective in tackling this, as Gleick writes:

He found that he was working harder than at any time since the atomic bomb project. Teaching was only one of his goals. He realized also that he wished to organize his whole embracing knowledge of physics, to turn it end over end until he could find all the interconnections that were usually, he believed, left as loose ends.

Genius The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick pg 359

At the end of the year Caltech, and other professors for that matter, begged him to do the same thing for physics year two. Stick with the same freshman right on into their sophomore year. The results are the famous Feynman Lectures. The complete reenvisioning of the world of physics through the unique and dynamic viewpoint of Feynman.

To really see why I’ve added this example, check out the popularity of Feynman’s lectures on Amazon and consider: this is a college textbook written (compiled) over 50 years ago! Not in a dusty garage box or in the attic but still selling…

Now another example, closer to home for us visual creatives. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti. I won’t bore you with this well know renaissance artist introduction but cut straight to the story I love to share with people.

The year is 1501 and 26 year old Michelangelo is just returning home to Florence from some years in Rome where he received some small fame for a magnificent statue, the Pieta. But that fame didn’t necessarily transfer to Florence.

The powers that be were finally trying to have a huge 17 foot tall block of marble, that’d been laying around for 25 years, commissioned for sculpting and placement. But Michelangelo had to compete for it. According to Irving Stones Biographical novel “The Agony and the Ecstasy” the other competitors wanted to cut the thing in two. You see someone had already started carving on it, and left this big gouge in the middle. Only Michelangelo, who grew up staring at and dreaming what he could do with this block, saw the solution to leaving it whole. By ingeniously rotating the posture and moving the hips and legs, he solved the problem of the hole. So we have the giant statue of “David”. One of the most famous statues every sculpted.

I chose these two examples because what these men weren’t. The weren’t motivated by extrinsic forces. Glory, money, accolades, power… No doubt they were not completely immune to such influences but what was their driving force?

Feynman spent hours and hours of studying ants that intruded in his cupboard. He extensively and patiently studied their tracking and marking of their environment. How they communicated and passed on information. What systems they used and how he could manipulate those systems. In the end he learned an incredible amount about ants, trained the ants to leave his cupboard alone, and never had to squish one. He was insatiably curious and completely absorbed in his various studies. Intrinsically motivated.

Michelangelo’s father was middle class with Bourgeois ancestry and aspirations. An artist was the same as a laborer in those days. Michelangelo had a long uphill battle to pursue a life as an artist. But he had to make things. He was impelled from within to make things. He was proud having breast feed from a wet nurse who was a marble cutters wife, raised on marble dust milk! His connection to the marble was more powerful than any societal prejudices could dim.

It’s interesting that in studying creativity, they have found that those who state they’re more creative under a deadline, score lower on creativity tests. Creativity is such an inside out process. Too bad for corporate America, that this makes creativity very difficult to commodifiy. But great for us as nurturing the inside, planting the seeds and tilling the soil, makes a creative life so rich and enjoyable.

These are just a few introductory thoughts and be assured we’ll be digging in the details in some posts to come.

Bite down on the Deep Now