Monday, September 08, 2008

Sources of insight

Intuition (from perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
5.Philosophy. immediate cognition of an object not inferred or determined by a previous cognition of the same object.

Instinct (from inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.
2.a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.
3.a natural aptitude or gift: an instinct for making money.
4.natural intuitive power.

Here I am, at my first day as a day fellow at Edenfred, and I am thinking about the conversations I had over the weekend, teaching Miksang at the Chicago Shambhala Center, as well as with birdfarm and her partner. Ever since Acharya Jeremy Hayward came to visit and give his program entitled Experience, Consciousness and Death, I have been thinking about what it means, or could mean, that (according to the research of many cognitive psychologists and its implications) we only actually consciously deal with 4 out of 1 million parts of visual data which enter our minds at any given moment. That's a really small number, and that weekend we talked about how we must then construct a lot of story with so little to go on.

But one question that has been nagging me is: "What happens with the other parts? That's a lot of bits/bytes of information! Do we store those? Do they serve us? Is this what we mean by 90% of our brain "not getting used"?"

There are so many possible thoughts and discussions to come out of this, but the one we had at dinner on Saturday night rotated around the idea that information comes in "under the radar" so to speak and gets stored for when we need it, when we least expect it. birdfarm and partner had great examples to share - the best being a fireman who was out in a forest fire and "without thinking," or from instinct/intuition, did what was needed and "right" in the situation to save himself (the best he could do) and all the other 27 firemen died. In a matter of seconds, perceptual information he had previously taken in somehow served him back without being consciously aware he had either "learned" how to save himself or being aware it was going back out. Amazing. And we talk about this in Shambhala all the time - how you can actually "do the right thing" if you just relax, let your attention do its work, trust that it is happening without your ego or conscious mind in gear.

That was great - a sort of scientific/cognitive psychology "explanation" for something folks had only explained to me in a bit of a "woo woo" way before. But then I became curious - what had I thought before when folks said "intuition" or "instinct"? Where did I learn those come from, if this new idea was so surprising to me? Instinct has always connotated to me that something is unlearned, genetic, so deeply and animal-y ingrained that we are totally unaware of it, but also the implication, for me, is that it's not an exchange with the outside world, rather, a response. Intuition on the other had is more morphous - does it mean an exhange? Hadn't thought so, but it makes sense to think of it now that way. Not all from the self, but rather a meeting of the true self, not ego self, non-conscious self, and the "messages" or direct, clear, unconceptual perceptions of the world. The term "gut feeling" pulls attention from the mind (as we usually think of it) down into the body. Below. Deep inside. Under the radar.

I feel as if I am saying nothing new, but the difference here is that perceptual, sub-conscious exchange. That's what I hadn't really realized before could be - likely was/is happening. an exchange, whereby lesser used back portions of our brains are using information to help us to live, survive and also do what we tend to think of as "higher brain/eg frontal lobe" functions. Not just get out of a forest fire, but write a novel, too. The mystery comes from the world, in other words, as much as from ourselves. Wow.

Now off to tap into some of that, hopefully. A rainy day, perfect for writing, as my Day Fellow buddy Bridget calls it. We'll see!


  1. i've definitely learned in recent years that a lot of my 'work' on anything takes place when i'm not doing it.

    for example, if i start a lesson plan, set firmly in mind what i want to accomplish and leave open the question of how, then if i wander off for a few days, the ideas develop of their own accord.

    many many people have noted this phenomenon. the same article i was telling you about (not the book) - the one that talked about intuition (defined there as a sort of non-analytical problem-solving capacity) being possible only while relaxed - gave many examples of how this works.

    it's just interesting that we are taught that 'work' is only what we do while seated at a desk (for that type of work anyway). but really our brains are working away all the time...

    not the same thing as an excuse to be lazy. but a different way to use the mind... set the intention, and allow it to work on its own.

    in other words, we don't need to micromanage our minds. they're better at what they do, than we are. ;)

  2. True that last comment for sure! I am reading Deep Survival finally and oh yes, although I am not as interested in the male excitement stuff, I am very intrigued by what he says about the brain. You called it! Thanks for the loan!