Methodically Uneven

Definition of intuition and creativity

Understanding how intuition works allows us to acknowledge its presence inside us without disturbing it, or, at least, to compromise with it in case we fear it could lead us through eerie, too strange lands.
Firstable, we are going to try to understand the precise meaning of “intuition”.
Intuition is a function of the mind which operates like a radar, unconsciously (that is, under the consciousness threshold) treating hundreds of data, not only cognitive but mainly sensory and perceptual data, processing and assembling them in order to identify interpretative frameworks useful for adaptation (need) or knowledge (curiosity).

It is a kind of intelligence which stands out especially in case of new, complex situations but it is not basically different from that one which operates in a more conscious way, by setting clearly the investigation field, by testing the pros and cons, working out ideas, discarding incorrect hypotheses in order to solve problems. Only, such a process is carried on unconsciously, as if it could be performed at a conscious level, the high complexity of the function used at the same time by the mind would disturb the process itself. However, a personality can usually describe – when asked for – the main points of the mental processes which led it toward a specific direction intuitively.

Intuitive intelligence takes part also in all those adaptive behaviors (for instance, driving a car) which are best performed whenever the numerous motor, sensory and perceptual activities – employed at the same time – remain under the conscious attention threshold, as the logic, formal thinking used in such a context would immediately cause a slowing down or even stop of the behavior itself.

Therefore, the first definition of intuition refers to the skill that allows us to “identify, learn and use unconsciously complex informational patterns which an accurate conscious analysis cannot, in the best conditions, even notice, much less record and remember”. (1)

Such kind of intelligence, much more resistant to possible stressors than formal logic, if not disturbed allows a personality to draw from the tangled mass of environmental data, identifying inside concrete experience imperceptible frameworks, maps or models and to employ them to develop more effective patterns of action. Therefore, intuition often operates at a very concrete, sensory and perceptual level, supporting adaptation through searching the best-fitting answer, decreasing uncertainty and chaos, identifying useful behavioral patterns to be employed as a guide to future actions.

Most of the learning processes we are constantly immersed in is not formal but intuitive: such a “know how” is carried on by developing both cognitive and practical skills in a mostly unconscious way as for the logic processing performed, because of the complexity and high speed of the reality analysis processes involved. “Know how” refers just to the huge pool of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, inextricably blended together as a result of the intelligent adaptive experience. And such a skill lasts for a whole lifetime.
Mental processes belonging to the intuitive intelligence movement, as said above, are not substantially different from the skills usually associated with intelligence, such as observation and definition of the environment, that is, observation of problems, dangers, contradictions but also of available opportunities, trying to find out better solutions.

However, another kind of intuition, tightly related to creative processes, is carried out in a completely different way. Quoting a very brief and clear definition by Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize winner for Medicine in 1986, we can define it as a strange skill by which “Somebody thinks it over something for a long time … then, suddenly, in a flash, the problem becomes clear and the answer can be seen” (2).

During such a process, the conscious and well-focused intelligence interacts with the capacity to tolerate all the contradiction present in the consciousness field, without forcing a precocious solution. Such a capacity – tolerating stress due to uncertainty – should be, somehow, cultivated: about it, we can remember the words of Konrad Lorenz, Nobel prize for Medicine in 1973: “This system which can understand through intuition… operates in a very enigmatic way, because somehow it keeps all facts afloat waiting for them to fit perfectly in the right place, like the pieces in a puzzle. And by making a pressure… no result. A kind of enigmatic pressure has to be applied, then sty still and, suddenly ,in a click ! Here the solution comes.” (3)

Those who live in such a creative process are surprised above all by the beauty, simplicity and strength of an idea or image received, by means of a process which, at this stage, is completely involuntary and is, on the contrary, just a kind of “reception” (4).

Substantially, the creative process requires two stages to take place:

  • only the first stage is voluntary, as it starts from a situation perceived as problematic, unintelligible, contradictory and for this reason the mind analyses in depth all the possible contradictions, focusing in detail any smallest facet of the problem;
  • after incubating (dissecting, analysing) the problem for long enough, it becomes clear that this is the threshold of the rational process belonging to the well-known logical mind and some “surrendering” must take place, as the conscious mind admitted already its useless try to give order to a situation (problem) as it appears and definitely allows the problem to exist (by accepting its chaos, its limit).

At this point, the problem unveils through a novel view. Something new really entered the knowledge of the laws that rule the world.

Attestations of similar, almost mystic, experiences come not only from the artistic world – we almost expect to do it – but quite surprisingly from the scientists and are so numerous to be impressive because perfectly consistent: “A fertile and resolving image is anticipated by an intense brain work: the gravitation theory could be born just after the metaphorical apple fall over a ready mind and such a process can flow into a conscious insight only after coming to a threshold level ” . (5) In this description of the creative process both the nature and the process an intuition or insight can take place through still remain unpredictable, as do the span of apparent mental inactivity and unconscious processing, both stages necessary before the birth of a new theory or work of art.

Therefore, intuition is only a first step to enter creativity. Intuition is a mental function which grasps the meaning of problems, in a sense, it identifies immediately main data and contradictory data in the environment, it finds out the most useful track in the huge mass of perceptional and sensory data present in the problematic field we are dealing with, such as managing in the traffic or solve a mathematical equation.

However, carrying out a creative process requires an incubation and pure contemplation time, until something totally unexpected takes place and the problem unveils.

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