In class, we discussed how al-Farabi proposes seven distinct types of sources of knowledge. Among these are testimony, empiricism, rationality, scripture, consensus, and imitation. These philosophers, wouldn’t, however, see intuition as a source of knowledge. In the following paragraphs I want to discuss how intuition actually is a source of knowledge, from a psychological (and neurological) aspect. Even though it may sound like a mystical nonsense, the intuitive process is explained scientifically –how the gut feeling functions, the bad feelings one may have when one feels like something bad is going to happen. To discuss these I will talk about how complex our brain is and how it processes data we’re not aware receiving.
Intuition can be defined as non-conscious thinking; or, our brain processing information we’re not aware it received and producing a signal, based on our past experiences. Our brains are sophisticated enough to process millions of bits of data of our surroundings, in a single moment. When we’re having a conversation for instance, or listening to a lecture, and attending to these consciously so, we also receive other data, like humidity in the air, construction noises from outside, smells, facial expressions and body language of the person in front of us, the psychological meaning these resemble, and so on. As receiving all these data, our brain also draws conclusions from them. And when necessary, gives us messages through gut feelings. It signals us not to ask about something for example, or makes us feel uncomfortable about giving a certain decision. These should be listened to.
Abdominal pain is often linked to psychological reasons. There is a direct neural connection between our gut and our brain. Our intestines have millions of neuron cells. Many of the chemicals (neurotransmitters) are produced in the guts as well. Take serotonin for example –the hormone of happiness. The reason why we feel butterflies in our stomach when we see our beloved, is because of the release of happiness hormone in this area.
I believe intuition is stronger in children than it is in adults; and stronger in animals than in humans. Because as adults, we have already attained verbal ability, we can form sentences, hence, thoughts. What we think, our rationality, intervenes with our intuition. Whereas, in babies, since they do not have language ability and can’t rationalize, they have to know and act through their intuition/senses.
I think it’d be reasonable to see intuition as just another type of intelligence. Among the various types of intelligences are musical intelligence, social intelligence, verbal, visual, auditory, 3-dimensional, and so on. This would be just one of them. Our intuition is way better during infancy, and as we grow up, rationality comes in the way, and we lose contact with our insight. And because women usually have stronger intuitive intelligence than men do, I would argue that intuitive ability is parallel with empathetic ability, and that an introverted person has a stronger intuition than an extraverted one, since the former is more likely to be better at introspection and to listen to herself.
Just as rational thinking requires practice to master, so does intuition. The more we pay attention to those feelings, the better we learn how to interpret them in particular situations. I don't claim that intuitive knowledge is always correct, it may mislead us. We may not be able to interpret it correctly, or the intuition itself might direct us in the wrong direction –as rationality, testimony, even consensus from time to time might. What’s important is to be aware of our gut feelings, and to learn to trust them –by bearing in mind that there may be other factors like physiological issues. By time, we will be able to distinguish between them and be able to interpret our feelings correctly and decide our actions in a rational way. Intuition has been one of my best sources of knowledge, and it would not make sense to not to listen to my brain when it’s trying to say something based on information it received and interpreted through past experience.