Intuition and Intellect

The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not of.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

             The following traditional story speaks to the distinction between intuition and the intellect. As God and Satan were walking down the street one day, God bent down and picked up something. He gazed at it as it glowed radiantly in his hand. Satan was curious and asked, “What’s that?” “This,” answered God, “is Truth.” “Here,” replied Satan as he reached for it, “Let me have that—I’ll organize it for you.” And thus began what we experience today as the human condition. Intuition, represented by God, has come to be dominated by the intellect resulting in the human narrative we call P-B. In P-A, the intellect (Satan) is subservient to intuition and regains his status as a “good angel” once again, no longer in rebellion.

The Greeks acknowledged two kinds of knowledge. First, the kinds of knowledge acquired with the categories of thinking found in Bloom’s taxonomy with the three higher level thinking skills being analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The second type of knowledge is gnosis or intuitive knowledge. Gnosis means direct knowledge through sense experience, insights and instinct.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.
Kahlil  Gibran


The intellect is problematic in that it is designed to function within the narrative of P-B and therefore is limited in its ability to support our search for profound insights into a reality beyond the illusion that dominates human consciousness. To illustrate what we mean let’s continue with our examination of reality as interpreted by a sampling of philosophers, sociologists and novelists. Instead of attributing the cause of an increasingly dysfunctional society to a long-standing toxic worldview (P-B), these writers and theorists blame specific elements within the narrative. In other words, from the perspective of P-B they are unable, with their intellects alone, to see the bigger picture or to have the requisite experience of P-A necessary to understand and “feel” the nature of reality.

Open mouth, already big mistake.
Zen saying

Talking, is an expression of our thinking, which is by definition, a reaction, and one of the causes of our unsustainable paradigm. Henry David Thoreau, who had his intuitive moments at Walden Pond, understood this connection. “Does not each thought become a vulture to gnaw your vitals?”  Charles Darwin also understood the need to have some kind of defense against chaotic random thought, the so-called “monkey mind.”  “The highest possible stage of moral culture is when we recognize we ought to control our thoughts.”

The false self values knowledge for its own sake and doesn’t attempt to assess the deeper meaning and implication of that knowledge. Without the prerequisite wisdom of the intuitive “higher self,” knowledge is reduced to the limited domain of science, the world of the senses. Zen Buddhism sees an even deeper danger of relying on knowledge. “Zen treats all thoughts as delusions, as being more or less tangential to reality. They can’t be repaired or shored up, though most press releases and religious doctrines are an attempt to do just that. This means that most religions lead to an inner conflict between doctrines and our sense of truth. Zen offers freedom by going the other way, into the midst of paradox and doubt.”  The intuition is comfortable with this approach, it knows how to juggle paradox and doubt and delights in the joy of an alternative reality.

So what part should the intellect play in P-A? Seth, as usual, has his opinion. “There is no battle between the intuitive self and the conscious mind. There only seems to be when the individual refuses to face all the information that is available in his conscious mind. Sometimes it seems easier to avoid the frequent readjustments in behavior that self-examination requires. In such cases an individual collects many secondhand beliefs. Some contradict each other; the signals given to the body and to the inner self are not smoothly flowing or clear-cut, but a muddied jumble of counter-directing. [This is because the context is one of P-B, not P-A in which the relationship between the intellect and intuition would be clear.] These will immediately set off alarms of various natures. The body will not function properly, or the overall emotional environment will suffer. Such reactions are actually excellent precautions, meant to be taken as a sign that change is needed.”

Change, for most of us is not our favorite thing to contemplate let alone do. Our conditioning, within the P-B narrative, has repressed our awareness of the existence of our intuitive function. Seth continues: “What has happened, however, is that man has taught it [the conscious mind] to accept [only] data coming from the outside world, and to set up barriers against inner knowledge.”

“The normal intellect oriented so precisely by beliefs to the inevitability of a one-focused kind of perception, is limited. The brain (and the entire physical system) is meant to insure your bodily survival and to follow your conscious beliefs about reality.”

The psychologist, C. G. Jung, was distressed when he observed the human intellect in operation in P-B. This is his description of “head talk” or intellectual conversation. “Anyone who still had enough sense of humor to listen objectively to the ensuing dialogue would be staggered by the vast number of commonplaces, misapplied truisms, clichés from newspapers and novels, shop-soiled platitudes of every description interspersed with vulgar abuse and brain-splitting lack of logic. It is a dialogue which, irrespective of its participants, is repeated millions and millions of times in all the languages of the world and always remains essentially the same.”  Needless to say, he was not overhearing a conversation about Simple Reality.

Let’s continue with Jung’s observations. He has given this a lot of thought. “The main trouble with the intellect, which has done great damage to Western civilization, is that it escaped man’s control and became his obsession, ceasing to be a tool to shape man’s world.”

Also in the context of psychology, we have a key observation by David Hawkins. “As Reality stands forth in its stunning self-evidence and infinite peace, it appears that the block to Realization was the mind itself, which is not different from the ego; they are one and the same.”

Now let’s blend our psychologist’s observations into philosopher Ken Wilber’s thinking and see what he comes up with. “In these reductionistic accounts, rationality is the great and final omega point of individual and collective development, the high-water mark of all evolution. No deeper or wider or higher context [P-A] is thought to exist. Thus life is to be lived either rationally, or neurotically (Freud’s concept of neurosis is basically anything that derails the emergence of rational perception—true enough as far as it goes, which is just not all that far). Since no higher context is thought to be real, or to actually exist, then whenever any genuinely transrational occasion occurs, it is immediately explained as a regression to preoperational structures (since they are the only nonrational structures allowed, and thus the only ones to accept an explanatory hypothesis). The superconscious is reduced to the subconscious, the transpersonal is collapsed to the prepersonal, the emergence of the higher is reinterpreted as an eruption from the lower. All breathe a sigh of relief, and the rational worldspace is not fundamentally shaken (by ‘the black tide of the mud of occultism!’ as Freud so quaintly explained to Jung).”

I told you this would be fun. Wilber concludes with an indictment of the intellect that is at least as damning as that of Jung. “The permanent sign of enlightenment is domination over an objectified external nature and a repressed internal nature. Reason itself destroys the humanity it first made possible.”  Talk about irony!

The following story illustrates the dangerous limitation involved with relying on the intellect, especially focusing on the details of analytical thinking. During the French Revolution a doctor, lawyer and an engineer had been sentenced to the guillotine. The executioner told the doctor after he climbed the scaffold that he had the choice of facing the blade so that he could see it fall should he choose to or to place his head on the block facing away. He chose to face the blade. Releasing the blade, the executioner was shocked when it came to an abrupt stop only three inches from the doctor’s neck. Taking that to be divine intervention the executioner told the doctor that he had escaped death and was free to go. The same thing happened to the lawyer and he was deemed to have received divine forgiveness. The engineer chose to face the blade as well and upon looking up toward the blade said to the executioner, “Look up there, I think that I see the problem.”

Intellect – History

Mythology tells us that human dependence on the intellect began long ago. “The ‘trap of mind’ is exemplified by the myth of Perseus slaying the Medusa. Medusa is depicted with a head from which snakes grow like hair (the powers of mind). Her effect on people is to turn them to stone (the mind ‘objectifies,’ i.e., makes inert). To deal with this difficulty and avoid being himself turned to stone, Perseus looks at her in a mirror, itself a symbol of mind (‘Mind is the slayer of the real; only the mind can slay the slayer,’ as the teaching of Zen put it).”

Why has knowledge based on the Judeo-Christian myth been so self-destructive for humanity? The knowledge-based interpretation of myth rather than intuition-based interpretation has split humankind off from nature and one another—an insidious illusion. Jung would have agreed. “[In] Genesis 2:17, eating of the tree of knowledge is represented as a deadly sin. The man who usurped the new knowledge suffers, however, a transformation or enlargement of consciousness which no longer resembles that of his fellow man. He has raised himself above the human level of his age. (‘Ye shall become like unto God’) but in so doing has alienated himself from humanity. The pain of this loneliness is the vengeance of the gods, for never again can he return to mankind. He is, as the myth says, chained to the lonely cliffs of the Caucasus, forsaken of God and man.”

“His [Jung’s] work established also that there was a primitive self even, or perhaps above all, in civilized European man which had increasingly been denied a legitimate participation in his life. Because of this denial and the rejection of natural feeling values which inevitably followed, civilized man had become less and less civilized in the classical sense and more and more of an ‘intellectual barbarian’ or ‘technological savage.’”

Russell Targ and J. J. Hurtak in their book, The End of Suffering, trace our overdependence on the intellect to the philosopher Aristotle. “The authors associate binary thinking with the Aristotelian logic that has dominated Western thought. According to Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle, a statement is either true or false (either A or not A). Describing this either/or system as ‘the law of separation,’ the authors maintain that dualistic logic is too limited and leads to restrictive understanding of self-identity. We define the self too narrowly and ignore both our expansive consciousness and the many ways we are interconnected with all-that-exists. They write ‘Since Aristotelian logic focuses mainly on externalized observation of ‘facts’ and ‘figures,’ when this system is applied to the individual, a split takes place between the ‘I’ and the ‘other.’ This self-other division leads to many forms of divisiveness: ‘Two-valued logic gives rise to lack of empathy and fear of the other, whether it manifests as a Christian Crusade, an Islamic Jihad, or plain old-fashioned Western imperialism with its extermination of indigenous people.’”  This is a great explanation of how the Oneness of P-A was shattered or split into illusionary pieces and how the other came into existence.

The intellect is inadequate when we use it to try to analyze socio-political problems within the context of P-B. We can use Karl Marx whose intellect led him to believe that human suffering was caused by modern capitalism’s materialism. We know that he is speaking of the security energy center of the false self which expressed itself in all of humanity long before the advent of modern capitalism. Communism as a solution to human suffering was doomed from the beginning since Marx’s intellect couldn’t come up with a profound solution—he didn’t even understand the problem to begin with.

Let’s continue looking at the intellect through the lens of history using the writing of sociologist David Riesman, who in his book The Lonely Crowd, sees “that the isolated, lonely, alienated character type is characteristic not only of neurotic patients but of people as a whole in our society and that the trends in that direction have been increasing over the past couple of decades. He makes the significant point that these people have on a technical [intellectual] communication with their world; his ‘outer directed’ persons (the type characteristic of our day [1950’s and 60’s]) relate to everything from its technical, external side.”

Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, written decades ago has a timeless validity to it in the sense that it is not speaking of a psycho-social phenomena of the 1950’s, but of the existential condition inherent in P-B that simply intensifies over time. Psychotherapist Rollo May, writing in 1983, makes observations similar to Riesman’s. “[The] schizoid type—that is to say, problems of persons who are detached, unrelated, lacking in affect, tending toward depersonalization, and covering up their problems by means of intellectualization and technical formulations.”  Modern humanity has long used the intellect as a refuge from existential suffering. It has never worked and never will.

Riesman was correct in surmising that humanity suffers through relating or identifying with the world of form but it is not only the form of the modern “technical” world but all form. Form, whether physical or mental, lacks substantial reality and understanding and identifying with these illusions as reality leads to craving and aversion which are the real causes of human suffering. Reisman’s ideas are passe’ now and have been replaced by the next round of intellectual explanations for self-destructive human behavior. The intellect-driven models come and go as impermanent as form itself.

Before Reisman, the novelists Kafka (The Castle) and Camus (The Stranger) gave “a vivid and gripping picture of a man who is a stranger in his world, a stranger to other people whom he seeks or pretends to love; he moves about in a state of homelessness, vagueness, and haze as though he had no direct sense connection with his world but were in a foreign country where he does not know the language and has no hope of learning it but is always doomed to wander in quiet despair, incommunicado, homeless, and a stranger.”  These writers depict the human condition in an agonizingly accurate way. Why? Because they, as artists, have transcended a strictly intellectual understanding and they write, at least in part, with the “feeling” of the “heart” or internal, intuitive wisdom.


It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The irony in the following paragraph is that “intellectual” or “thinking” strategies and science are being used to verify “intuitional” wisdom. Intuition is beyond and superior to intellectualizing and certainly beyond concepts, theories, models and indeed words themselves. Marc Barasch is our “thinker.” “People studying neurocardiology, a new field, are discovering that the heart has a mind of its own. It has a brain-like grouping of neurons, and secretes oxytocin, the bonding chemical. Very often it seems there are certain perceptions that are first processed by the heart, not by the brain. So the knowledge that older cultures had—that the heart was at the center of the human being and not necessarily the brain—has some validity in science.”

One of those “older cultures” was the Bushmen of the Kalahari described by Laura Sewell in her article entitled “Seeing Where We Are.” Notice how the Bushmen are able to use both their intellects and intuition. “By looking at tracks, he knows if an animal is hungry, if she has just eaten, if she is newly pregnant. I am told that he can tell from a single set of tracks if there has been a miscarriage, if she is troubled or uncertain, if she is about to run or change direction. Kalahari Bushmen know when a visitor is arriving, still several miles away, by feeling a change in their hearts. In the realm of knowing one’s place, Charles, the Tanzanian with whom I did research never used a compass and we were never lost.”

Art can reveal whether an artist is creating in the present moment or is distracted by the intellect and thus producing an inferior work of art. “Chinese theorists refer to the ‘heart prints’ and ‘mind prints’ of the calligrapher, reflecting his or her state of mind.”

Deepak Chopra often celebrates in his writing and teaching the ability of intuition to connect to the Implicate Order, the source of all of creation. “The heart is intuitive; it’s holistic, it’s contextual, it’s relational. It doesn’t have a win-lose orientation. It taps into the cosmic computer—the field of pure potentiality, pure knowledge, and infinite organizing power—and takes everything into account.”

In 40 years as an artist Rembrandt created 650 paintings, 280 etchings and 1200 drawings, a stunning example of the “flow” of the creative process. It is also an example of a person who was “present” to the creative process. Not unremarkably, he was also aware of the importance of understanding the distinction between the intellect and intuition in creating beauty. He worked and taught “not from knowledge of theories [the intellect] but from a visual experience of life [intuition].”

The British poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his elegy, In Memoriam, emphasized the importance of distinguishing intuition from the intellect.

O’erlook’ist the tumult from afar,
And smilest, knowing all is well.

“[The] difference between knowledge and wisdom; with wisdom man does not fear death since wisdom is ‘of the soul,’ while knowledge must learn to submit to wisdom and ‘know her place.’”

It is intuition that interfaces directly with the source of all of unfolding creation, which can be called the Implicate Order. It was Jacob Bohm who defined the Implicate Order and it is here further described by New Thought theorist Judge Thomas Troward who describes how it is used by our intuition. “Its province is, as it were, to capture ideas from the infinite and present them to the mind to be dealt with at its discretion.”

Jung has made several key observations that help flesh out our definition of intuition.

  • “[One] of the greatest errors of our civilization, that is, the superstitious belief in verbal statements, the boundless overestimation of instruction by means of words and methods … the interior life is so painfully wanting in our civilization.”
  • “The unconscious mind of man sees correctly even when conscious reason is blind and impotent.”
  • “Intuition is defined as perception via the unconscious.”
  • “The primary function of intuition, however, is to transmit images, or perceptions, of relations between things, which could not be transmitted by other functions.”

Intuition is closely associated with what we call “feeling” which is part of the related pair Feeling and Emotion. Jung recognized the importance of feeling. “But their numinosity [intuition or feeling] is and remains a fact, and represents the value of an archetypal event, because thinking and feeling are so diametrically opposed that thinking almost automatically throws out feeling values and vice versa. Psychology is often accused of not being scientific on this account; but its critics fail to understand the scientific and practical necessity of giving due consideration to feeling.”

Leave it to the great mystical poet, Rumi, to say it succinctly: “The intellect says: ‘The six directions are limits: there is no way out.’ Love says: ‘There is a way: I have traveled it thousands of times.’”

Representing the New Thought approach to truth we have Judge Thomas Troward. “The best guide is the knowledge that comes of personal experience which gradually leads to the acquisition of a sort of inward sense of touch that enables us to distinguish the true from the false, and which appears to grow the sincere desire for truth and with the recognition of the spirit as its source. [In] the majority of instances it will be found that the argument of the objective mind, however correct on the facts objectively known, was deficient from ignorance of facts which could not be objectively known at the time but which were known to the intuitive faculty.”

What does the East say about intuition and intellect? “Chinese philosophy on the other hand, has always emphasized the complementary nature of the intuitive and the rational and has represented them by the archetypal pair yin and yang which form the basis of Chinese thought. Accordingly, two complementary philosophical traditions—Taoism and Confucianism—have developed in ancient China to deal with the two kinds of knowledge.”  Joseph Campbell describes the Tao. “[The] Tao, the Way of nature and the universe, which is the way of one’s heart.”

Intuition – History

Did the ancient Greeks see the distinction between intuition and intellect? “Pure knowledge, the Pythagoreans argued was the purification (catharsis) of the soul. This meant rising above the data of the human senses.”  They at least had an inkling of the two sources of human experience.

What did Jesus have to say on our subject? First, from A Course in Miracles. “Right-mindedness listens to the Holy Spirit [intuition], forgives the world, and through Christ’s vision sees the real world [P-A] in its place. Wrong-mindedness listens to the ego and makes illusions [P-B]; perceiving sin and justifying anger, and seeing guilt, disease and death as real.”

Jung’s explanation of Jesus’ role vis-à-vis our objective is very interesting. “Jesus first appears as a Jewish reformer and prophet of an exclusively good God. In so doing he saves the threatened religious continuity, and in this respect he does in fact prove himself a savior. He preserves mankind from loss of communion with God (P-A) and from getting lost in mere consciousness and rationality (P-B). That would have brought something like a dissociation between consciousness and the unconscious, an unnatural and even pathological condition, a ‘loss of soul.’”  He would have “preserved mankind,” that is, if mankind had listened to him.

Rollo May continues describing the role of Jesus. “For the essential point in Jesus’ ethics was his shifting the emphasis from the external rules of the Ten Commandments [intellect] to inward motives [intuition]. The wholeness of the man whose external actions are at one with his inner motives is what is meant by the expression in the beatitudes, the ‘pure in heart.’”

Let’s take another look at the “older cultures” way of thinking compared to modern rationalism. Commenting about the book Tribal Epistemologies by E. Richard Sorenson, Christian DeQuincy says: “Sorenson distinguished between two very different forms of consciousness: ‘pre-conquest,’ characteristic of the minds of indigenous peoples, and ‘post-conquest,’ typified by modern rationalism. ‘Conquest,’ refers to what happened to indigenous consciousness and ways of life when Spanish conquistadors invaded the New World. In other words, the entire thrust and motivation of this form of consciousness [pre-conquest] is to optimize feelings of well-being in the community. What is ‘real’ or ‘right’ (we might call it ‘true’) is what feels good [intuition]. In such cultures, the ‘right’ or the ‘true’ is a question of value, not a correspondence between some pattern of abstract concepts and empirical fact [intellect].

“But what I learned next shook me to my core. Given the different dynamics and intrinsic motivations underlying both forms of consciousness, when post-conquest rationalism meets pre-conquest feeling the result is outright suppression and conquest of feeling by reason—inevitably. Feeling feels invalidated. Wisdom is blocked by ‘truth.’

“Before the ‘invasion,’ the Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribe lived with a ‘heart-felt rapprochement based on integrated trust’—a sensual ‘intuitive rapport’ among the people. Their communication was spontaneous, open, and honest. For them, ‘truth-talk’ was ‘affect-talk’ because it worked only when ‘personal feelings were above board and accurately expressed, which required transparency in aspiration, interests, and desires. What mattered was the magnitude of collective joy produced.

“The paradox or irony of my situation did not escape me. I was there to champion the primacy of relationship consciousness—implying a mutuality of shared feeling—yet the contrast between my intellectual analysis of inter-subjectivity and my lack of experienced relational consciousness was stark. Not only in my relationships with others, but within myself. I had been using reason to the virtual exclusion of any real depth of feeling. My own professional life was a microcosm of the encounter between the modern rational mind and the traditional intuitive mind. I was accumulating philosophical knowledge about consciousness, but losing touch with the living roots of wisdom.”  Wow! What a great example of what has gone wrong in P-B over time.

Let’s now go to Taoism and the words of Lao Tsu.  “There can be no serious answers to questions about the meaning of life, for to ask about life is to stand back from life and pretend one is not in it. Questions at best are a form of play, and may be enjoyed as such. They are best answered by ‘players,’ by the artists and poets among us.”

What is Life?
The mountain pears are tiny but ripe.
What is a Man?
A Tartar flute plays by the city gate.
What is Death?
A single wild goose climbs into the void.

“There are no right answers, only light ones, given and taken lightly by those who know that they play. The ‘Enlightened’ man is not other than the fool. What makes a man enlightened is the realization that he is a fool. ‘My mind is that of a fool,’ said Lao Tsu. ‘How empty it is.’ 

Nirvana literally means ‘the extinction of all concepts.’
Thich Nhat Hanh

Eckhart Tolle describes the paradigm shift involved with choosing a new narrative and using a process like The Point of Power Practice to reduce reactive behavior and increase our ability to respond. “Awakening is a shift in consciousness in which thinking and awareness separate. For most people it is not an event but a process they undergo. Even those rare beings who experience a sudden, dramatic, and seemingly irreversible awakening will still go through a process in which the new state of consciousness gradually flows into and transforms everything they do and so becomes integrated into their lives. Awareness takes over from thinking. Instead of being in charge of your life, thinking becomes the greater servant of awareness.”

The intellect has played its role in blocking us from a realization of Oneness. It has created a radical separation involving an alienation of the individual from the human world by the illusion of the other and an estrangement from the natural world. “Broadly speaking, the symptoms of isolation and alienation reflect the state of a person whose relation to the world has become broken. Some psychotherapists have pointed out that more and more patients exhibit schizoid features and that the ‘typical’ kind of psychic problem in our day is not hysteria, as it was in Freud’s time, but the schizoid type—that is to say, problems of persons who are detached, unrelated, lacking in affect, tending toward depersonalization, and covering up their problems by means of intellectualization and technical formations.”   This is Rollo May’s description of humanity in P-B today and helps explain why our future in that story is unsustainable.

The intellect masticates the emotional content of life until all the flavor and juice are squeezed out of it and what was a rich and tasty morsel is now only a dry, bland, meaningless and indigestible fiber. The intellect would make a soup of a thousand ingredients and end up with an inedible stew. Intuition thrives on simple nourishment but prepares a meal with a thousand subtle delights to thrill the palette. The intellect is tied to recipes and the intuition is a chef who never does the same dance in the kitchen.


References and notes are available for this article.
Also find a much more in-depth discussion of Simple Reality
on this blog and in published books by Roy Charles Henry.

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