Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Intuition is just another form of pattern recognition

Intuition is not some mystical sixth sense, nor is it the opposite of rational thinking. Intuition is pattern recognition outside the normal range of conscious thought.

Different areas of the brain process different information. Since we are a language dependent species, we have a tendency to favor language based, rational thought and relegate intuition to the hinterlands of unexplained phenomena. Neuroscience seems to be having a difficult time understanding how the brain integrates information, but the fact is that various areas of the brain process different kinds of information, sensory and otherwise, and all that information gets filtered into conscious awareness – emphasis on the word “filtered”.

In painting, if we fall into the expected path of language-based object recognition, the path of least resistance will be one of fidelity to object description and not to interpretation. Our rational brains will dictate our responses while our subconscious intuitive selves will be sidelined. Painting is difficult because, ideally, it combines craft and creativity, two very different ways of thinking.

In order to foster a different path of pattern recognition, it’s necessary to describe the information in a new way.

Do you see a still life or do you see bananas, an apple and an orange?

How you choose to describe the information will alter how you perceive the information and, in turn, direct the choices you make to interpret that information.

Choose the object names and you will see and describe individual things and then have to solve the problem of unity and how one “thing” relates to another.  Choose the less specific description of “still life” and you will change your perceptions and your expectations. The “whole” will become more important than the pieces and the visual elements of value, color and shape will become more important than the name of the thing. Finding new patterns is dependent on seeing the information in a different way, one that is informed by more than preconceived expectations.

Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, considered intuition an “irrational function”, but he also said “intuition is perception via the unconscious that brings forth ideas, images, new possibilities and ways out of blocked situations." It is interesting to note Jung was willing to consider intuition as irrational, while also recognizing the necessity of intuition in creative problem solving.

We seem to have an innate tendency (perhaps a reflection of brain organization?) to categorize everything into simplistic categories of “either-or” instead of simply acknowledging and accepting the unity of different, but complementary, aspects of reality. Intuition is not the opposite of rational, conscious thinking. It is an important and very real part of the brain’s ability to process information.