Intuition and Perception

As a writer as well as a woman I often rely upon intuiton to guide me. Not often enough, however, because sometimes when I ignore it, I only have to return to it later when it has proven to be correct. But what, exactly, is it?

I came across an article on Brain Pickings online newsletter entitled “How Our Minds Mislead Us: The Marvels and Flaws of Intuition. In it Daniel Kahneman looks at how the brain works and he ascertains that it learns more by making mistakes than by getting everything right. No surprises there. He then goes on to assert that:

There is no sharp line between intuition and perception. … Perception is predictive. . . . If you want to understand intuition, it is very useful to understand perception, because so many of the rules that apply to perception apply as well to intuitive thinking. Intuitive thinking is quite different from perception. Intuitive thinking has language. Intuitive thinking has a lot of word knowledge organized in different ways more than mere perception. But some very basic characteristics [of] perception are extended almost directly to intuitive thinking.”

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow

I don’t know about you but he lost me at the word knowledge bit. The article is very academic, as you’d expect from a Nobel prize winning psychologist, and I’m sure, since his book has been rated one of the best psychology books of 2012, that it’s well researched and informative. However, for me the distinction between intuition and perception is to do with something that is integral and something that is learned.

Migrating birds don’t seem to have ‘word language’, nor turtles hatching out of eggs and making straight for the sea, or salmon swimming upstream in the rivers of their birth. By all accounts they have a signal inside them that provides instruction and direction that isn’t imparted by anyone else, they’re born with it. I know this kind of intuition is different from what Kahneman was talking about in his ‘intuitive thinking’, but it’s easier for me to understand how my body/mind can tell me something is wrong before it happens if I think about turtles. It’s all about survival.

Perception, on the other hand, seems more to do with value judgements or ways of looking at something. In an art class I attended there was a huge bowl on the centre of the table in the middle of the room, filled with flowers. Each sketch from the students was different, based on their unique styles, artistic temperament and also their positions around the table. For me, perception is like that. We each see something differently based on our past experiences, expectations, and knowledge/understanding. So how does this affect my writing?

When I write poetry I first rely on my ‘intuitive inner voice’ to help me feel the words, decide on line endings, hear the cadences and movement of the poems. I then use my ‘critical inner voice/friend’ to unpick the ideas, check them against what I know/have read/learnt/want to achieve to help me decide what needs to be changed. My ‘intuition’ gets me started, my ‘critical friend’ helps me to review and refine until I’m happy with the results. When someone reads my poems they may like or dislike them but not really know why, which is probably an intuitive response, whereas those who like or dislike and can give reasons are proabably using perception.

As Kahneman says, they’re both linked and to know one we need to understand the other. I love the intelligence, vocabulary and passion of people like him, and I do try to read academic works. However, for my purpose here I like the simpler analogies of turtles, salmon or swallows.


1 thought on “Intuition and Perception

  1. I’m with you. I think there’s a heck of a lot more to intuition than folks like Kahneman acknowledge, and I think animals are great examples of a kind of knowing that doesn’t have to do with step-by-step conscious deduction.

    I wonder, have you ever read any Carl Jung? He comes at the idea of intuition from a VERY different perspective, but I find he’s much more open to new ideas than a lot of today’s psychologists. (Jung wrote in the early to mid- 20th century.) I’ve recently been reading his autobiography MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS and loving it.

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