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date: 23 September 2018

Intuition and Education

Summary and Keywords

Intuition is a mode of consciousness wherein content is perceived by sudden, direct awareness. Intuition sees the wholes of things, perceiving patterns, and making connections. Intuitive awareness occurs to the conscious mind without any identifiable processing, cognitive or otherwise. The intuitive mode is useful for creativity, problem solving, decision making, and all forms of discovery. Scholars have addressed intuition in education by drawing attention to its possibilities for professional practice, and by theorizing how intuition can be harnessed to improve educational outcomes. Intuition offers an important balancing effect to the hegemony of rational analysis, but like everything to do with consciousness, its function is not well understood. Philosophers of education often conceptualize intuition as a form of expertise, relying on Gladwell’s Blink as a referent to the experience. But intuition encompasses a broader range of experience; so-called parapsychological experiences such as telepathic communication and pre-cognitive awarenesses are also common intuitive experiences and need more attention by educators. It is possible to learn to improve the intuitive function. Such training involves cultivating an acceptance of uncertainty and pursuing a depth of self-awareness so that intuitive content can be distinguished from projection, fear, and simple guesses.

Keywords: intuition, consciousness, self-awareness, expertise, para-psychology, professional practice

Introduction to the Concept, Intuition

The word “intuition” is a conceptual workhorse, describing a range of phenomena. Definitions for intuition commonly begin with the Latin roots of the word, translating in tueri as “to look at or toward, to contemplate” (Deikman, 1982, p. 177) or “to look upon” (Goldberg, 1983; Noddings & Shore, 1984); and intuitus as “the act of achieving knowledge from direct perception or contemplation” (Laughlin, 1997, p. 19). These translations point to the general experience of intuition as an experience of sudden, direct awareness that does not involve any conscious deliberation (Hogarth, 2001). Richard Rorty elaborates on the diversity of meaning for the concept, noting that intuition is the experience of “immediate apprehension,” where “apprehension” can mean a range of states, such as “sensation, knowledge, and mystical rapport” (Rorty, 2006) and where “immediate has as many senses as there are kinds of mediation, [and] may be used to signify the absence of inference, the absence of causes, the absence of the ability to define a term, the absence of justification, the absence of symbols, or the absence of thought” (Rorty, 2006, p. 722).

Intuition has a long history in the imaginations of philosophers, and the concept is intimately connected to philosophic questions of what, and how, we know. In Eastern traditions, intuition is often linked with an individual’s spiritual development. For example, in yogic philosophy, intuition is assumed to be a basis for knowledge connected to an innate wisdom, and “central to all psychic functioning” (Chaudhuri, 1975, p. 246). Throughout Western philosophy, intuition primarily refers to an intellectual experience involving a priori knowledge (Bealer, 2006). For example Plato’s use of the term referred to knowledge of ideal Forms, and Aristotle also insisted on the existence of a category of infallible knowledge, “unreachable by other intellectual means, yet still fundamentally an intellectual process” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 8).

The Western philosopher most readily linked to the concept of intuition is Kant, who used the term to describe non-rational awareness, or knowledge of an object that occurs without mediation. Others likewise acknowledge intuition as knowledge occurring without mediation, such as Bergson, who described intuition as a method of “intellectual sympathy” (Bergson, 2007, p. 5). In general, contemporary philosophers tend either to speak of intuition’s value for knowing things deeply and inherently, or else challenge intuitive knowledge as contrary to reason, sometimes framing intuition as an unjustified belief. The concept has primarily been treated with an epistemic bias (Waks, 2006), and much philosophic practice continues to focus on intuitionism, a concern with what we can claim to know, and how.

While contemporary definitions for intuition typically mention the sudden, direct experience of knowing, and its inner-directed focus, very few offer a satisfactory explanation for what it is, or how it works, leaving open the question of intuition’s mechanism. Where Rorty emphasizes the immediacy of intuition, Jung suggests that the intuitive function itself mediates perceptions, albeit in an unconscious way (Jung, 1971, pp. 453–454). Intuition is not sense perception, nor feeling, nor intellectual inference (Jung, 1971), although it may involve the senses and/or emotions, and intuitive experience can manifest as hearing a voice, inner sight, intellectual insight, gut feeling, etc. In addition, there is often an identifiable commitment to knowing, and the presence of “a productive tension between subjective certainty and objective uncertainty” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 69). As with the function of physical sensation, intuition is often experienced as given, which colors it with a sense of certainty. Content enters consciousness without our being able to trace from where it came (Jung, 1971, p. 453), and so the subject can be left with the impression that the intuitive content has always been known.

Intuition and Education

Intuition plays an important role in teaching, learning, and leadership, and theorists have long recognized the function of intuition in scientific and artistic discovery. This history is supported by anecdotal accounts of scientists and artists who have been articulate about the role intuition has played in their processes. Intuition is valued for its speed in solving problems in math and business, and for its ability to let a researcher get inside a problem and “look at [it] from the viewpoint of subject and object at one and the same time” (Salk, 1983, p. 10). Additionally, intuition can guide educators’ day-to-day teaching practice in terms of creative problem posing, reframing situations in order to see them more clearly, anticipatory planning and decision making, and initiating immediate adjustments in action (Mott, 1994). In recent decades, the value of intuition for inter-subjective relating is increasingly recognized in professional domains such as management (Cartwright, 2004; Claxton, 2006), outdoor leadership (Thomas, 2008), nursing, (Shiber, 2003), midwifery (Davis-Floyd & Davis, 1997), and education (Jagla, 1994; Noddings & Shore, 1984). Educators in these fields are interested in harnessing the intuitive function in service of professional practice.

When intuition is taken up by educators of leadership and management, it is especially valued for its usefulness in decision making within complex, ambiguous, or uncertain conditions (Claxton, 2006; Hogarth, 2001). Intuition can support leaders in any field to consider possibilities that have not yet come into existence, and through the ability to perceive a bigger picture, move organizations forward through innovation. Intuition may be particularly valuable for making judgments, assessments, and decisions in scenarios where there is limited time, or when a decision needs to be made with only incomplete information (Claxton, 2006): in other words, where cognitive processes are less functional. For example, Sadler-Smith and Burke (2009) identify that intuition is especially important in situations that are less structured, such as where goals are not well defined. They note the advantage of intuitive over rational approaches to leadership where data acquisition adds time and cost, and where convergent thinking omits creative solutions.

Informally, many people recognize intuitive experiences occurring in their lives, as flashes of insight, sudden understandings, and as the uncanny arising of awareness through gut feelings and other embodied sensations. Looking to optimize the value of intuition for inquiry in any field, psychologists and curriculum theorists alike have asked how we can better utilize the intuitive function, and further, how intuition might be enhanced in service of teaching, learning, and understanding. Yet despite a widespread recognition of its potential and value, educators have been conspicuously slow to formally recognize intuition by way of curricular interventions. Philosophers of education have primarily focused on the task of working out just what intuition is, and many treatments get stuck at this juncture, not moving on to establish how intuition might be incorporated into educational practice. For example, in his follow up to the 1957 Woods Hole Conference on Science Education, Jerome Bruner encouraged educators to support students’ intuitive function because of its usefulness in the discovery process (Bruner, 1960). However, as Fensham and Marton later found, Bruner’s call went largely unheeded, and intuition remains largely absent from formal education in any substantive sense (Fensham & Marton, 1992).

To date, the most comprehensive address of intuition and education is Nel Noddings and Paul J. Shore’s Awakening the Inner Eye. Noddings and Shore suggest that educators’ avoidance of the subject of intuition is based on a lack of clarity or coherent definition. As such, they offer a broad philosophic survey of the concept. As they reveal, intuition was at one time widely understood to be an infallible source of truth (Noddings & Shore, 1984), and much theory about intuition continues to question its value as a source of epistemologically valid knowledge. Noddings and Shore propose a shift away from concern with the epistemic correctness of intuition, and from thinking of intuition as a ground of knowledge. Instead, they recommend that intuition be understood as a way of knowing, and ask how education may enhance intuitive capabilities (Noddings & Shore, 1984). This framing is in line with C. G. Jung’s positioning of intuition as a basic psychological function, or mode of consciousness, that everyone can access to some extent. With Noddings and Shore, and with Jung, this article will treat intuition as a psychological mode, focusing on the functional experience of intuition and its role in inquiry, and presuming that intuition can be developed or educated.

The way we represent intuition can influence whether it is deemed valuable enough for educational intervention. In this article, I present some of the ways intuition gets framed, introducing some discursive angles toward intuition, such as the recurrent explanation within educational discourse that explains intuition as rapid cognition based on expertise. I consider connections between intuition and consciousness, and explore what it means to frame intuition within an intellectual climate wedded to analysis. In the second half of the article, I discuss possible approaches to educating the intuitive mode, as well as potential challenges to doing so. The fact that formal education is all but neglecting the intuitive function may speak to a wider neglect of the diverse ways of knowing that exist; education tends to focus on that which is definitively measurable and observable, which intuition is not. Through attention to emotional states, conscious awareness, and involvement of the body, developing intuition may be practically integrated into a holistic version of education.

Discourses of Intuition

The previous section introduces how the word—intuition—describes a range of phenomena, and possibly too many to be properly meaningful. Across scholarly disciplines, and in popular discourse, effective synonyms for intuition range widely, from guessing, to self-reflection, to “extra-sensory perception” (ESP). The absence of a clear definition for intuition is a widely noted problem (Bastick, 1982; Dane & Pratt, 2007; Davis-Floyd & Arvidson, 1997), and may be a barrier to including intuition in formal education. When any single word is so broadly applied to a wide range of events and experiences, a mystique tends to build around it. “Intuition” is sometimes cited as a stand-in to explain the process of obtaining knowledge not apparently obtainable in other ways (Bastick, 1982, p. 23), and is often used interchangeably with insight, instinct, or inspiration. Where intuition stops and these other, similar concepts begin can be fuzzy.

Many claims about intuition focus on its source, and as such, conceptualizations about intuition vary according to the ways researchers conceptualize consciousness, mind, and knowledge more generally. Some researchers suggest that intuition is a form of thinking: rapid, immediate cognition performed just below the level of consciousness (Claxton, 2006; Waks, 2006). Others attribute intuition to an innate, inner wisdom, even suggesting that the source of intuition is “the wisdom of nature” itself (Salk, 1983, p. 18). Still others consider intuition to be a descendent of instinct, the function that has kept us and our ancestors safe (Cappon, 1993; Pearce, 1992). Meanwhile, in popular writing, especially, it is not uncommon to come across claims that the source of intuition is divine inspiration, in the sense of hearing the voice of a god or guide. In these representations, intuition is like the ancient daemon, or muse, a source of creative inspiration.

A significant source of conceptual confusion around intuition is that the disciplines of philosophy and psychology from which educational theory largely draw tend to use the term “intuition” differently. In particular, there is a tension with both psychoanalysis and traditional philosophy giving perhaps too much credibility to intuition (Bastick, 1982), and a “counter-blow” from some contemporary philosophical approaches that weaken the respectability of the concept (Noddings & Shore, 1984). If the former camp is too credulous, the latter may be too skeptical, framing intuition as no more valid than unjustified belief, and highlighting the way it can interfere with logic and evidence. Within disciplines, too, adherents of various schools of thought can conceive of intuition in different ways. For example, behaviorist and humanist psychologists have different understandings of the origins of the intuitive function (Bastick, 1982). While behaviorists identify intuition as a product of subconscious processing of past experience, humanists are more likely to suggest that intuition is a function of transpersonal resonance within a larger cosmological framework of consciousness. In any event, a lack of consensus about the concept has led some scholars to avoid addressing intuition altogether, deeming it non-serious, while others seem to deploy the concept frivolously, claiming “intuition” to mean a too-wide range of knowledge experiences. The diversity of representation matters, as how we represent intuition to ourselves, influences how we proceed with enhancing it.

On Intuition as Expertise

A frequent reference in educational literature frames intuition as a function made possible by acquired expertise, which then gets called upon subconsciously to contribute to intuitive insight. Such framing speaks back to the way intuitive experience is sometimes categorized as mystical. As a concept, intuition may be particularly vulnerable to mystification because of its affiliation to the unconscious (so that its function is hidden from awareness), and due to its legacy as a Romantic ideal, where “intuition” refers to the direct awareness of something inexpressible in language. In order to create distance from this legacy of mystification, some who advocate for intuition in education explicitly claim to provide a non-mystical account of the function (Bastick, 1982; Claxon, 2006; Sadler-Smith & Burke, 2009, p. 248). For example, Bastick assures his reader that “intuition is a product of accepted psycho-physiological processes of thought and behaviour that occur under particular conditions of personality, environment, and experience. These conditions are not mystical; rather they are conditions with which we are all familiar” (Bastick, 1982, p. xxiii). Similarly, Sadler-Smith & Burke want to “dispel the myth of intuition as a mystical, magical, or paranormal sixth sense and the myth that it is always bad and never to be trusted” (2009, p. 248). These declarations aim to paint intuition as respectable and reasonable within current psychological norms.

As expertise, an assumption is made that accumulated knowledge lets the subject instantly know something based on likely expectations. Here, intuition is conceived as unconscious processing based in long-term, indexed memory (Waks, 2006). Readers may recognize this conceptualization from Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book Blink, which describes immediate apprehension as being reliant on the unconscious decision making function. Experts are said to process information differently than novices, having learned how to be more efficient by “chunking” information (Hogarth, 2001, p. 158) and by having a storehouse of experience in a particular domain from which the intuitive function can draw. In this concept, an “internal computer” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 11) makes decisions based on immediate—or very quick—unconscious processing, for example, by finding patterns based on “narrow slices of experience” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 23). This framing is similar to the incubation period well known in creativity literature, where the solution to a problem is suddenly intuited following an intense period of work. In the creative process, one becomes immersed in a problem for a time, but then stops actively (consciously) working on it, while unconscious incubation can occur (Monsay, 1997). Then, when a solution arrives, it seems to have come from out of the blue, since one has not been actively working on the problem.

The affiliation of intuition to expertise easily relates to professional practice, as it positions teachers as able to develop intuitive facility over time. For example, although a classroom teacher’s students may change year to year, and many factors will vary day to day, the domain of experience one encounters can become familiar enough that a teacher might absorb, process, and problem solve without having to apply any conscious attention, and solutions or judgments can arrive intuitively: sudden, and complete. Here, intuition may be recognized as the abilities to “read” a classroom, anticipate potential glitches in a lesson plan, or insightfully “just” know which student will need extra attention on any given day (Mott, 1994).

Expertise helps to explain how it is possible to know something without being able to articulate or even recognize how we know and positions the involvement of unconscious processes as helpful and normal occurrences. However, this explanation is also limited. If intuition is only that which is borne from experience or prior learning, this discounts experiences like precognitive anticipation, and other extra-sensory awareness that are not based on prior acquaintance or even any discernible clues. When theorists link intuition inexorably with incubation and expertise, they occlude the future orientedness Jung insisted on as a characteristic of intuition, as well as the empathic resonance that French philosopher Henri Bergson describes (Bergson, 2007), as a method whereby one’s consciousness is thought to merge with the object being intuited. Further, expertise fails to account for the relatively common, yet uncanny intuitive experiences that do not necessarily develop with experience, such as telepathy, precognition, and prescience. Insisting that intuition is “merely” unconscious reasoning contributes to the ongoing mystification of such so-called “para-psychological” intuitive experiences, since they remain unaccounted for by this explanation.

Intuition and Questions of Consciousness

Theorizing about intuition inevitably raises questions about consciousness and the unconscious. Assumptions about consciousness can become significant when distinguishing intuition from wishful thinking, guessing, or belief. In particular, whether the unconscious is trusted as a valuable source of insight and even wisdom, or whether it is judged as fundamentally untrustworthy, will affect not only one’s attitude toward intuition, but how we relate to experiencing it within ourselves. The ability to recognize, interpret, and translate intuitive content depends on self-awareness, or “reflective consciousness” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 54), since such content often arises in symbolic, metaphoric, or affective form. At the same time, intuition is often represented to be an unconscious function, since it is impossible to catch ourselves in the act of intuiting. This unconsciousness is cited as a barrier to accessing and to understanding the intuitive function, yet overcoming the barrier may lie in unpacking what is meant by “unconscious.” In the Western tradition, consciousness tends to be framed according to a belief structure whose tenets include that consciousness is produced by brain activity; reasoning is the highest attainable accomplishment; logical inconsistencies indicate something is invalid; and individuals’ nervous systems—and minds—are self-contained (Tart, 1975). These tenets, among others, structure the way we understand consciousness, and additionally limit the ways we experience conscious awareness, based on what we believe to be possible.

Similarly, ideas about the unconscious have been influenced in the modern West by a legacy that frames the unconscious as a repository of repressed and chthonic material, leftover from early childhood, and lingering in a largely unhealthy way. In contrast, to allow that intuition is comprised of a spectrum of experiences beyond expertise depends on a framework of consciousness that can recognize the integrated roles of the body and mind; accounts for an extended mind (beyond individual consciousness); and acknowledges that content can be subjectively and contextually true, even if not objectively replicable. For Jung, the unconscious is much more than an individual, dark domain. He suggests that the contents of the unconscious are merely unknown, or perhaps yet-unknown, rather than repressed (Jung, 1971). This is an important distinction, because if unconscious content is merely that which is repressed, it becomes difficult to imagine valuable material arising from there.

In addition to a personal unconscious, Jung recognizes that the unconscious includes a collective or shared domain: a collective unconscious (later named “objective psyche”; Jung, 1971). The objective psyche is understood to be a common inheritance existing in all of us, and over this shared layer a personal psyche, or personal consciousness can develop. Therefore, when Jung describes intuition as a future-oriented, perceptive function with “a keen nose for anything new and in the making” (Jung, 1971, pp. 368–369) and with the ability to “foresee new possibilities in more or less clear outline, as well as events which later do happen” (Jung, 1971, pp. 400–401), his subject is drawing intuitive content (in part) from a collective well. Following Jung’s framework, we can recognize that even the seemingly uncanny experiences of intuition exist within a range of normal information processing systems. Within this conception, neither memory nor expertise is needed in the moment of intuition, though these could be useful in interpreting intuitive content. Registering the unconscious through a Jungian framework implies a direction for educating intuition. It calls for self-knowledge, related to the psychological maturation process of individuation, where conscious and unconscious material become increasingly integrated in a move toward wholeness.

Intuition in an Age of Analysis

Intuition and analysis are often represented in contrast, and this can be a useful way to discern how each of these modes function. The analytic mode is slow, explicit (rather than implicit), intellectual, and “supposed” to occur with limited interference from emotional or subjective bias. In contrast, intuition is fast, creative, implicit, and necessarily subjective. Whereas analytic (or algorithmic) approaches are linear, and achieved step by step (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 69), intuition is nonlinear and holistic, synthesizing clues from multiple sources, all at once. Although these functions have different assets, they are complementary. In Jung’s terms, the non-rational functions of intuition and sensation are receptive and provide the content for the rational functions, thinking and feeling (Jung, 1971, pp. 433–436), to process.1 In other words, thinking and feeling simply cannot take place without non-rational input.

Like any creative process, intuition is oriented to possibility and potential, and directs us to solutions beyond those made available by analysis (Bruner, 1960). The intuitive mode makes sense of a pattern or theme by recognizing its gestalt, rather than by cumulatively recognizing its parts. This is a similar conception to Polanyi’s “tacit knowing” (Polanyi, 1969) in which the whole makes more sense than the particulars of its parts. Internally, synthesis can be felt as a shift of attention, where something clicks (sometimes referred to as an “aha” or “eureka” moment; Arvidson, 1997). The suddenness that characterizes the experience may result from the simultaneous occurrence of judgments and perception, the sudden appearance of an idea after a period of incubation, or even the “speed of the intuitive process in relation to other forms of processing” (Bastick, 1982, p. 301).

Sometimes, contemporary writing about intuition leaves the impression that it is prioritizing intuitive modes over analytic ones; this tone may reflect a (perhaps over-enthusiastic) redress to a preexistent imbalance, wherein intuition has for a long time been obfuscated in favor of analysis. However, recognizing the value of intuition is not a claim to neglect analytic reasoning. Throughout science and discovery, it is widely understood that intuitive content is to be followed up and confirmed experimentally; when hunches, guesses, and feelings arrive, this becomes the time to get to work. However, as with the scientific process, following one’s intuition in everyday life situations can likewise require allowing for temporary uncertainty about an outcome. Confirmation of intuition may not always be available, since many decisions simply do not have definitively correct answers, nor is intuitive discovery necessarily replicable. In some cases the rightness of an outcome might never become known; however, this need not discount intuition as a useful way to know. Acting in the absence of objective proof is risky, however; intuition is usually accompanied by a “feeling of certainty of correctness” (Bastick, 1982, p. 60) that is notably absent from analytic processing. In this respect, intuition is served by an attitudinal climate of trust rather than doubt. This would suggest that in addition to helping students become aware of their subjective experience of affective certainty, educating for intuition must also account for uncertainty, and for guiding students to become comfortable in the liminal period before confirmation, which in some cases is indefinite.

Educating for Intuition

In keeping with Jung’s characterization of the intuitive function as a personality “type” or aptitude, it would make sense that some people are more naturally intuitive than others. Even still, the intuitive function can be enhanced, and educators can include intuition development as part of a well-rounded, holistic curriculum. As I have suggested, what is believed about intuition shapes an educational approach. For example, Hogarth, emphasizes the role of expertise in intuitive function, and therefore suggests that immersion in a particular domain is crucial to educating intuition (Hogarth, 2001). In management education, where it is believed that managers and educators frequently act intuitively without knowing it, educating for intuition involves reflection on action (Gregor, 2000). To date, there are relatively few educational resources for supporting intuitive development, especially with children, compared with analyses of the concept or texts that advocate for intuition’s value. As a consequence, this section draws from suggestions made by Noddings and Shore, as well as recommendations found in self-help texts that teach intuition development.

Generally, the intuitive function depends on “the interaction of emotional states and cognitive processes” (Bastick, 1982, p. 133), and so intuition tends to thrive within a supportive psychic environment. Therefore, educating intuition involves cultivating an attitude that believes in the intuitive function’s potential as a useful source of valuable information. Most programs for educating intuition involve normalizing the possibility of intuitive function, heightening students’ awareness in order to recognize intuitive experiences when they occur. Students of intuition learn practices to help them access subconscious content more readily, and training for intuition should also include practice in recognizing when it is appropriate to guess, as well as in how to recognize the plausibility of hunches (Bruner, 1960, p. 63). Intentional self-development can support students’ ability to recognize intuitive experience when it happens, and to skillfully interpret or discern the meaning of intuitive content.

Many of the recommendations for intentionally cultivating intuition run counter to the conventions of formal teaching and learning. Biases against intuition run deep throughout the structures of schooling, and these biases have effectively omitted intuition from formal education (Bruner, 1960, p. 63). An emphasis on assessment, and on prioritizing the product rather than the process of inquiry, are antithetical to the attitude within which intuition thrives (Waks, 2006). The intuitive function is fostered by a willingness to risk being wrong, and to consider information that may seem unlikely or contradictory. Students of intuition must learn to tolerate a lack of clarity and to sit with the discomfort of (temporary) unknowing, since confirmation of intuitive content is not necessarily immediate, and since intuition seems to abide by a logic of both/and, rather than either/or.

Noddings and Shore describe the required tolerance as “productive tension” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 113) and suggest that education should help students maintain this tension as a prerequisite for successful intuitive function. Rather than emphasize right or wrong, we can encourage students to recognize felt experiences of tension (and the reduction of that tension) as signals of learning and discovery. Intuition comes with an affect of certainty, but it thrives when a certain amount of uncertainty is tolerated. As such, students can be guided to become comfortable in the liminal state between subjective certainty (the affect of being correct) and the objective uncertainty that exists unless and until intuitive content can be confirmed through elaboration, revision, analysis, etc. (Noddings & Shore, 1984).

Whereas doubt, rather than trust, is the foundation of the scientific paradigm, productive tension is maintained by an attitude of curiosity, and of trust in the process of any inquiry. Noddings and Shore suggest giving students greater freedom to express their thoughts, feelings, and hunches in whatever form, and to “let whatever-is-there come through, be revealed” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 113). They plea for educators to pay more attention to the process as opposed to the product, and to instill a spirit of curiosity, suggesting that “we must make it possible for our students to listen, to try out, to enjoy the objects of knowledge without always demanding products that can be assessed as the results of satisfactory performance” (Noddings, & Shore, 1984, p. 110). This requires showing students that their intuitive content is welcome. When we demand that students “show their work,” we create a barrier to staying with the process, undermining intuitive abilities by stultifying the holistic and sudden way intuition functions (Bruner, 1960). Intuitive training can include practice in recognizing when it is appropriate to guess, as well as in how to recognize the plausibility of hunches (Bruner, 1960, p. 63).

The goal of cultivating a positive attitude about intuition is consistent with empirical research on extra-sensory perception that shows that research subjects who believed that they could score above chance levels typically did, while subjects who did not register similar belief in their abilities scored significantly below average (Tart, 1992). Bruner anticipated as much many decades ago, commenting that “effective intuitive thinking is fostered by the development of self-confidence and courage in the student. . . . [and] requires a willingness to make honest mistakes in the effort to solve problems. One who is insecure, who lacks confidence in himself, may be unwilling to run such risks” (Bruner, 1960, p. 64). Crucially, “confidence in the use of the intuitive process is learned by its repeated successful use” (Bastick, 1982, p. 167). Practice and positive experience with intuiting foster a functional relationship with the intuitive mode, while, “unsuccessful intuitive experience inhibits its use” (Bastick, 1982, p. 167). The intuitive mode is often undermined early on in childhood in the way adults will tell children lies rather than the sometimes-difficult truth. It is discouraged when children are told, “you’re just imagining it,” or “you’re making things up” and we subsequently learn to mistrust intuitive impressions. Furthermore, “unconscious fears can easily impede the successful discovery and transformation of self-limiting belief systems” (Gee, 1999, p. 57). To counter this, teachers might provide students with examples of when intuition was intelligently used to positive effect (Sadler-Smith & Burke, 2009). To this end, educators will need to be reflective of their own beliefs about intuition.

In many ways, the intuitive attitude is like that which nurtures creativity, and recommendations for developing intuitive function will be recognizable as those that support imaginative and creative process more generally. In addition to a positive attitude about intuition, another factor in intuition development involves cultivating receptivity to non-rational processing, a state of mind that can occur spontaneously but can also be cultivated through practice. Most of us become aware of intuition when it arises to a consciousness that is otherwise occupied, such as when we are caught up in ordinary, everyday tasks. Likewise, intuition benefits from leaving negative space, which creates opportunity for the arising of intuitive content. Such receptivity is made available when students are given permission and time for intuitive “roaming” (Noddings & Shore, 1984, p. 133). In this state, consciousness can jump around and make connections freely, without the interference of the thinking function. Depending on the individual, constructive use of that time may involve going for a walk or run, writing in a journal, doodling in a notebook, building model airplanes, or any other activity that cultivates a flow state of relaxation and creativity.

Since intuition is sometimes supported by the acquisition of expertise or immersion in a problem (Hogarth, 2001), educating for intuition might also include the development of a depth of experience in a particular field; acquaintance with a broad range of knowledge; or immersion in the problem, project, or situation (Monsay, 1997). The preparatory phase is often—though not always—followed by a period of incubation, in which it is most useful to remain in a state of flow: a focused yet relaxed awareness in which unconscious content can arise (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). The psyche can become engaged into flow, and students can be encouraged to maintain a balance of investment, stake, curiosity, and ease.

Outside of formal schooling, intuition development programs often recommend the practice of meditation and mindful breath work as supportive of accessing unconscious content (Choquette, 2004; Gee, 1999; Vaughan, 1979). Intentionally applying attention to the pace and depth of one’s breathing produces a progressive relaxation of physical stresses in the body, which allows for greater internal awareness, as well as a temporary intellectual withdrawal from focus on everyday matters. Additionally, breathing deeply and regularly is key to keeping calm, which increases receptivity to intuition (Choquette, 2004). Attention to the body and mind in these ways nurtures the venue through which our intuitive voice “speaks,” and lets the conscious awareness be included in that process. These practices can already be found in holistic classrooms (Miller, 2007), but incorporating contemplative, mindful practices is a possible approach to including intuition development in pedagogical practice.

Finally, education for intuition should include the cultivation of reflective self-awareness. Since whatever is unconscious is that which we do not (yet) know, in developing intuition we work to cultivate an openness to whatever the unconscious offers up. Through developing a depth of self-awareness, intuitive content can be more adeptly interpreted and distinguished from projection, fear, and simple guesses. In these ways, the conscious practice of intuition development is inseparable from the transformative process of becoming more psychologically mature, a process Jung termed “individuation”: making the unconscious, conscious. Intuitive development practices support the development of both the inner potentialities of the self, as well as a more receptive relationship to the larger world we all collectively inhabit. The development of reflective self-awareness may provide a safeguard against problematic claims made on behalf of intuition, such as those that are harmful, or those based in belief rather than gleaned through intuition. Such development is a complement to trusting the unconscious, encouraging its communication, and leaving space for the unexpected to occur.

Final Thoughts

In summary, intuition remains a slippery, fuzzy term that is used to cover a range of experiences having to do with immediate, direct perception. Despite conceptual confusion, contemporary writing on intuition and education recognizes intuition as an asset in contexts such as teaching and leadership, and situates it as a helpful redress to an unacceptable overemphasis on rationality and analysis in learning modes, and in general. The assumptions we make about intuition can influence how we undertake to enhance it. But educational interventions in support of intuition development must not be stifled by a lack of theoretical understanding about what intuition is. Irreconcilable debate about the source of intuition—Is it instinct? Incubation? Divine intervention?—can distract from the project of educating, or cultivating, the intuitive function. Jung helpfully addresses the question of intuition’s source by acknowledging that it is a mode of experience that can feel like it arrives from any one of a number of sources, appearing as sense perception, feeling, or intellectual inference.

Using Jung’s concept of the intuitive mode as a starting point, educators can nurture intuitive aptitude by creating a climate of support that welcomes intuitive experimentation, explicitly values intuitive content, and recognizes the need for self-reflective awareness as a way to teach students to skillfully interpret how intuition works through them. Most people have experienced intuition at some point, gaining insight or information through dreams, experiencing the sense of being stared at (Sheldrake, 2003) or suddenly understanding the solution to a problem they had not realized they were considering. Yet these often go unrecognized as experiences of intuition. Naming these as intuitive is a step toward normalizing intuition, and making it accessible and recognizable, beyond the fog of mystique.

A more significant problem than arriving at a clear definition for intuition may be discomfort about the possible implications of so-called para-psychological intuitive experience. Accepting intuition more broadly will require a cultural shift toward an attitude of trusting and valuing the intuitive mode, in any of its manifestations. Such trust is crucial in cases where intuition reveals an understanding or information that is contrary to conventional wisdom, potentially causing a disruption with established beliefs. This happens when intuitive function leads a subject to make choices that the conscious self might not have considered to be a possibility. Simple examples of this are getting a bad “vibe” off someone who seems to charm everyone else, feeling drawn to follow up an obscure creative pursuit, or choosing someone apparently “not your type” as a partner.

As with the way we frame creativity and emotions, the critical faculty needs to be held in abeyance in order to access intuitive content. Synergistic and uncanny intuitive occurrences need not be evaluated according to a standard of rational order; however, as contemporary teachers of intuition development insist, skillful use of the intuitive function relies on a high degree of self-awareness, such that intuitive content can be employed in appropriate ways. This is a complexity with the intuitive mode that will likely resolve as it becomes more acceptable to claim knowing by intuition. As the function becomes normalized, so will the possibility of recognizing the relationship between reason and intuition. Claims to intuition need not be naively accepted wholesale; often, they can be followed up with evidence. Students of intuition need to learn this difference, but such learning is unlikely to occur within a cultural climate that occludes the importance of the intuitive function.

Education theory relies heavily on psychological discourse. Ideas about consciousness and mind help to shape the ways intuition is understood, and contribute to whether it is likely to be included as part of a well-rounded education. I have argued that there remains a lack of theory on intuition and intuitive modes that sufficiently accounts for the range of what people experience. Since understanding intuition is reliant on understanding consciousness more broadly, it is likely that our collective understanding of the nature of the intuitive function will continue to unfold. As Monsay suggests, understanding intuition remains “beyond the realm of what can be known in the current framework of knowledge” (Monsay, 1997, p. 118). More research is needed that addresses aspects of intuitive experience such as affect, sensitivity to vibrations, and ongoing conscious and unconscious connections to the instinctual self. Despite difficulties in studying these within the scientific-materialist paradigm, such study may make available a framework within which we can reconcile the uncanny psychic aspects of intuitive experience. Emergent research into extended consciousness (Sheldrake, 2003), the apparent communicative networks among stands of trees, and newly discovered connections between the human gut and brain, may offer insight into what is happening within the intuitive function, beyond expertise. Similarly, the intuitive quality of uncertainty is an area ripe for future study, and research in new materialism (Barad, 2012) and quantum indeterminacy (Bohm, 1980) will likely contribute to better understanding the intuitive function as a mode that perceives the future and that which is immanent.

Finally, to better understand the intuitive function, we should acknowledge how alienated most modern Western people have become from the instinctual and emotional processes that support the intuitive function, and come to terms with the role formal education may have played in contributing to that disconnection. Feelings of dislocation and disenchantment create a chasm that may interfere with an intuition-friendly climate, which relies on a heightened awareness of one’s relational context including the inner experiences of sensations and emotions. Education should therefore focus on cultivating a generalized climate that supports intuition. Whether this is to cultivate the internal receptivity that allows people to identify intuitive experiences in the first place; or whether this is to cultivate an environment that recognizes intuition as valid and valuable, and that encourages people to share intuitive content, educating for intuition entails an attitudinal shift, including a receptivity to the unconscious and to the imagination. Once this broader acceptance of the value and validity of intuition is in place, an educational program should inculcate the skills for critically interpreting intuitive experience. The implications of educating for intuition go beyond enhanced intuitive function. Doing this work is not only supportive of the intuitive function—it will also support holistic well-being, psychological well-being, and creative processes more generally.

Further Reading

Agyakwa, K. (1988). Intuition, knowledge and education. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET)/Revue de la Pensée Éducative, 22(3), 161–177.Find this resource:

Anderson, R. (2011). Intuitive Inquiry. In R. Anderson & W. Broad (Eds.), Transforming self and others through research (pp. 15–70). Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Bastick, T. (1982). Intuition: How we think and act. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.Find this resource:

Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

Davis-Floyd, R., & Arvidson, P. S. (Eds.). (1997). Intuition: The inside story. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Hogarth, R. M. (2001). Educating intuition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types (Trans. R. F. C. Hull). In H. Read et al. (Series Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 6, pp. 453–454). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1923.)Find this resource:

Noddings, N., & Shore, P. J. (1984). Awakening the inner eye: Intuition in education. New York: Teachers College Press.Find this resource:

Rorty, R. (2006). Intuition. In D. M. Borchert (Ed.), Encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 4, 2nd ed., pp. 722–732). Detroit: Macmillan Reference.Find this resource:

Waks, L. (2006). Intuition in education: Teaching and learning without thinking. Philosophy of Education (pp. 379–388). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.Find this resource:

Vaughan, F. E. (1979). Awakening intuition. New York: Anchor Books.Find this resource:


Arvidson, P. S. (1997). Looking intuit: A phenomenological exploration of intuition and attention. In R. Davis-Floyd & P. S. Arvidson (Eds.), Intuition: The inside story (pp. 39–56). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

For example, see Barad, K. (2012). On touching—the inhuman that therefore I am. differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies Volume, 23(3), 206–223.Find this resource:

Bastick, T. (1982). Intuition: How we think and act. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.Find this resource:

Bealer, G. (2006). Intuition [addendum]. In D. M. Borchert (Ed.), Encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 4, 2nd ed., pp. 732–733). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.Find this resource:

Bergson, H. (2007/1973). An introduction to metaphysics (Trans. T. E. Hulme). In J. Mullarkey & M. Kolkman (Eds.). London: Palgrave Macmillan.Find this resource:

Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the implicate order. London: ARK.Find this resource:

Bruner, J. S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

Cappon, D. (1993, May 1). The anatomy of intuition. Psychology Today.Find this resource:

Cartwright, T. (2004). Feeling your way: Enhancing leadership through intuition. Leadership in Action, 24(2), 8–11.Find this resource:

Chaudhuri, H. (1975). Yoga psychology. In C. T. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal pychologies (pp. 233–280). New York: Harper & Row.Find this resource:

Choquette, S. (2004). Trust your vibes: Secret tools for six-sensory living. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.Find this resource:

Claxton, G. (2006). Beyond cleverness: How to be smart without thinking. In J. Henry (Ed.), Creative management and development (3rd ed., pp. 47–63). London: SAGE.Find this resource:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: HarperCollins.Find this resource:

Dane, E., & Pratt, M. G. (2007). Exploring intuition and its role in managerial decision making. The Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 33–54.Find this resource:

Davis-Floyd, R., & Arvidson, P. S. (1997). Preface. In R. Davis-Floyd & P. S. Arvidson (Eds.), Intuition: The inside story (pp. xi–xvii). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Davis-Floyd, R., & Davis, E. (1997). Intuition as authoritative knowledge in midwifery and homebirth. In R. Davis-Floyd & P. S. Arvidson (Eds.), Intuition: The inside story (pp. 145–176). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Deikman, A. J. (1982). The observing self: Mysticism and psychotherapy. Boston: Beacon.Find this resource:

Fensham, P. J., & Marton, F. (1992). What has happened to intuition in science education? Research in Science Education, 22, 114–122.Find this resource:

Gee, J. (1999). Intuition: Awakening your inner guide. Boston: Weiser Books.Find this resource:

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. London: Penguin.Find this resource:

Goldberg, P. (1983). The intuitive edge. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher.Find this resource:

Gregory, G. (2000). Developing intuition through management education. In T. Atkinson & G. Claxton (Eds.), The intuitive practitioner (pp. 182–196). Philadelphia: Open University Press.Find this resource:

Hogarth, R. M. (2001). Educating intuition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Jagla, V. M. (1994). Teacher’s everyday use of imagination and intuition: In pursuit of the elusive image. Albany: State University of New York Press.Find this resource:

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types. (Trans. R. F. C. Hull). In H. Read et al. (Series Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (Vol. 6, pp. 453–454). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1923.)Find this resource:

Kezar, A. (2005). What do we mean by “learning” in the context of higher education? New Directions for Higher Education, 131, 49–59.Find this resource:

Laughlin, C. (1997). The nature of intuition: A neuropsychological approach. In R. David-Floyd & P. S. Arvidson (Eds.), Intuition: The inside story (pp. 19–38). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Miller, J. P. (2007). The holistic curriculum (2nd ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Find this resource:

Monsay, E. (1997). Intuition in the development of scientific theory and practice. In R. Davis-Floyd & P. S. Arvidson (Eds.), Intuition: The inside story (pp. 103–120). New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Mott, V. W. (1994). A phenomenological inquiry into the role of intuition in reflective adult education practice (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Georgia, Athens.Find this resource:

Noddings, N., & Shore, P. J. (1984). Awakening the inner eye: Intuition in education. New York: Teachers College Press.Find this resource:

Pearce, J. C. (1992). Evolution’s end: Claiming the potential of our intelligence. San Francisco: HarperOne.Find this resource:

Polanyi, M. (1969). Knowing and being: Essays by Michael Polanyi. M. Grene (Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Rorty, R. (2006). Intuition. In D. M. Borchert (Ed.), Encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 4, 2nd ed., pp. 722–732). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.Find this resource:

Sadler-Smith, E., & Burke, L. A. (2009). Fostering intuition in management education: Activities and resources. Journal of Management Education, 33, 239.Find this resource:

Salk, J. (1983). Anatomy of reality: Merging of intuition and reason. New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

Sheldrake, R. (2003). The sense of being stared at. London: Random House.Find this resource:

Shiber, M. (2003). A nursing education model for second-degree students. Nursing Education Perspectives, 24(3), 135–138.Find this resource:

Tart, C. T. (1975). Introduction. In C. T. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal psychologies (pp. 3–7). New York: Harper & Row.Find this resource:

Tart, C. T. (1992). Perspectives on scientism, religion, and philosophy provided by paraspsychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 32(2), 70–100, 133.Find this resource:

Thomas, G. (2008). Preparing facilitators for experiential education: The role of intentionality and intuition. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 8(1), 3–20.Find this resource:

Vaughan, F. (1979). Awakening intuition. New York: Anchor Books.Find this resource:

Waks, L. (2006). Intuition in education: Teaching and learning without thinking. Philosophy of Education (pp. 379–388). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.Find this resource:


(1.) Note that Jung’s feeling type involves judgments of value, not emotion.