Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Many people have experienced a gut feeling -- that unconscious reasoning that propels us to do something without telling us why or how. But the nature of intuition has long eluded us, and has inspired centuries' worth of research and inquiry in the fields of philosophy and psychology. According to some, intuition is one of the great mysteries of the universe because science doesn't have a theory that explains or predicts the characteristics of intuition, yet many great scientists claim to have relied heavily on intuitive insights. Maybe this is what Einstein meant when he said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
It's intriguing that Einstein had something to say about it, and many other great scientists like Isaac Newton who supposedly watched an apple fall from a tree, suddenly connecting its motion as being caused by the same universal force that governs the moon's attraction to the earth. John Maynard Keynes, a famous economist once said, "Newton owed his success to his muscles of intuition. Newton's powers of intuition were the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted."
One of the most well documented cases about intuition is a story concerning Frederick Kekule (1829-1896) a scientist who discovered the structure of benzene. Immersed in the problem of how atoms combine to form molecules Kekule fell asleep and saw the answer in his dream of a snake biting it's own tail. In an intuitive flash, he realized that the molecular structure was characterized by a ring of carbon atoms, like the image in his dream of the snake biting its tail.
Later he wrote about his dream in his diary. "I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were jumbling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke...".
His discovery opened the way to modern theories of organic chemistry and in this case Kekule had a strong emotional focus and intention to solve a specific issue. Was this the leap in consciousness? The solution without the how or why? The gut feeling. The unconscious reasoning?
It seems as if the idea is still catching up to us but the real definition continues to be studied even today. Ivy Estabrook, a program manager at the Office of naval research told the New York Times in 2012 "There is a growing body of evidence, combine with solid research efforts, that suggests intuition is a critical aspect of how we humans interact with our environment and how, ultimately, we make many of our decisions.
The mystery of intuition may never be defined however we do know the ten things that intuitive people do: They listen to their inner voice. They take time for solitude. They create. Practice mindfulness. Observe everything. They listen to their bodies and connect deeply with others. They listen to their dreams and enjoy plenty of downtime. And oh yes. Number ten. The one that is always hardest for me as well - mindfully letting go of negative emotions.
Perhaps we should study dreams, or the dreams within dreams. Not everything can be explained, but intuition seems like a powerful connection that ranges from scientific breakthroughs to saving someone's life, even your own. Something tells me we should listen.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Did you know Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is considered the first work of science fiction? In the story it explores the notion of synthetic life or the chemical breakdown that occurs after death to animate nonliving matter.
The science that inspired Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein" is nearly as strange as the novel itself. Written in 1818, the book was influenced by a scientific feud that ushered in the first battery and our modern understanding of electricity.
All of this was imagined by Shelley nearly 41 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species and 135 years before Crick and Watson figured out the structure of DNA. Is it no wonder a futurist named Alvin Toffler called science fiction the only preventive medicine for future shock. I also like Isaac Asimov's take on the issue when he said, "Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the responses of human beings to changes in science."
He also goes on to say at the core of science fiction is the notion of extrapolation, of asking, "If this goes on, where will it lead?" And, unlike most scientists who think in relatively short time frames—getting to the next funding deadline, or readying a product to bring to market—we think on much longer scales: not just months and years, but decades and centuries.
It seems as if one of our jobs is to predict the future, and suggest all the possible futures.