Definition of Intuition, by Roberto Assagioli
Intuition is one of the psychological functions which Roberto Assagioli acknowledge and in this compilation of quotes, Assagioli will define the psychological definition of intuition in its many aspects.
“The value of intuition has to be emphasized and examples given; and in the second case – of over-valuation – the difference between intuition and “hunches” or imaginative flights has to be explained and emphasized.” Psychosynthesis, p. 220, 1965
“In this discussion we assume that intuition exists as an independent and specific psychological function. It was called by Jung an irrational function, to use his own words: “this term does not denote something contrary to reason, but something outside the province of reason” (Jung, C.G.: Psychological Types, New York, Harcourt, 1933, p. 569).
We will consider intuition mainly in its cognitive function, i.e., as a psychic organ or means to apprehend reality. It is a synthetic function in the sense that it apprehends the totality of a given situation or psychological reality. It does not work from the part to the whole —as the analytical mind does—but apprehends a totality directly in its living existence. As it is a normal function of the human psyche, its activation is produced chiefly by eliminating the various obstacles preventing its activity.
Intuition is one of the least recognized and least appreciated, and therefore one of the repressed, functions. It is repressed by a mechanism similar to that of the repression of unconscious drives, but generally the motivation is different. Repression of the intuition is produced by non-recognition, devaluation, neglect and lack of its connection with the other psychological functions. Regarding this last point, a true cognitive process implies not only the function of intuition as such, but also its intelligent apprehension, interpretation, and inclusion in the existing body of knowledge.
It is necessary to make a definite distinction between so-called day-by-day intuition and real spiritual intuition. For instance, the intuition as described by Bergson is predominantly on the personal levels, while intuition according to Plotinus is purely spiritual. Intuition according to Jung is on both of these two levels; and for our present practical and therefore limited purposes we will take the Jungian attitude and speak of intuition fundamentally as a function which can be active on different levels, and can therefore assume different aspects but remain fundamentally the same.” (From Psychosynthesis, p. 217)
Different types of intuition
“We need to make a distinction here between intuition as a function of the mind and the results of its activity, i.e. types of intuition which are different in nature. The commonly accepted definition is the one indicated by the etymology of the word itself: in-tueri, or ‘ to see within’. It is the direct sight or perception of a given object when considered in terms of its individual reality. Intuition as a particular, independent, cognitive function of the mind is widely recognized and has been spoken of in the past both in the East and in the West.
Self-defined scientific psychology, however, has not recognized it as a valid means of knowledge because of its own limited and onesided view of both this subject area and the scientific method; or else it has simply been identified with the direct sensory perception of external stimuli. But there has been a reaction against this unwarranted exclusiveness. The two main proponents of the validity and value of intuition have been Henri Bergson and Hermann Keyserling.
They have been regarded and classified as philosophers, but both had a well-developed feeling for psychology, based on the very intuition we are discussing and, in Keyserling’s case, on a marked ability to show empathy and identification. They have therefore made invaluable contributions to our knowledge of the human mind, and modern scientific psychology is indebted to their work.
In the more strictly psychological field, Jung was sufficiently aware to reaffirm the existence and validity of intuition as a special independent psychological function. He spoke of it in these words:
“As I see it, intuition is one of the basic psychological functions; it is
neither sensation, feeling nor intellectual deduction . . . Through intuition
each individual idea is presented as a whole, complete in itself, leaving us
unable to explain or discover how it came about . . . for this reason intuitive
knowledge is intrinsically characterized by certainty and conviction,
so much so that Spinoza felt it necessary to say that ‘intuitive knowledge
is the highest form of knowledge.”
Jung called intuition ‘irrational’, but this term is open to misunderstanding. Although it might be understood to mean ‘contrary to reason’, in fact he meant ‘different’, not contradictory. We might perhaps call it ‘para-rational’ or ‘ trans-rational’ .
There are various types of intuition. First there is sensory intuition – the conscious perception of visual, aural, tactile impressions, etc., produced by stimuli from our surroundings. I will not dwell on these because they take place at ordinary psychological levels and have nothing to do with the superconscious.
Then there is the intuition of ideas, in the Platonic sense, where ideas come from a higher level than the one on which the mind normally functions. We can therefore call them transpersonal. The same can be said about the other types of higher intuition, namely those that relate to aesthetics, religion, mysticism and even science (the use of intuition in higher mathematics, for instance). There are many people – people we must consider as normal – who are not susceptible to intuition. This highlights the distinction between the ordinary psychological life and the transpersonal one.
Intuition enters the area of consciousness, or is perceived, in two ways. The first, more in keeping with the etymological meaning of the word, can be described as the opening of an ‘inner eye’ which enables us to perceive realities which are not visible to our normal mental sight. The second way can be compared to a flash, such as a flash of lightning, or a sudden blaze of light pouring down into the area of consciousness and perceived by the self, by the centre of consciousness at its ordinary level and in its ordinary sense.
One special quality that instances of intuition have in common is their authenticity. They give a perception of the object in its entirety, as an organic whole. For this reason intuition is different from mental knowledge, which is analytical. Keyserling demonstrated this very clearly:
… After all man, like all the other animals, is intimately related to the
whole order of beings and things, and if his instinct is defective or
severely atrophied he will be unable to trust his basic impulses; man
therefore needs the human equivalent of instinct if he is to find his way
freely in this universe. In this sense only intuitive people are free; and it is
for this reason that only they can give us our great discoverers, pioneers
and innovators …
This is another special characteristic of intuition: it is directed towards continued development, towards the future. Keyserling continues:
… Intuition penetrates the veil that hides the future, and thus penetrates
the veil of the possible. Reality is in a state of continuous transformation,
so it can only be clearly seen by someone who, when the opportunities
present themselves, is able to take direct hold of what is possible. This
applies in two senses: firstly, because above and beyond the facts certain
‘possibilities ‘ exist; and secondly, because from time to time and when the
conditions are right, he is able at once to discern which of those possibilities
can be made a reality. Both of these can only come about as a result of
that primordial, inner experience of things in their entirety …
Indeed, intuition is closely related to love. For all these reasons intuition goes far beyond an appreciation of the qualities of an object – it assimilates its very essence, what it truly is. It is therefore one of the fields of inquiry covered by the new psychology of being pioneered by Maslow.” (Transpersonal Development, p. 62-64, 2007)
The superconscious and intuition
“The simplest means by which the contents of the superconscious can come down to us is through intuition. This may be compared to a ray of light illuminating the waking consciousness, either for a moment or for a longer period of time. Flashes of intuition occur in all areas of human activity, including philosophy and science. Einstein made an apt comment on the subject of intuition when he said that inductive physics poses questions to which deductive physics is unable to respond. Only intuition, similar to the relationship established between people in love, is able to take our knowledge beyond the confines of logical thought. As a general rule, however, the great artists, writers and poets then had to work on and consciously develop the material that had arisen in their awareness or come down into their conscious minds.” (Transpersonal Development, p. 41, 2007)
“The faculty of the intuition has been generally neglected in the West up till recent times, when its value began to be recognized, chiefly through the emphasis given to it by the great French philosopher Henri Bergson. But we must clearly differentiate between two kinds of intuition; the psychological intuition, of which Bergson speaks, and which is the product of a kind of mergence with the object or entity we want to know; a momentary mingling with, or projecting of ourselves into the thing and the spiritual intuition which is a different and higher faculty.
This higher intuition is the use of the mind stilled and purified from its ordinary activities becoming an inner sense-organ which looks into, and mirrors the realm of the soul.
An excellent method for the direct development of the intuition is the use of abstract symbols. The student should take one of the simple and universal symbols, such as the triangle, the cube, the five-pointed star or pentagram, the six-pointed star or hexagram, the sphere, the cross. He should visualize them clearly and concentrate on them trying to arrive at their inner meaning, both macrocosmic and microcosmic.
Through this effort, the student succeeds in time in arousing into activity the higher mind and in reaching the level of synthetic and abstract thought, i.e., developing the higher mental intuition.” (Practical Contributions to a Modern Yoga, 1933, The Beacon)
Intuition – the highest form of cognition
“Concerning the psychic functions, Jung, as is well known, differentiates between four fundamental ones: sensation, feeling, thought and intuition . In this he differs from almost all other psychologists by his acceptance of the existence of the intuition as a normal psychological function of the human being. Psychosynthesis assumes the same position and lays much emphasis upon the importance and value of the intuition and upon the necessity of developing it. According to Jung, it is the psychological function that permits perceptions to arise from the unconscious and causes their contents to emerge as complete wholes. He continues: “Intuitive cognition, therefore, possesses an intrinsic character of certainty and conviction which enabled Spinoza to uphold the ‘scientia intuitiva’ as the highest form of cognition.”
Among the moderns, the greatest advocate of the intuition has been, not a psychologist, but a philosopher, Henri Bergson. Much as there is to be said about the intuition, I will mention only that there are various types or levels of it: the Bergsonian intuition, which occurs predominantly at the normal personality levels, is very different from that of Plotinus, which is purely spiritual. Jung asserts that the intuition exists at both these levels, on which it assumes different aspects but is fundamentally the same.” (From: Jung and Psychosynthesis)
“Understanding of the great principles and the higher realities is only achieved through a higher organ of knowledge—the intuition.
This is not anti-rational, but supra-rational. Intuition as a means of knowledge is not generally recognised by academic psychologists and modern philosophers, and they accuse it of being “mystical”. But this only shows their misconception of the true nature and value of mysticism.
First of all intuition is not a quality or gift common to all mystics. Many of them follow the way of pure love and are simple minded and unconcerned about higher knowledge. Others are sometimes flooded with an illumination of Reality which is not specifically due to use of the intuition.
On the other hand, intuition as a higher form of comprehension has been recognised and used by thinkers throughout the ages, and recently humanistic psychologists have also begun to acknowledge and appreciate it.” (Meditation for the New Age, Year 3)
Intuition and Bhagavad Gita
“The unity of the visible universe may be, and indeed is, only the outer manifestation, or reflection, of a unity subsisting in the inner space of the subjective worlds. The key needed here is another faculty, the intuition. As its etymology indicates, the intuition is a direct inner sight, a “seeing into,” a direct apprehension of reality. It enables its possessor to “see” the “Presence” of the universal Reality in all manifested forms and in all differentiated, individual beings or entities. This act of “seeing” is a wonderful experience, which, though ineffable in its essence, has been described by some of those who have undergone it in terms that give a vivid picture of the wonder they have sensed.
One of the most impressive of these descriptions is to be found in the Eleventh Book of the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna, the symbol and incarnation of the Supreme, accedes to Arjuna’s entreaty. Having opened Arjuna’s “inner eye,” He reveals to him His divine appearance in countless forms. “Behold, O Partha (Arjuna), My forms, a hundred-fold, a thousand-fold, various in kind, divine, of various colours and shapes” (v. 5). “Here today behold the whole universe, moving and unmoving … all unified in My Body” (v. 7). Having thus spoken … the great Lord of Yoga then reveals to Partha His Supreme and Divine Form (v. 9). “If the light of one thousand suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, that might resemble the splendour of that exalted Being” (v. 12).
But the Divine Presence in the whole universe is only one aspect of the Supreme, Who remains, in His essential Being, transcendent, free and uninvolved in His manifestation within time and space. In the Ninth Book (of the Gita), Radhakrishnan says in his illuminating commentary,
“The Gita does not deny the world, which exists through God and has God behind, above and before it. It exists through Him who, without the world, would yet be in Himself no less what He is. Unlike God, the world does not possess its specific existence in itself. It has therefore only limited and not absolute being. The teacher inclines not to pantheism which asserts that everything is God but to panentheism that denotes that everything subsists in God. The cosmic process is not a complete manifestation of the Absolute. No finite process can ever finally and fully express the Absolute, though this world is a living manifestation of God.” (The Bhagavad Gita, by Radhakrishnan, Allen and Unwin, London, 1970, p. 239.)” (Meditation for the New Age, Year 3)« Back to Glossary Index