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The Anatomy of an Intuition


A scientific study reveals what intuition looks like and how to encourage it.

This article appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of Spirituality & Health. While our world has been shaped largely by the intuitive moments of scientists and mystics and artists and therapists, little attention has been paid to those moments themselves. Do intuitions arrive instantaneously and fully formed? Or is there in these seemingly random events a pattern of unfolding that we can learn to recognize and perhaps help along? To find out, Francisco Varella and I at the Institut Nationale des Telecommunications in Paris identified 24 people who had experienced vastly different kinds of intuition: Eight psychotherapists from different schools who had intuitions either about themselves or in to the lives of their patients; an economist who used intuition to find errors in research reports; an astrophysicist who intuitively came up with a new understanding of quantum mechanics; two artists, a photographer and a painter, whose work had been shaped by creative intuitions; and finally a group of people who had experienced intuitions in daily life, including a woman who knew from a distance that her …

Claire Petitmengin-Peugeot, Ph.D., is an associate professor of information systems design and knowledge representation at Institut Nationale des Telecommunications in Paris.

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