(16th-century illustration of Archimedes in the bath, with Hiero’s crown at bottom right)

“Intuition is a really valuable factor.”
- Albert Einstein.

The word intuition has slightly different usages. It is defined as a sudden understanding or clarification of a situation, a bright idea that oftentimes blossoms in one’s conscious and which may occur to us when we are not consciously thinking about a given subject; but intuitions are also those that occur to us suddenly, when we consciously think about a problem.

In this regard, prince Kropotkin wrote: “Months of intense thought followed with the aim of finding some meaning in all that chaos of various observations, until one day, and suddenly, everything became clear and understandable as if I had been enlightened by a ray of light… There are not many joys in life that equal the joy of the birth of a generalization that comes to enlighten the mind after a long period of patient investigation.”

Sometimes intuitions present themselves during sleep. Otto Locur, professor of Pharmacology at the University of Gras, recounts that one night he woke up with a brilliant idea. He searched for paper and pencil and wrote down some notes. When he got up in the morning he realized that he’d had an inspiration during the night; however, try as he might, he could not decipher what he had written. All that day in the laboratory he tried to remember the idea and understand his notes — but it was in vain. When he was going to bed, still, he had not been able to remember anything but during that night, to his delight, he awoke again with the same flash of inspiration. This time he made sure to take note of everything carefully before going to sleep. The following day he headed to his laboratory and in one of the simplest, clearest and most definitive experiments in the history of biology, he verified the chemical mediation of nervous impulses.

Most scientists are familiar with the phenomenon of intuition. In a survey done by the American chemists Platt and Baker, 33% of participants reported being frequently aided by intuition, 50% only occasionally and 17% reported no help from intuition. This last group did not understand what an intuition was and believed their ideas only derived from conscious thought — perhaps, based on an insufficient examination of the mind’s work process.

We should not, however, trust all intuitions. As a product of the fallible human mind, intuitions are not always correct.

Psychology of Intuition: The most characteristic circumstances for an intuition are the following: an intense period of work on the problem accompanied by the desire to solve it; abandonment of the work, dedicating oneself to something else and the sudden appearance of the idea, often accompanied by a certain sensation of certainty. Frequently one feels delight and perhaps surprise that that idea had not occurred to one previously. The psychology of this phenomenon has not been fully understood. There is a general, albeit not universal, agreement regarding the fact that intuitions arise from the subconscious activities of the mind which has continued to think about the problem, even when the conscious mind is perhaps not paying attention to it.

This concept of the psychology of intuition provides us with an explanation of the importance of: a) The freedom provided by other problems and competitive concerns, and b) The periods of rest which allow intuitions to appear — as these messages from the subconscious cannot be received by the conscious mind if it is constantly occupied or too fatigued. There are cases of famous realizations which have occurred to while sick in bed. Einstein refers to the fact that his profound realization relating to space and time came to mind while he was sick.

Baker affirms that the ideal moment is when one is in the bathtub. He suggests it was this favorable condition that helped Archimedes to discover his famous principle — and not the fact he noticed his body floated. The favorable effects of both bed and bath are probably due to there being no distracting elements, a circumstance conducive to fantasizing.

Different people have noted the favorable influence of music. Nonetheless — not everybody agrees with this. Some forms of music help intuition: enjoyment of music is very emotionally similar to that derived from a creative mental activity — appropriate music induces an appropriate predisposition for creative thought. There is nothing better than music to inspire us to write a poem — if it makes us feel we are in a subconscious state. It has happened to me several times that I have written a poem and then, a few days later, I’ve read it again and can’t explain to myself how I could have written it. The unreality of the subconscious blooms.

The huge emotional stimulus that many people experience when they carry out a new discovery or have a brilliant intuition also comes to bear. Probably, this emotional reaction is related to the amount of mental and emotional effort and that has been dedicated to the problem. Another factor is the sudden release of the frustrations that have been associated with work on the problem. In this regard it is very interesting to note the statement of Claude Bernard. “Those who do not know the torment of the unknown cannot obtain the joy of discovery.”

Emotional sensitivity is a valuable attribute for a scientist. A notable scientist must be considered to be a creative artist — it is entirely false to think a scientist is a man who simply follows the laws of logic and experiments. Some of the great masters of the art of research have also possessed other types of artistic talent. Both Einstein and Planck were good musicians. They were lovers of music — that which understands it all. Pasteur and Bernard, from an early age, showed skill in painting and literature respectively. Without having to go too far, in Valencia, we have Dr. Guillermo Mujica Sevilla — head of the Histology Department at the U.C. An anatomic pathologist, an educator — and a supremely cultured person, a lover of literature and music, especially opera. There is no place where he is not seen to collaborate. Dr. Mujica, always calm, has time for everything and for everyone.

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com