In today’s world, the main entity of knowledge by which people apprehend the world is a datum. Unless something lends itself to verification by the empirical evidence that a datum represents, it is not really considered knowledge. Because a datum is a defined discrete entity, its clear boundaries and clear sharp substance get rid of any ambiguity in terms of what it is giving information about. It’s firm, it’s solid. If one examines it tomorrow, it will still convey the same picture that it is conveying today. And data lay the foundation for any elaborate cognitive analysis. Data are like the legos that form the building blocks of scientific theories. Data are obtained through the hard empiricism of scientific experiments or surveys or polls. They are the base entity of statistics, of any kind of research paper. They totally dominate thinking in modern technological society.
The total domination by data squeezes out another basic entity of knowledge from the human field of experience. I’m talking about the vague global impression that is the foundation of intuition. Unlike a datum, a vague impression doesn’t have a defined discrete boundary, a defined discrete structure or a defined discrete surface. A vague impression is basically, a flowing, blendable continual stimulus. It lacks both a defined discrete time of entry into our lives and a defined discrete time of exit from our lives. It lacks defined discrete boundaries both visually and physically within our fields of experience. And it lacks a defined discrete surface in its presentation to the external world such that it presents a blurry separation from everything around it including us. We internalize it, it becomes one with us. It deep-bonds with us. It is a truth that lasts with us. It grounds with us. The sayings and adages that are parts of culture and that are passed on from generation to generation are vague impressions that are grounded in intuition. On the other hand, a person can intuitively group some aspects of a situation in the present either as an observation or a solution, can form an inchoate vague impression based on intuition. Intuition can lead us to form opinions about people we have just met.
Data, as defined discrete entities of knowledge, do not deep-bond with a person; do not become one with a person. People today like this state of affairs. They like to be able to stand apart from their knowledge entities in order to more effectively judge them in terms of their veracity and objectivity. Objective truth is considered to be the only meaningful kind of truth today.
On the other hand, people tend to feel uncomfortable with the vague impressions that are the foundation of intuition. Without clear boundaries, it is hard to focus on them, in order to define what they are doing and in order to affirm their veracity. The fact that a vague impression is meant to be grasped quickly, so that one can quickly pick up on its essence, goes against the notion that truth can only be obtained through a sustained focus on an unshifting entity. In truth, the vague impressions of intuition are the result of fleeting observations of shifting phenomena that, nevertheless, have solid core essences. These essences have to be grasped from within the shifting phenomena, in order to gain the knowledge that they offer. But because so much related to these phenomena is constantly shifting, it is not as if one can set up a situation in which to pin down intuitive insights. The phenomena that contain the sources of intuitive insights are not controlled or controllable phenomena. One does not pin down intuitive images. One grasps them fleetingly with a vague impression.
The truth is that many of the phenomena in the world, be they physical, mental or emotional, are not defined discrete entities. Rather they are flowing blendable continual entities with shifting blurry boundaries. One can momentarily grasp their essences, but they are constantly changing their external parameters and constantly on the move. And the truth is, drawing on analogies with infinity theory in mathematics, there is a greater infinity in the world of these blurry shifting entities than there is of defined discrete entities. Which means that there is a greater infinity of material in the world that is susceptible to being apprehended by intuition than there is material susceptible to being apprehended by scientific empiricism and cognitive analysis.
So when we refuse to accept the authenticity and the veracity of intuitive impressions, we are eliminating the more prevalent source of human knowledge, the more prevalent source of human understanding. We are cutting ourselves off from the more prevalent form of mental connection to the world. And we are cutting ourselves off from the more prevalent form of self-understanding.
When we grasp something intuitively, we don’t pin down a piece of knowledge the way we do when we perceive something empirically. The entity we grasp through intuition is not a fully developed figure of knowledge. It is an inchoate figure of knowledge at the core of a flowing blendable continual phenomenon – the essence at the center of an inchoate shifting phenomenon. As was previously stated, many of these intuitive insights become the foundation of folk sayings, folk wisdom as expressed in different cultures around the world. They tend to be general commentaries about life, vague impressions that imperfectly cover many shifting life situations. Other intuitive insights are hunches we get about some aspect of just one life situation. For instance, we intuitively feel that a situation is going to move towards a particular outcome. Or we intuitively get a feeling about the character of a particular person. It’s nothing that we can put our finger on. It’s just something that we fleetingly grasp about that person.
Unfortunately, as people lose their desire to ever rely on intuition, thinking that it is too fuzzy, they lose their capacity to utilize it effectively. Sometimes, in trying to understand a particular person or situation, there isn’t enough time to study the person or situation using reason or formal empiricism. By losing our capacity for intuition, we lose not only an important source of understanding, but an important way to ground ourselves in the world. Without intuition, we are much more likely to float in an experiential vacuum.
(c) 2020 Laurence Mesirow