Friday 13 May 2022

Habit versus intuition, and how they may be distinguished

There is a fascinating passage in Owen Barfield's What Coleridge Thought, which is of great value in clarifying the difference between intuition on the one hand - upon which our primary evaluations ought to be based; and on the other hand what might be termed habits, including spontaneous (including innate) mechanisms of thinking and (perhaps evolved, or socialized) 'habits' - which are often erroneous. 

In Chapter XII of Biographia Literaria; Coleridge describes two 'prejudices' (or 'certainties') that are aspects of the realism of mankind, which we all spontaneously do, and believe to be real; yet which are contradictory

The first 'prejudice' is what Coleridge terms the outness of phenomena; that (in some sense) there really exists things outside of us; such as that table - which we spontaneously regard as being as we perceive it to be. 

This is not some conclusion we derive from observation and reasoning - it is a matter of 'how we are made'. We do Not spontaneously believe that we see merely the 'appearance' of a table (the 'real' table being something else); but we do naturally assume that the table 'is' a thing outside us, a phenomenon out-there to which we do not contribute. 

The second 'prejudice' is the awareness that 'I' am 'in here'; perceiving the things I regard as things, the phenomena are outside. 

In sum - the two built-in and spontaneous assumptions are that 'I' an 'in here'; and there is a world 'out there'. 

And the apparent contradiction is that the outside strikes us as absolutely real and separate from the I inside; but all we know of the outer, depends on the I inside who observes it - so the 'outer' cannot be wholly outer - or else the perception of an 'I' within must be mistaken...  

Then Coleridge makes the crucial distinction between 'outer' and 'I inside'; that although both of these 'original and innate prejudices' are natural and spontaneous - if we proceed to analysis, to reflect on these prejudices - the assumption of outness dissolves, but the assumption of a 'me, inside' that is doing the analysis does Not dissolve! 

As Barfield summarizes: that inner I which is doing the analyzing always remains aware that it is doing it. And even if the inner I denies that it is doing the analyzing - we remain aware that act of denial comes-from the I itself, and therefore refutes the denial!

While, on the contrary, the natural assumption that there is an independent, obvious, 'objective' world of phenomena, of things, out there; is easily theoretically disproved - by several valid lines of argument. 

Thus, despite their immoveable habit; it is quite normal and common for people to believe that the appearances of things 'out there' is not the whole truth of them, and that the real things differ from their 'obvious' appearances.

In other words; our natural sense of realism about the outside world is 'merely' a habit, which cannot withstand analysis - but on the other hand, our natural sense of our self inside is robust to honest and coherent analysis. At the end of any analysis, we still are aware of our inner-self doing that analysis. 

This 'honest analysis' is therefore potentially an important test for detecting genuine intuitions, compared with false habits or prejudices, or 'wishful thinking'. 

Real intuitions are robust to honest analysis by our-self, whereas fake-intuitions (that may be evolved structural mechanisms, habits, or passively absorbed from socialization) are Not thus robust.

But of course that analysis must be honest! 

The persistence of the 'observing I' through all analysis can be dishonestly denied, as can any other proposition! And exactly such denials are meat and drink - the Big Lies - that underpin the activities and ideology of the modern, mainstream, Establishment System.  

This is why intuition requires us to test assumptions for our-selves. Only we can know the difference between honest discernment, and the many possible tricks and fakery of another Being's conclusions. 


Epimetheus said...

One time, I told some people at work that the MRI studies observing the changes in brain activity based on what people are told to think about proves the existence of the paranormal. Ie. according to these scientific studies, we humans have limited telekinetic powers over the electrical activity inside our skull. The brain is a part of the universe, we can influence electrical behavior in the brain with the mere power of thought alone, therefore we can influence electricity in the universe by the power of thinking alone (the brain is not separate from the universe), all of which meets the formal definition for telekinesis. In short, we already have profound scientific evidence for the existence of the paranormal - and we have done for decades.

To my shock, they vociferously denied the existence of consciousness. We don't think, therefore we don't influence brain activity. Oh well. Maybe I've got something wrong.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Epi - Another way to approach this is from the metaphysical assumption that spirit is primary and matter/ the-material is a (later developed) subtype of the spiritual.

For example, minds preceded brains - (see the argument in Owen Barfield's World's Apart).

Therefore it is clear that non-material (not detectable by our perception or by the instruments of science) spirit, such as thinking, can in principle influence matter.