Many writers on intuition claim people have an extrasensory sensitivity that goes beyond the ability to process unconscious perceptual clues. This kind of intuition is some kind of spiritual sensitivity. The best known of these writers is Laura Day. She writes bestselling books on intuition, one of which got a blurb from the co-discoverer of DNA as well as the better-known Brad Pitt (“’I believe in the gut and I believe in Laura Day”), and the comedian Chris Rock (“perhaps the greatest book ever written”). Day says people have many extrasensory intuitional skills which include mediumship, telepathy, remote viewing, and healing (both for human bodies and for other physical objects like stalled car engines).[i]
The most interesting of these skills is mediumship which “is the ability to merge so completely with something or someone else that we experience ourself as the other.” While most people think of mediumship merely as psychics communicating with the dead, she considerably expands it to include other things such as modern business practices. She says you can use mediumship to become your competitor and know her plans from her point of view or to know what language people or the market will respond to. If you are introducing a new product, “You can become [emphasis on become] your market and experience whether of not you will want this product enough to buy it.”[ii]
Mediumship can also be used in healing. If you are a doctor and do not know which drug will work best on your patient, ”You might use mediumship to become your patient and experience how she would react to each drug.” Day sees no reason to limit the healing powers of mediumship to the present moment or the future either. You can use it to become the younger you and change your habits in the past and thus cure your sicknesses. In this way you can “change a past event that has to this point crippled you in some significant way.” Day said her family had a significant history of skin cancer. But when she was younger and lived in Italy, she was on the beach from dawn to dusk while ignoring her father’s warnings to use sun screen. Day used mediumship to become her younger self and then as her younger self used sunscreen and went indoors more often. After this past self healing, she had her present self tested and to her family’s surprise, there was no evidence of cancer or precancer.[iii]
In case you are not interested in mediumship for either marketing or healing, Day says you can relieve stress by becoming someone else or develop a skill like math by becoming another person with that skill. If you suffer from the disease of not being rich, the problem is that you are not wise enough to use mediumship to become the stock market to know whether it will go up or down.[iv]
While many people might be amazed (or dumbfounded) by these claims, the most amazing claim from my point of view is that she thinks what she is doing is like science, in fact she thinks it is more rigorous than science. She says intuitive people have to be skeptical like scientists and document everything like them. She even says that “By the end of this book, you’ll see that the intuitive method can be at least as rigorous as the ‘scientific’ one.”[v]
The glory of science is that it has developed a community-wide method of testing intuitions, gut feelings, hunches, or instincts by calling them (and other things) hypotheses. Good hypotheses are proven true by external, objective testing. Inferior ones are discarded, no matter how much they ring true or feel true to someone.
An individual can test her own intuitions, but this testing can never be as rigorous as a much larger community testing intuitions, feelings, hunches or other ways of arriving at hypotheses. It is so much easier for an individual to be captured by wishful thinking, personal biases or other problems than it is for the whole scientific community to be captured like that. Even if a whole generation or two of scientists are enamored by a mistaken idea, the history of science has continually shown that eventually another person will notice the problems and science will change.
After praising the scientific enterprise so much, the reader might think I reject extrasensory kinds of intuition. I cannot do that, however, as I have many experiences that seem to indicate that sometimes people can have these intuitions. For example, in December 1981, my wife, my two young children and I were in Edinburgh Scotland finishing my wife’s semester abroad so she could graduate from Dartmouth College. We did not yet have plane tickets back to the US, so we traveled to London, which had the best plane connections back to the State. As we came near the city, there was a snowstorm, which although light by Northeastern Americans standards, made travel difficult for Londoners. After a few hours delay, we arrived in the city and went to a motel.
The next day we were on a city bus in London, when I had an extremely strong feeling to get off the bus right away. I knew enough about strong intuitions to follow them. After we got off the bus, I turned around and saw an airline ticket office. We bought our tickets and then two days later we went to the London airport. Surprisingly, there were many Americans and Canadians camping sleeping on the airport terminal floor, as they could not get a flight out. I overheard one American say he had been in the airport for a few days, while a Canadian said he had been there for four days. None of these stranded passengers had any idea when they would be flying out.
We were in the airport for only an hour or two before we boarded our flight. It turned out my intuition had led us to buy tickets from one of the few or the only airline that was flying to the US that day. As we took off, the pilot, who was going to Chicago, laughed that the locals were having trouble with a little snow. The weirdest thing was that the airplane seemed mostly empty. For some reason the airline was not concerned about the other passengers stranded in the airport.
I was still a beginner in making connections, so we would arrive in America with less than ten dollars and would then have to struggle to make our next connection. Nevertheless, this one time I made a connection through the power of my intuition or feelings, and had made the connection much better than people who had more money.
Of course someone could think I got lucky or it was a coincidence. She might think I got off the bus because I unconsciously noticed airline offices in the area and then got lucky to walk into the office of the only or one of the few airlines that were flying out of London. If this were the only time extrasensory intuitions had led me to great things, I would agree with these conclusions. But these kinds of extrasensory intuitions have happened to me many times since I have opened up to deeper spiritual currents in my river.
For example, a few months before the story I just told there was another time this extrasensory intuition helped me. This story is not about our departure from Edinburgh and London, but our arrival there. We arrived in Edinburgh a few weeks before my wife’s term at the University started, so we decided to visit the Findhorn community in northern Scotland. We bought train tickets and boarded the train. As soon as I got on the train I had a strong feeling that taking the train there did not feel right; somehow it deeply felt the wrong thing to do. So we returned our tickets and decided to get there the cheaper way: hitchhiking. In Vermont I often hitchhiked with the children and it was relatively easy. We had only been in Scotland for a couple of days, so we had no idea what roads went to Findhorn. On a map we saw that Aberdeen was the nearest big city to Findhorn. It was two hundred miles away from Edinburgh, and we decided to start by heading towards it.
Outside the Edinburgh train station, we asked the first people we met about how to get to the road to Aberdeen. It turned out these people were members of an Aberdeen soccer team that was playing a match in Edinburgh. They told us that after they finished their game, we could ride the team bus back with them. That night, we got on the bus, and because the team had won their soccer game, we all had a raucous good time. When we were arriving in Aberdeen, one of the women on the bus said that there was a major North Sea oil conference in Aberdeen, and so there were no hotel rooms available in the whole city. But she liked our two children, and even though she knew he fiance would be upset with her, she let us sleep in her apartment that night. So my intuition not only was somehow sensitive to a cheaper, much more fun way to get to Aberdeen, it was also saved us from having a miserable night
Before dealing with the many objections to the whole idea of this kind of intuition, I want to tell just one more story about my extrasensory intuition. In the late summer of 1982 my wife was starting a Ph. D. program in religious studies in Syracuse, New York. When my family arrived in Syracuse, I had the intuition that we should camp out in a state park ten miles from town while we tried to find a place to rent. It was the end of summer, and it was a beautiful time to be in the woods. But after two weeks of camping, my intuition told me that we had missed our place to rent.
My wife was in charge of finding a house and when she came home, she said that two days earlier there was a house in our price range she had not even looked at because it was not a year long rental, but only from month to month. I said that my intuition was indicating this might be our connection, and we should reconsider renting it.
She checked out the house and we decided to take it. In was in a beautiful location in the countryside. It was also right next to the freeway so my wife could easily drive into the university. A month later, a man from the state of New York Department of Transportation showed up at our door, looking very surprised and worried. He asked how we could possibly be renting this house. We wondered what was going on with him. Then he explained that the state was expanding the highway interchange right next to our house and it was going to be torn down at anytime. He said that the previous renters had been moved out at state expense and no one else was supposed to be rent this house ever again. To make a long story short, the state of New York forced us to move out. More importantly, though, the state gave us a significant amount of money to move out and a significant ongoing rent subsidy which lasted four years.
This money was a very helpful amount of money for us as I was taking care of our kids fulltime and my wife was supporting us on her teaching assistantship. My intuition had somehow led us to the best place for us in the city.
In chapter seven, I discuss how I found my soulmate by following a similar extrasensory intuition. There are many other times not mentioned in this book that this kind of intuition has helped me. Thus I think there is some kind of extrasensory intuition. In my way of looking at it, this intuition is a kind spiritual experience as I think there is a larger power or force or God helping me through this intuition.
If you think I am making these stories up, you should stop reading this book because how can I help you improve your life if I am a liar? Another possible reason someone could doubt these stories is that she might think I am misremembering them. Current neuroscientific research into memory supports this skepticism as this research has consistently shown that people’s memories are unreliable. Even worse, many peoples’ memories are unreliable while they think their memory is totally reliable: that is, they think their memory is like a video recording of the event, but it often results from a hodgepodge of many things.
Scientists are wonderfully smart people. To test peoples’ memories, researchers have had people write down what they were doing at the time of a significant event such as a national tragedy. Then years later they would ask people to describe what had happened to them at the time of that tragedy. Peoples’ memories varied significantly from what they had written down. Worse, some people were so sure of correctness of their current memory of the event, that when presented with their description of the event right after it happened written in their own handwriting, they would deny this was their handwriting! In general, researchers have shown that our memories suffer from all kinds of distortions. For example our memories are influenced and changed by our later attitudes and what other people think happened.
I do not suffer from these memory distortions because I was writing a book about these things and would write them down that day or the next.
While I can escape the misremembering problem, what about all the other biases and troubles our mind suffers from so that we cannot trust it as much as many people think? My three favorite books on this topic are Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, by David G. Myers. These books, and many others like them, show that because of the way we evolved, our minds now suffer from software glitches. The two most important of these glitches relevant to my claims are the tendency to perceive causes in everything and selective attention.
Primitive people were likely to survive if they saw causes behind things when the grass rustled. If they perceived causes, like a lion caused the grass rustling, then they would run and survive. If they did not have this safety mechanism of perceiving false causes, they were more likely to be eaten.
A second feature of our mind evolving is selective attention. We perceive so many bits of information that we are only able to consciously process some of them. The things outside our attention are just not noticed. This was the best way to survive in a dangerous environment. This tendency is revealed best by the Invisible Gorilla experiment. Experimenters asked people to count how many times a group of people in a video pass a basketball back and forth between them. In the middle of the video, a person in a gorilla suit walks on and stands still for a couple of seconds. After watching the video, when people were asked if they saw anything unusual, only about half of them mentioned the gorilla. The rest never saw it. Most interestingly, after being told about the gorilla, they denied that it was there in the original video, even after being shown the original video again.
Scientists would criticize my claim for extrasensory intuition and spirituality on the following grounds. First they would say that I was using something like selective attention by neglecting the times that showed my extrasensory intuition was wrong or did not exist. Second they would say that I was inferring a spiritual cause behind things because the human mind had an innate tendency to infer causes behind random things. These objections and my answer to them are better dealt with in chapter seven. There I more fully discuss active mysticism, or God calling people to do specific things in the world.
The underlying premise to the idea that I would be misremembering or otherwise suffering from mental biases is that people cannot have these extrasensory intuitions because humans are fundamentally purely material beings. If one thinks materialistic scientific explanations explain reality, then it make sense to dismiss my claims as due to misremembering or as the result of some other intuitional bias. After all, neuroscientists have shown that our intuitions are often untrustworthy because of biases that seem to be part of our mind’s software.
Other writers on this kind of intuition often say scientists are close minded to dismiss extrasensory intuition. But it is understandable scientists dismiss extrasensory intuitions and they are not close-minded or narrow in doing it. After all, there is no known scientific mechanism by which I could be sitting on a bus and somehow sense there was the office of one of the few or only airlines flying in the snowstorm. Furthermore these kinds of intuitions seem to involve some kind of action at a distance with no physical contact. They seem to assume some kind of spiritual power or knowledge. Scientists have been testing those kinds of non-physical causality since the rise of modern science.
In the early seventeenth century, the astronomer Johannes Kepler (whose three laws were the foundation of Newton’s work on gravity and planetary orbits) tried to find a scientifically verifiable astrology. In the middle of the seventeenth century, many scientists tested the power of crystals and talismans to cure humans. They also tested magical cures such as the weapon salve cure. In the later part of the seventeenth century, scientists intimately associated with the Royal Society (which was the most important breeding ground for early science) investigated stories of witches because they wanted to prove they existed. (Early scientists wanted to avoid being called atheists, so proving witches existed proved spirits existed, which implied God existed. The supposed linkage between the rise of science and the downfall of the belief in witches has been shown by historians of science as a false linkage; a good deal of the most forceful advocates for science in England at the end of the seventeenth century were also the strongest advocates for witchcraft being real.)
In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier were part of a royal commission to test Mesmerism. Mesmerism was developed by Antoine Mesmer, who said that there was an animal magnetism, which he said people could use to cure other people. This animal magnetism was thought to be a spiritual or subtle energy power and it worked at a distance through no known physical mechanism.
In the nineteenth century, Francis Galton tested the power of prayer in an ingenious experiment. He said that the British royalty, who had prayers said for them by the whole country each Sunday in church, should be the healthiest people in the country if prayers were efficacious. At the end of the century, XXX tested the idea that a person could sense there was someone behind him that he could not physically see.
Spiritualism was extremely popular in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Spiritualism was the belief that humans survived death in spirit form and could communicate with humans through a medium during a séance. Many scientists who suffered from loved ones dying tested this phenomenon for an extremely long period of time. So Madame Curie did it for decades to try to communicate with her dead husband, Pierre. Other investigators include Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor Frederick William Myers, Prof. Charles Richet and Alfred Russel Wallace.
In the twentieth century, scientists at Duke University tested ESP. Later on, scientists at Princeton tested ESP and psychokinesis.
None of these tests have ever shown any positive results. So scientists are justified in rejecting spiritual things, including extrasensory intuition, as experiments have never been able to show they exist. Unfortunately defenders of spirituality usually slander the scientists by calling them close-minded and narrow for not being open to these types of things. Science is a great mix of openness to new things and a toughness that these things have to prove themselves. Spiritual things have not proven themselves over many experiments, so why should scientists continue to be open to them?
To make matters worse, modern spiritual people generally are immodest, boastful, and lack carefulness and precision. Disgust with these traits were an important part of the very development of modern science. It is often not generally known but much the ethos of modern science developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in opposition to a spiritual paradigm much like the modern spiritual New Age paradigm.
In the 1300s and early 1400s the dominant scientific paradigm was based on Aristotle’s scientific views. Then in the later 1400s, the works of Plato and his followers were re-introduced to Western Europe. While Aristotle was primarily concerned for empirical facts of this world, Plato and his followers believed in reincarnation, magic, astrology, numerology, and contemplative oneness with God. These ideas are extremely similar to New Age views. As this worldview became pervasive in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the later 1400s, it was known as Neoplatonism.
It used to be thought that modern science arose out of simple opposition to Aristotelianism. It seemed impossible the magical ideas of Neoplatonism could have any positive relationship to science. Historical scholarship now shows that modern science arose along with Neoplatonism as alternatives to Aristotelianism. Furthermore the vast majority of the most important early scientists of the period actually were Neoplatonists or heavily influenced by it. (Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle’s long fascination with alchemy is just the best-known evidence of this connection.)
What the early scientists did not like was the cultural ethos and personality traits of many Neoplatonists. These people were seen as bombastic, boastful, secretive, making ambiguous claims that could not be tested, and claiming direct divine illumination about the inner essences of things. Modern science’s cultural ethos arose in opposition to the faults of these people. Scientists said they had to be humble and not claim to be seeing the essence of something, only its outward physical attributes. Scientists said they had to make clear claims that could be publicly tested. Instead of exaggerating and being boastful about what they could do, scientists had to be precise in their methods and stick carefully to the facts. The human mind was also seen as faulty and liable to errors of judgment, so there had to be communal testing of things, instead of direct divine illumination.
This ethos is still very much part of the scientific method. Many modern psychologically and spiritually oriented people think that a person’s past can influence their present because she might have personal issues around certain things. Many of these people also believe that nothing that happens is an accident. These same people, however, miss that our culture can be similar. When scientists hear people making boastful, amazing claims about the power of extrasensory intuition (like ruling the world from your couch by changing your past and merging with the stock market) they react the dismissive way they do partially because of the cultural memory of older spiritual paradigms that is embedded in the scientific ethos.
Many writers who discuss extrasensory intuition believe science will eventually prove the existence of these kinds of intuition. I do not share their optimism because I have a fundamentally different way of viewing extrasensory intuitions. Many of these other writers on intuitions, such as Laura Day, see extrasensory intuition as a power we naturally have. They say we can control it and use it to get things that we want. They say that we were born with it and as children we often practiced it. But as we went to school and grew up our society conditioned us to distrust it and disregard it. Now it is easy to get this power back if we trust it and use it.
If extrasensory intuition is an ability or power, then it seems reasonable that it would be scientifically testable. The debunker of pseudoscience James Randi has offered a million dollars if anyone can show they have extrasensory intuitional powers. If this ability existed and if it were a power under a person’s control, then one would expect someone to show proof of this ability and get the million dollars. Michael Shermer has written a book on why people believe in pseudoscience things like extrasensory intuition. He says that if these things existed, then people with this talent would be winning the lottery all the time, there would be no need for huddles in football and similar things. But he is assuming that extrasensory intuition, if it existed, would be a power under someone’s control.
Extrasensory intuitions or feelings, however, are not best seen as a natural ability or power we all possess that has been conditioned out of us by Western, scientific, materialistic culture. These intuitions are not an ability or power we have, and so they are not something that we can control. Thus I do not think the existence of these kinds of intuitions will be validated by science as they are not something that can be easily tested in a scientific experiment. Advocates of extrasensory intuition would do better facing that situation then portraying scientists as close-minded bigots who are inappropriately resistant to matters that do not fit into their materialistic paradigm.
Instead of seeing extrasensory intuition as a power that we all can have if we opened up to it, I see it as a result of connecting to deeper spiritual currents in our river. If we open up to these deeper spiritual currents, and work with them, then we occasionally get extrasensory intuitions that help us wonderfully. But connecting to these deeper spiritual currents is not something easily accomplished; instead it ordinarily takes years of psychological and spiritual work and then continual care. Nor do we get to “Rule the world from our couch” as the title of one of Laura Day’s books on intuition has it. Instead a person has to flow with these deeper currents and adjust her wants to where those deeper currents want you to flow. But if you can connect to these deeper spiritual currents, extrasensory intuitions might occasionally bless you by helping you along the way. You also experience the wonderful joy and purposefulness that comes from being aligned with this deeper and more powerful flow. So my way of looking at extrasensory intuition is much closer to the traditional religious experience of being guided by the divine than seeing it as some self-oriented power that we all possess if we opened up to it.
For someone like me who has experienced these extrasensory kinds of intuitions, the important concern is not trying to convince scientists or others of their existence. The main concern is correctly following these and other kinds of intuitions by not getting duped by false ones. The next chapter will address the vital matter of how to discern true intuitions from false ones.
[i] Laura Day, How to Rule the World from your Couch (New York: Atria Books, 2009). The blurbs are on the back flap and back cover. The material is from pages 11-14.
[iv] Day, Rule World, p. 71 & 63.
[v] Day, Rule World, p. 4.
After this book is written, I am hoping to get it published. It would be helpful if you tell me any questions you may have or any parts that you have found helpful. If you have sections that you do not understand or you think are stupid or misguided, I would very much appreciate if you tell me. It is much better to hear these comments now, when I can easily change things, then later, after I have published a book. I will reflectively consider your concerns and, if warranted, I will change things to incorporate your concerns into the book. You can email me at email@example.com. Please put “About Connections,” into the subject heading of the email.
This book was written by Joseph Waligore with the help of Michelle Stage. Joseph teaches philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. More information about him can be found at his MySpace profile or his Facebook profile. Michelle works in a bank in St. Paul, Minnesota as a learning consultant and in a Minneapolis night club as a dominatrix.
This website is one of four websites I have. Another one, www.followingtheflow.com is for spiritually oriented people and discusses very similar ideas from a more spiritually oriented perspective. Another one, www.josephwaligore.com is for academically or intellectually oriented people. It has my writings about spiritual philosophies such as Stoicism, Socrates, the Deists, the Enlightenment period, and the rise of modern science. Another one, www.spiritualcritiques.com, has critiques of many popular spiritual teachers and spiritual teachings. It looks at teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, and Pema Chodron. It also looks at teachings like “All is One,” “The Hundredth Monkey,” and “If it Rings True, it is True.”
There is a Facebook group called Flowing. People interested in meeting other people who are interested in these ideas and/or participating in discussions about these ideas are invited to join the group.
Many people reach this site through keyword advertisements. It might be of interest that Joseph got the money for these ads through his day trading profits.