The Power of Intuition

David Cowles

May 26, 2022

I love to say, “I know.” Be honest, so do you! We all love to say it – well, all of us except Nicholas of Cusa (1401 - 1464), who preferred to say, “I don’t know.” But that’s another story for another day.

Knowledge is the recognition of information. Information happens whenever: (1) things in the world are such and such, and (2) things could have been other than such and such. When I say, “I know,” I mean that things are such and such in the world (objective knowledge) or that things are such and such in my mind (subjective knowledge), or that things are such and such in the world and in my mind in a way that cannot be deduced logically from a set of self-evident assumptions or verified experimentally via the scientific method (intuitive knowledge).

So, we use ‘I know’ in three different ways…but only one of these ways is correct!

When we say we know something through deduction or experimentation, we know nothing...or at least nothing new. Information occurs only when (1) things in the world are such and such, and (2) things could have been other than such and such. When something is deduced from self-evident assumptions, that something cannot be other than it is, given those assumptions. That is the nature of deduction. The information content of the event resides entirely in its assumptions and the rules of logic, not in the conclusion itself.

Likewise, given the parameters and proper execution of an experiment, the result could not have been other than it was. That’s what ‘verification’ means. The information associated with that experiment lies entirely in the experimental apparatus and procedure, not in the result itself.

What we call subjective knowledge, on the other hand, is not ‘knowledge’ at all. It is merely the reporting of a mental state. True, a mental state is such and such and could be other than such and such; the problem is that subjective knowledge is knowledge about itself (mind) not about the world.

There is a third option. I may believe that something about the world is true, but I may not be able to prove it logically or verify it experimentally. If, in fact, what I believe to be true is true, then we have a genuine ‘information event,’ Things could very well have been other than they are.

Being children of the 20th century, most of us would opt for objective knowledge over subjective or intuitive knowledge, but let’s not be hasty; we’ll circle back to this question at the end.

If you want to say something about the external world, and neither deduction nor experimentation can get you where you want to go, you must rely on intuition. I know something to be true via intuition if it asserts something true about the world that cannot be deduced by logic or verified by experiment.

‘Counter-intuitively,’ only ‘Intuitive’ knowledge is knowledge. Neither deduction nor experimentation generates information; they simply display it. The purpose of a deduction or an experiment is to display (often to ourselves as well as to others) information that pre-exists its manifestation. The information content of a deduction or an experiment pre-exists the event itself.

Ok, so let’s push the curtain back. Logical assumptions and experimental procedures are themselves part of event chains, and those event chains have to begin somewhere, but where? Event chains cannot begin from objective or subjective knowledge because these modes of ‘knowledge’ are not knowledge at all. Event chains must spring from real knowledge and that can only mean intuitive knowledge. Turns out, all actual knowledge is at its core intuitive; objective and subjective knowledge are simply degenerate cases of intuitive knowledge.

20th century epistemology began with Logical Positivism (experimental knowledge) and ended with Artificial Intelligence (algorithmic knowledge) – both dead ends as it turns out. Welcome to the 21st century…its time for a breath of fresh air.

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