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The battle between intellect and intuition


As human beings we spend a lot of time trying to rationalise and regulate things. We put in place measures to control and contain everything that frightens us, time, weather and emotions. We build clocks and calendars to create a semblance of order in our world because entropy terrifies us.

As we encourage our children to adopt routines, as we try to predict the weather, as we put in place social rules to restrict what can, should be done and said between ourselves, we do not stop to ask what part of our lives is truly under our control.

Perhaps you are one of those people who like to live life according to careful consideration, cautious assessment of conditions, process and policy, precise planning and putting it all together in a properly constituted business plan devoid of any reliance on matters as vague as passion or panache. These people would like to think they rely largely on their intellect for decision-making.

Well, that’s certainly one way of going about things. But maybe you belong to that other group of people who rail against restriction. The free spirits who believe that life should be run largely on instinct; that wherever possible we should let nature take its course; that the intuitive response is what gives winners the edge and that without it, we can never truly thrive. These people base their decision-making largely on instinct.

So these are probably two extremes, but those who rely on their brain are not so different from those who rely on their gut. The connection between the brain and the gut is much more intricate than you think.

Ever thought about expressions like someone getting “butterflies in their stomach” before a big performance? Or how people say: “My gut tells me . . .” or even “You make me sick to my stomach!”? A mother sometimes feels an intense pain in her belly when her child is in danger. All of these examples reflect the intricate relationship between the brain and the stomach. In fact the stomach itself is a brain of sorts, or at least that’s what Jordan S Rubin, author of book called The Maker’s Diet says: “The state of the gut has a profound influence upon our health. It is from the healthy gut that we enjoy neurological and psychological as well as immunological health.
This is not to discount the human brain. This is simply to say that the body has two brains — the second brain being our gut.”

He goes on to explain: “The gut’s brain, known as the enteric nervous system, is located in sheaths of tissue lining the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Considered a single entity, it is packed with neurons, neuro-transmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons or support cells like those found in the brain. It contains a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.”

Interestingly the importance of the stomach is seen in many healing and mystical traditions around the world. The Chinese art of Tai Chi emphasises the lower abdomen as a reservoir of energy, while in more modern ties we speak of “strengthening the core” making reference to the abdominal area.

In fact, Pilates, an exercise system developed by a German fitness trainer/healer, emphasises the balanced development of the body through core strength, which is the foundation of Pilates exercises. Pilates is said to result in both physical and mental well being.

Although we pride ourselves on being rational logical beings, we tend to make the most important decisions of our lives based on intuition and emotion. Think about choices such as the person you marry, the leaders you vote for, the friends we hang out with and the tastes we develop. All of these owe more to intuition and feeling as they do to rational reasoning.

Intuition allows us to make decisions without actually having proof or knowledge about the outcome. More complex than common sense, intuition draws on an inexplicable inner reserve of awareness that one can either trust and follow or doubt and discard. Experts say the more you use your intuition the better you “train” it to be more and more effective, reaching a point where you seem able to foretell events or interpret them at a supposedly higher or more mysterious levels that we commonly operate on. A little like creativity I suppose.

According to lateral thinking guru, Edward de Bono, a good creative idea is always obvious in hindsight. When you consider inventions such as paper clips, bridges and pumps, you may or may not agree with this.

When researching the meaning of intellect, one comes across many references to the capacity to think and reason, the ability to process abstract ideas and to understand ideas objectively.

Wikipaedia defines it thus: “Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real and about how to solve problems. Historically, the term comes from the Greek philosophical term nous, which was translated into Latin as intellectus (derived from the verb intelligere) and into French (and then English) as intelligence.”

In the final analysis, I guess the answers to life’s questions are not so much dependent on whether to rely on intellect or intuition, but rather on how to take the best of both in negotiating an optimum solution. One shouldn’t forget of course that life’s essence isn’t just about solving problems, but also about finding pleasure while we are doing so.

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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