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Intuition: The knowledge of your heart

For thousands of years Chinese philosophy and medicine has placed a great emphasis on the heart.

Acupuncture philosophy states that the heart is central because the heart (1) accumulates the most bio-energetic/ bio-electrical charge and (2) distributes this charge throughout the body via the cardiovascular system. These charges are found throughout your system and in every cell of your body. They play a role in the information exchange between and among your cells. These information exchanges contribute to your state of health.

In addition to the heart being a pump, Chinese philosophy indicates that the heart is an organ of perception. According to this, we literally ‘intuitively see’ with our hearts. Popular phrases used by the public suggest that people agree with the Chinese—we know that the heart perceives and knows. For example, everyone understands what someone means when they say “I knew in my heart…” or “My heart told me….” Often these phrases are used to imply that the heart knew more than the brain or logical processes. James Stephens captures this when he states, “What the heart knows today, the head will understand tomorrow.”

Today research in science and psychology are teaming up to prove that, indeed, your heart can perceive information before your head. For several years, psychologists and parapsychologists have been exploring the public’s ability to make accurate split-second assessments of people and/or situations. Folklore has always indicated that ‘first impressions’ are important, but science had been unable to provide supportive proof that this is true. If it did prove true in experimentation, it was always assumed to be a result of similarities between the present event and people’s previous experiences. People’s history, in other words, make them good guessers. Now research supports the accuracy of these first impressions (which we often label intuitive) and they appear not to be the result of a person’s previous history.

Nalini Ambady, a research psychologist at Tufts University, has been studying the accuracy of people’s first impressions with what she calls ‘thin-slice’ research. Ambady took video of graduate students teaching their classes. She then created 30 second ‘thin-slices’ of them teaching. To reduce the possibility of the researcher’s influencing the selection of the 30 seconds, Ambady and a colleague randomly selected 3 separate 10 second sections of video and sliced them together. They then showed these randomly selected 30 second silent videos to student judges. The ratings of the student judges were then compiled and compared with the teachers’ end-of-the-semester evaluations. The correlation surprised researchers. In a follow-up study, Ambady shortened the clips to 15 seconds and then 6 seconds. Regardless of the length of the clips, the students predicted the most successful teachers. (For more information, see The Monitor, Vol. 36, March 2005.) How are these student judges able to perceive the truth so quickly?

Timothy O. Wilson, another researcher, offers one suggestion with his concept of the adaptive unconscious. Wilson states that every one of us gathers, sorts, and stores information, and even uses this information to make decisions without our conscious awareness. This process can happen within a split second. Wilson calls the mechanism that we are using to do this our adaptive unconscious and theorizes that it is established in people at a young age. Wilson’s book, Strangers to Ourselves, presents lots of research on how people know and evaluate quickly based on this nonconscious process. Wilson suggests that their may be a relationship between the adaptive unconscious and intuitive processes. Is the adaptive unconscious a source of our intuitive knowing?

Researchers at the HeartMath Research Center go further and offer another explanation—one which focuses on the knowledge of the heart. In 2004 The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Volume 10, Number 1) researchers McCraty, Atkinson, and Bradley explore the electrophysicological evidence of intuition. These researchers also looked at split-second knowledge, but focus on the fact that the body, particularly the heart, responds to stimulus before being exposed to the stimulus. The stimulus in this case was emotionally arousing pictures. For example, imagine that you are walking down a street and are unaware that around the corner you will be exposed to a beautiful, breath-taking garden. According to this research, your heart can know in advanced that you will see a garden around the corner. In this case, even before you turn the corner, your body will suddenly be engulfed by a sense of calm and beauty—the same sense you would have if you actually had turned the corner. In other words, your heart appears to be able to ‘see’ around the corner and know a split-second earlier what is going to happen. This is also true with more disturbing emotional pictures. When HeartMath’s research subjects were going to be exposed to emotionally arousing and/or challenging pictures, their hearts responded in advance with even greater significance.

All these research results suggest that each of us has capacities for knowledge that go beyond our traditional understandings. The passion and emotions of the heart are also present in anecdotal accounts of intuition. It is self-evident that the people who demonstrated extraordinary intuition throughout history (for example, Einstein, Mozart, and Salk) are receiving information about topics and ideas with which they are passionately engaged. Musicians have intuition about music; scientists have intuition about science; physicians are intuitive about health care. Intuition seems to operate best in an atmosphere of passionate curiosity and dedication. Could this be because our hearts have the capacity to receive information? Is the ancient Chinese philosophy that our hearts are organs of perception correct?

Our understanding of intuition and how it operates are very preliminary. However, research does support that (1) you can pay attention to your first impressions and evaluate their accuracy as time unfolds, (2) your adaptive unconscious may be intelligently assessing your life and its circumstances and helping you to make decisions [see Wilson’s book for specific ideas on how to tap this], and (3) your heart has an accuracy of its own. These concepts suggest that a good place to begin exploring intuition is in the areas of your life that you love.



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The Life Science Foundation website provides general information about intuition, intuitive science, and complementary and alternative care. This information provided is not designed to, and does not provide medical advice. Nothing contained on the site is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your health care provider if you have any questions relating to your health and any reliance on information on this website is solely at your own risk.