Trust Your Feelings

Science has a long and distinguished history of showing that human intution is completely unreliable.

  • The Earth is the center of the universe. No, it’s just a relatively small, insignificant planet orbiting a medium-sized star buried in a perfectly normal galaxy.
  • The Earth is flat. No, it’s a sphere.
  • The sun goes around the earth. No, the Earth goes around the sun.
  • People are fundamentally different from animals, just like animals are fundamentally different from plants. No, humans are animals; in fact, we share 98% of our genetic material with chimpanzees — we’re more closely related than horses and zebras.
  • Fire is a spirit that needs food and shelter, like any other living thing. No, it’s just a chemical reaction that is powered by fuel and oxygen.
  • If you take 20 people at random and put them in a room, it’s very unlikely that two of them will have the same birthday. No, the probability is almost 50%.
  • You can’t know something without knowing you know it… Actually, your subconscious is aware of all sorts of things it isn’t telling you!

The latest myth to be overthrown is the idea that women talk more than men. Here’s yet another factoid that everyone “knows” is true — that feels true to most people — and yet, a simple, ingenious experiment has shown that it’s simply false. On average, women and men talk approximately the same amount.

What this shows is that human intuition is seriously flawed. Our rational minds are just fine, it appears — nothing wrong with our reasoning faculty. But our hunches, our guesses — they are way off. One wonders how we managed to survive this long as a species.

I Love You with All My Limbic System

Of course, science has an answer for that, too. The seat of emotion and intution, it says, is not in your heart, but in that mass of neurons behind your eyes. Of course, the brain can think rationally, too. But different parts of the brain do different things: there’s a section for language, and a section for vision, and a section for wiggling your toes, and so forth. Some processing is distributed everywhere — memory, for example. There are no “memory banks” in your brain; memory seems to be spread all over the place. Same goes for the subconscious mind: assuming it’s there at all, it isn’t local to any one spot. The rational mind resides in the cerebral cortex; while the emotions commonly associated with the heart — love, fear, compassion, excitement — actually seem to be generated in a part of the brain charmingly called the “amygdala”.

The amygdala acts like a fast-acting decision maker for dangerous or intense situations. It processes sensory input (like if the eyes let you know that you’re standing right in the path of a really big truck), assigns an appropriate emotion (“fear”), and sends out messages to speed up the heart, shorten the breath, jump for safety, and so forth. The higher functions of the cerebral cortex need not be informed of the sensory input at all until afterwards. This is handy when decisions have to be made fast. The cortex is smart, but it can take forever to decide things, especially in certain clothing stores.

From the standpoint of science, then, emotions are a gut-level, pre-programmed response to certain stimuli, and it is just the sort of thing you want if you’re frequently involved in hunting, being hunted, or otherwise pursuing the idyllic life of our forbears.

What about love? What about intuition? Here, science suggests, the situation is more complicated. Your cerebral cortex interacts extensively with the amygdala and the rest of the limbic system, generating a variety of automatic responses, emotions over which you have little control. They, too, are designed for life in the stone age. Fear of strangers? Perfectly rational if you hardly ever meet anyone outside your tribe. Love at first sight? A chemical interaction, in which your nose identifies a good mate. Shivers up your spine in a dark room? You’ve subconsciously noticed an odd noise or something, and your amygdala is freaking out, thinking a saber-toothed tiger might be nearby. Emotions, according to science, are largely useless holdovers from an earlier evolutionary era.

This is the 21st century, and our wetware is badly in need of an upgrade. Today, if you want to find the truth of a matter, you have to set aside your intuition and look up the latest scientific studies.

Doubt

But keep in mind that science reserves the right to change its mind. Darwin actually suggested that women were less intelligent than men, and listed some perfectly good evolutionary reasons to explain this. (After all, if your primary function in the species is to bear and raise children, of what earthly use would a brain be? Gotta love those 19th century guys.) Scientists no longer believe this, because a century of careful and meticulous scientific studies has shown that it’s a load of baloney.

The scientific method thus encourages Doubt on two levels. First, doubt of your own intuitions and feelings, because they’re automatic, knee-jerk reactions held over from the Stone Age. Second, doubt of scientific theories, because a new study or finding could come along tomorrow and overturn everything. Science generates doubt, and is built on doubt.

So what should you believe in? Well, nothing, obviously. Agnosticism — in the broad sense of acknowledging ignorance of EVERYTHING — is the only rational choice.

Doubt and Fear

But agnosticism is paralyzing. It’s paralyzing and paranoid. If you know nothing, there are no good choices; all choices are ill-advised; so you are paralyzed into non-action. And doubt leads to fear; because if you don’t know what’s around the next corner, or under the bed, or at the bottom of the dark staircase… you imagine something horrible there.

If you allow doubt to sit by the throne of your soul, then you are reduced to a shadow of what you should be. You don’t trust yourself. You don’t trust others. You are left cowering and jumping at every sudden noise.

There are those that say that darkworking — using fear as motivation and energy for manifesting — is a viable life choice, but this is misguided. Fear does not provide energy for manifesting. On the contrary, it saps your creative powers away.

In order for anything to be done, in order for any life to be lived, fear must be set aside and doubt must be left behind.

Trust Yourself

One of the worst side effects of the rise of science has been the fall of intuition. People no longer trust themselves, and they have lost the ability to listen to their own bodies and hearts. When the small, quiet voice whispers to them, they ignore it. They are afraid of being fooled. They turn a deaf ear again and again, until they can no longer hear it at all.

And so people turn away from their intuition when it could serve them best. They jump from diet to diet instead of learning how to listen to their bodies. They buy houses based on resale value and local crime rates instead of finding a place they want to live in. They push their children to beat statistical averages instead of tuning in to the child’s natural pace of growth. They take aptitude tests to find out what their life’s work should be.

But intuition is a reliable guide — if you learn to listen to it properly.

  • The Earth is the center of the universe. It’s the center of your universe.
  • The Earth is flat. It’s flat where you are.
  • The sun goes around the earth. Actually, according to relativity, this is just as true as saying that the Earth goes around the sun. All motion is relative. And for your life here on Earth, it makes a lot more sense to think of the planet as motionless.
  • People are fundamentally different from animals, just like animals are fundamentally different from plants. Genetic material doesn’t tell the whole story. Steam may be chemically identical to water, and just a few degrees hotter, but its properties are vastly different.
  • Fire is a spirit that needs food and shelter, like any other living thing. If you treat fire with the respect it deserves, as a capricious and dangerous spirit, you’re likely to live a lot longer.
  • If you take 20 people at random and put them together in a room, it’s very unlikely that two of them will have the same birthday. In this universe, twenty people are never thrown together at random.
  • You can’t know something without knowing you know it… If you tune in to your intuition, you will know everything that you know!

Oh yes… And as far as the loquatiousness of men and women: I suspect that the experiment’s design hides the real truth, which is that most men talk less than most women, but there are a minority of men that talk so much that the average is evened out. At least… that’s what my gut tells me.

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Comments

  1. Jeff, so much about this article closes on sheer perfection — it demonstrates the best of your writing abilities, the way you’ve presented arguments, unraveled them, inverted the components, reassembled them… The length, the rhythm, the loop of this piece was so satisfying to me.

    My spirit guides were quite excited by this article in a way that I haven’t experienced in months. I had to rush to find a pen to capture the flood of comments they offered. I will go chasing the information, corner it, and coerce it into wearing a costume of English so that I can share it.

    But here’s a preview of what I channeled as a result of this discussion:

    “Making Sure” and “Making Belief” — I’ve often heard other authors say, regarding intuition, that you DON’T, you CAN’T “make sure” — that you must proceed on faith. As if faith is devoid of Knowing and independent of your individual perception.

    But my guides are now insisting that you DO Make Sure — literally, the expression of the language is more direct than we give it credit for — they ask me to consider “Is faith a creative act?”

    Faith is not a confirmation of God’s power, but a premonition of your own…

    More to come. The gift of your words seeds my consciousness, again and again…

  2. Jeff Lilly says:

    Slade, you’ve said before that I tended to show the most enthusiasm for peices that you’ve struggled over the most. Here you’re doing the same for me! I struggled with this thing for hours — what you see here is literally an inside-out version of the original — after I had given up on writing a full piece on darkworking. And when I was 75% of the way done with this version, I completely ran out of gas, and started plucking words out of the air, hoping for some divine guidance of some sort… That’s where paralyzing and paranoid came from, along with most of the rest of the article. 🙂

    Guess I need to send you something about “how to deal with writer’s block” for Spiritual Blogging, eh?

    “Make sure” is an old phrase that originally meant “arrive at surety”, using “make” in the sense of “arrive at”, which isn’t generally done anymore.

    This “make sure” message is tied in with the issue of innovation in religion as well, creation as a holy act, isn’t it?

    This phrase you used — “Faith is not a confirmation of God’s power, but a premonition of you own” — is awesome. I can’t wait to read the rest!!

  3. Calling out now to all bloggers — do you have a technique for dealing with writer’s block? Or had a breakthrough moment pulling a thread of order from the creative chaos, after struggling through a cantankerous and ornery pile of words?

    I’d like to publish a series of guest author posts on Spiritual Blogging — please get in touch with me about participating!

    One of my To Do List items this morning was to come up with a list of prompts or a wish list of assignments that other bloggers could contribute to — thanks for knocking that out for me, man!
    : )

    As for the forthcoming Making Sure post — I can’t wait to read it myself.

  4. I’ve actually heard of another study done, this time in an office setting, between male and female coworkers. Rather than recorders collecting random samplings, I believe it was set up so that all of a certain number of conversations were recorded and analyzed. They looked at female-female, female-male, and male-male conversations–and compared the raw data to each participants impression of the given conversation (so, afterwards, they’d ask Person A, “Did you think you or Person B spent more time talking, and by how much?” The results showed that, even though females talked only about two-thirds as much as men in raw numbers, they were still perceived as being more talkative. When a woman took up more than 40% of the conversation, the “impression” people got was that she had dominated (meaning she had talked 60-75% of the time, leaving the other person doing only 25-40% of the talking). That means that a woman who talks exactly half of the time, allowing her conversational partner the other half, is still seen as being “too talkative” in most cases–even by other women! The study was designed, I think, to look more closely at gender dynamics in the workplace, and it really drew attention to the fact that women are expected to have quieter, more passive roles in a “business” setting, especially among male peers. I wish I could remember the source–I read the study back in college as part of my T.A. training & pedagogy class.

  5. Jeff Lilly says:

    That’s really neat, Ali. I wonder how old the study is, and whether you’d get the same results today; and whether the results would vary depending on the economic sector of the workplace chosen?

    An interesting point here: it sounds like the people giving their impressionistic estimates were instinctively giving an answer that took into account the complex dynamics of the social context — which, if you think about it, is a much more difficult problem to solve than simply giving a raw measure of the amount of time spent talking. And it’s a lot more useful to be able to measure, as well.

  6. Jeff,

    I second Slade on this one – elegant writing in all it’s glory. The structure and lead-through was fantastic.

    Loved it.

    The ‘problem’ many of us have is that we can’t distinguish the voice of the ego from the voice of the intuition – and they are two very different voices!

    The ego is based on judgments, desires, fears and beliefs.

    The intuition just KNOWS. It’s inspiration. It’s divine. It’s omniscient.

    A woman meets a man… she wants him to be ‘the one’. Her ego tells her ‘he’s the one’…

    Can she hear the soft voice of the ego warning her he’s the one who’ll take her for a ride?

    So often what we WANT to be true is what we listen for…

    And miss that other voice telling us what IS true.

  7. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks, KL!

    And agreed that people have a lot of trouble hearing that quiet voice. And the secular, scientific culture is not helping out, because we are given NO training in how to hear that voice.

  8. the key is perception to the inner voice.

  9. Putanother way: the key is perception to hearing a guiding sense..

  10. You are beyond both doubt and trust. In fact there is no “you” to be beyond those things at all. So why bother with either? Trust the heart totally and you will know this.

  11. Jeff Lilly,

    This is the “training” you are looking for:

    http://www.angelfire.com/nd/danscorpio/union.html

  12. Jeff Lilly says:

    Josh, thanks for your comments. I actually tend to agree that the “self” in the traditional sense can’t really be said to exist; and naturally if this were really internalized, all worry about doubt and trust would disappear. Paradoxically, however, it usually takes an effort of conscious will to work towards this state — as you acknowledge in your advice to “trust the heart”. 🙂 The “training” site looks very interesting — I’ll definitely check it out!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Nothing is true; it’s all metaphorical, except physical stuff. There isn’t really any Thor; but his story is a nice metaphor for some part of the human psyche. The problem here is that there’s lots of evidence that something nonphysical is going on. See just about any other post on this site, particularly Trust Your Feelings. […]

  2. […] The rest of the article flowed out in a torrent, and I got some great responses to it. You can read the whole thing here. […]

  3. […] Great Truths of Life rationally and scientifically is (a) impossible and (b) disempowering. (”Trust Your Feelings” is a great intro post to explain why; also “The Search for Truth“.) Does that […]

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