Inside the Intuitive Mind

Michael Metzger

Temple Grandin has saved the cattle industry billions of dollars. But she initially knew nothing about the business. Grandin has what we call an intuitive mind.

For nearly three decades, Temple Grandin has been leading the charge for animal welfare reform in the cattle industry. Grandin is autistic. She thinks in pictures. For the last 30 years her intuitive mind has helped the beef industry see its slaughterhouses through the eyes of a cow. This has saved the cattle industry billions of dollars.

Before Grandin, cattle became panicked and stressed before they were slaughtered. Cattle would secrete a chemical into their muscles, causing the meat to putrefy quicker. If industry could find a way for cattle to relax in the chute, meat would stay fresher longer. That’d save a lot of money. But industry experts couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Grandin did. She took an unorthodox approach. She lay down in muddy corrals. Grandin crawled through metal chutes. She even stood in the stun boxes where factory workers deliver their fatal blows. Then pictures started coming to her.

The pictures turned into industry standards: curved loading chutes and the center-track restrainer system. Curved chutes shield cattle from viewing what’s ahead, keeping them calm. The restrainer system relaxes cattle, so they don’t do what cattle instinctively do when panicked—try to circle back to where they came—getting crushed in the process.

Many people have an intuitive mind, including Albert Einstein. “I preferred to think in pictures, such as imagining watching lightning strikes from a moving train or experiencing gravity while inside a falling elevator.” He once told a psychologist. “I very rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards.”[1]

Einstein was delighted to learn that the poet Saint-John Perse thought the same way. A poem begins with intuition. “It’s the same for a man of science,” Einstein responded. “It is a sudden illumination, almost a rapture. Later, to be sure, intelligence analyzes and experiments confirm or invalidate the intuition.”

C. S. Lewis had an intuitive mind. Early in his life, he had three intuitive experiences. They were unsettling yet would later shape his rich imaginative life. They’re best understood in The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James.

James identified four characteristic features of intuitive experiences. First, they are “ineffable.” They defy expression, and cannot be described adequately in words. Second, those who experience these things achieve “insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect.” These “illuminations, or revelations,” are full of “significance and importance.” Third, these experiences are transient; they “cannot be sustained for long. When faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory.” Finally, those who have had such an experience feel as if they have been “grasped and held by a superior power.”

This explains much of the rise of religious “nones” and exiles. Nones check “none of the above” when surveying the available religions out there. Or they check the “spiritual but not religious” box. Most of the nones I know are not Christians. Most of the exiles I know are Christians. But they too check the “none of the above” box, although they’re talking about the available churches out there.

Both nones and exiles groups tell me they want to experience the genuine God. They want to be grasped and held by a superior power. But they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.

What they’re looking for is more of a right brain sort of experience. Most Western faith traditions are left brain. The left brain is the rationalist side of us. It’s important, but it’s not intuitive. The right brain is.

Few Western faith traditions recognize this because the intuitive mind doesn’t have a voice on its own behalf. The left brain’s talk is very convincing. It shaves off everything that it finds doesn’t fit with its assumptions. The left hemisphere is very vocal on its own behalf. It’s better with language and can out-articulate the right hemisphere’s intuitions.

This is why the intuitive mind often sounds like an odd ball. The intuitive mind knows more than it can express. Temple Grandin was considered odd as a child. So were Lewis and Einstein. Grandin’s fortunes improved when Colorado State University hired her as a professor. Today, the school views her as a gift. So does the cattle industry.

Einstein believed the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift—but you’d have to go inside the intuitive mind to appreciate this.

[1] Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), p. 9.

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5 thoughts on “Inside the Intuitive Mind”

  1. Mike,

    Thanks for breaking down the mechanics of an intuitive mind. Breaking it down helps make it something you can practice (e.g. waiting to solve a problem with a picture before solving it with prose).

    Your commentary made me wonder if preachers could be classified in right-brand left-brand.

    Spurgeon was a story teller and built pictures in the hearers mind where one could be ushered into what he had grasped.

    Jones was a doctor who was articulate and could deliver a whole sermon upon why one particular word in the Greek was chosen over another.

    I imagine the two having mutual respect for the other.

    I reckon I benefited from reading Surgeon before Jones and perhaps it was the former that gave the appetite for the latter.

  2. Thankyou Mike, for giving air to Temple. Sense-ability and genuine contact, connection and communication, being a root for resonance.

  3. Pingback: Inside the Intuitive Mind – Republican RIse

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