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Intuition (Part 1 of 5)

Science for me is very close to art. Scientific discovery is an irrational act. It’s an intuition which turns out to be reality at the end of it -and I see no difference between a scientist developing a marvellous discovery and an artist making a painting.

– C. Rubbia (Nobelist and director of CERN)


Intuition is the inner knowing that comes without outer sensory stimuli. It is the modality that senses most deeply, yet one that our society has valued least. We invest most of our efforts in educating our children to use their outer senses, ignoring and even denigrating the inner ones.

Intuitions surface to consciousness from unknown sources and through channels that are usually below our everyday awareness. Intuition is often perceived as or accompanied by an inner uneasiness, a sort of spiritual itch that invites us to scratch below the surface of our ordinary perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. If we respond to this itch, this inner ring on the intuition hotline, if we invite our intuition to speak, we are often rewarded with important messages.

Commonly, intuition visits us spontaneously in many ways, minor and major. You may know who is ringing your phone before you answer it, or think of a long-forgotten friend on the morning of the very day you run into her on the street. You may have a hunch about choosing an unknown road, job opportunity, or restaurant that turns out to be hugely right for you. You may be one of the lucky people who had a bad feeling about going to work one day, so strong that you simply stayed home – avoiding a serious disaster. (I have heard of several people who worked in or regularly visited the World Trade Towers who intuitively stayed away on September 11.)

If you have ever worried about coming out and admitting your intuitive abilities, you should know that you are certainly in good company. Many famous people have acknowledged their intuition, including Socrates, Joan of Arc, Carl Jung, and Adolph Hitler; among others.

While you might question or even dismiss some reports as simple luck or exaggeration, here is a typical story that stretches such explanations (Inglis 1989, p.10-12).

Winston Churchill, who was reputed to have had a charmed life, related that he had always felt he had a protector. “I sometimes have a feeling – in fact I have it very strongly. . . a feeling that some guiding hand has interfered.” At another point he credited “that Higher Power which interferes in the sequence of causes and effects more often than we are always prone to admit.”

Churchill gave the example (in My Early Life) of his escape from captivity during the Boer War in South Africa. He failed in his plan to hop a freight train to Mozambique, and was left with only a hope and prayer that the local Kaffirs might help him, as he had heart that many of the Kaffirs hated the Boers. . . He could see the fires of a Kaffir settlement nearby. The difficulty was that he had no way to distinguish the potentially friendly from the unfriendly Kaffirs, and a wrong guess could prove fatal. He sat down to ponder his options.

Suddenly, without the slightest reason, all my doubts disappeared. It was certainly by no process of logic that they were dispelled. It just felt quite clear that I would go to the Kaffir kraal. I had sometimes in former years held a “Planchette” pencil and written while others had touched my wrist or hand. I acted in exactly the same unconscious or subconscious manner now.

Reaching the fires, he saw furnaces situated around a coal mine. He had no choice but to make a guess as to which house he would approach. He knocked on a door, excusing his disheveled clothing by saying he had been in an accident. He was admitted by a man who held a revolver and seemed obviously skeptical about his story. He felt compelled to tell the truth.

My companion rose from the table slowly and locked the door. After this act, which struck me as unpromising, and was certainly ambiguous, he advanced upon me and suddenly held out his hand.

“Thank God you have come here! It is the only house for twenty miles where you would not have been handed over. But we are all British here and we will see you through.” (Inglis 1989)

His host hid him in the mine until they could smuggle him to safety.

These sorts of stories are typical of intuitive awareness. Guided by an inner knowing that is not reasoned, but seems to arise from a deep source that carries its own certainty, people find that they know information which is of great help to them – particularly in times of need.

Intuition in medicine and nursing

Many doctors, nurses, and various therapists have told me of clinical “hunches” that proved extremely valuable, sometimes even lifesaving, to people in their care. The following is a story I have heard in many variations.

Doctor Sam, on his way home after a long day’s work, had a hunch he ought to stop by and see how 68 year-old Miss Jennifer was doing. He hadn’t thought of her in several months, since her last annual checkup, when he had found her to be suffering much less from her arthritis. Sam struggled against the hunch, thinking of his wife and children waiting for him to arrive for dinner, but it simply would not be dismissed. Sighing, and preparing in his mind the possible excuses he might give his family for being late yet again from work, he turned up Miss Jennifer’s street and rang the bell of her apartment. There was no answer, but the door was not locked and opened when he turned the knob. Miss Jennifer was lying on the floor, unconscious. A quick examination suggested she had had a stroke, and a call to 911 brought an ambulance in time to rush her to the hospital, where she fortunately recovered after several weeks.

More than one nurse has told me of an inner urge to stop by the room of a patient who was recovering without apparent complication from surgery – to find that patient in shock from internal hemorrhage (or with other urgent problems), just in time to call the crash team and save his or her life. Doctors have told me how they sometimes intuit that a person has a tumor, a metabolic problem, or some other disorder that showed no outward symptom, which is confirmed on subsequent laboratory exams. Some doctors are so gifted that they regularly diagnose their patients’ problems intuitively. They reluctantly order lab tests – for medicolegal reasons as well as to avoid criticism or censure from their colleagues and supervisors. Some are able to identify intuitively medications or other treatments that will help.

Medical and nursing intuition research

Nurses have been discussing and exploring intuition for the past 25 years, acknowledging that this is a valid modality for clinical assessments and decision-making.

Nursing definitions have focused on various facets of intuition, witnessed by a range of conceptualizations:

  • skillful performance of experts
  • “direct apprehension of a situation based upon a background of similar and dissimilar situations and embodied intelligence or skill”
  • a deep connection between the nurse and the client
  • “knowledge without rationale”
  • “lacking underlying conscious processes and as not being able to be explained in a tangible manner”
  • “an immediate perception of truth, which is self-evident and thus in no need of justification”


Inglis, Brian, The Unseen Guest: The Mystery of Intuition, Sevenoaks, UK: Hodder & Stoughton 1989, p.10-12.

This article appeared as the editorial in The International Journal of Healing and Caring – On line May, 2002, Volume 2, No. 2

(Continued in next column, Intuition – Part 2 of 5)

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Written by Daniel J. Benor MD

Explore Wellness in 2021