Intuition is a most valuable guide when it is strong and reliable. But intuition has defied scientific study, perhaps because it is different from the five human senses that are the starting point of scientific inquiry. Great minds - Descartes, Freud, Jung, de Chardin, Jaynes - have struggled to capture, or even to systematically study, the elusive essence of human intuition.

What’s Science Got to Do With It?

More recently, social scientists have attempted to study human phenomena like intuition through "grounded theory," a systematic analysis of human data without a preexisting theory, hypothesis, or expectation of findings, but with the goal of allowing a theory to emerge directly from the observed human data. Thus, the theory that emerges is grounded in the data, hence the term "grounded theory." This is, in effect, reverse engineering of a hypothesis. But reverse engineering can tell us things about intuition, things that are otherwise immune to scientific analysis. What useful information have the greatest intuitive minds in history revealed about intuition?

Historical Example of Intuition

Let us begin with Abraham. Reported to have lived around approximately 2000 B.C., Abraham is acknowledged as the progenitor of three of the world's greatest religions - Jewish, Christian, and Islamic. Genesis states that the nation of Israel descended from Abraham through his second son, Isaac. Many Arab nations are said to have descended from Abraham through his first son, Ishmael, and Muslims believe that the prophet Muhammad is a direct descendant of Abraham.
One of humanity's oldest and most profound stories about inner direction is found in the biblical account of Abraham and Isaac, Genesis 22:1-18 (New International Version), where God told Abraham:
"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
Abraham followed the inner guidance. But as he reached for the knife, an angel called out to him:
"Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

I leave the proper interpretation of this troubling biblical tale about faith and inner guidance to its thousands of commentators throughout history, but there is no doubt that the tale has fired the imagination of countless humans, people as diverse as Rembrandt (the creator of the painting depicted at the head of this piece) and Bob Dylan ("God said to Abraham: 'Kill me a son.' Abe said, 'God, You must be putting me on.'" - Highway 61 Revisited).

Confirm That Inner Message Before You Act on It

But the tale also tells me something significant about intuition: the critical importance of discernment in acting on inner messages. What does an inner listener do to discern an inner message? First, did the message come from the light within me, and not from my conscious mind, or from the dictates of society, or from some other, lesser source. Second, did I understand the message as it was intended by my light within? Although Abraham was convinced that the message was from the proper source, the message involved harm to another. So, he did not act on the first message until he received a second message, one that counseled harmlessness, and that is the message that he followed.

Did Abraham ask his inner voice for a second message of confirmation when he perceived the first message to sacrifice his son? We'll never know. But I know that I would have asked for another inner message if I wasn't sure that I had understood the first inner message as it was intended if it was counseling me to commit physical harm to myself or another. And that's the data point about intuition that I take from the 4,000 year old story of Abraham and Isaac.

Author's Bio: 

While trying cases as an international lawyer, I discovered that some people have learned the secret to actively calling on inspiration whenever they need it. My books reveal the proven methods used by history’s greats and regular people alive today for actively tapping into the wisdom that lies within you. Check out a free chapter from my latest book at .