“consciousness is a graded global integration of multiple cognitive functions yielding a unified representation of the world, our bodies, and ourselves”

J. Allan Hobson 1999

The two monks paused on their walk in the garden to watch several goldfish 

swimming around each other in a pond.

One said, “look at how they enjoy playing!”

His companion replied,

“YOU are not a goldfish! How can YOU know that THEY are enjoying themselves?”

The first monk’s response: “And YOU are not ME! How can you know what I know?

CONSCIOUSNESS is not merely on-or-off:  “there are many levels of consciousnessAs the brain changes are continuous, so do all these consciousnesses melt into each other like dissolving views.  Properly they are but one protracted consciousness, one unbroken stream.”   (Wm. James, The Principles of Psychology, Ch. 9, 1890).  


In A&O, we entertain the prospect that there are different levels of consciousness which have more-or-less access to each other and which inform the individual in which they reside as well as the individuals with whom they would communicate. Ideally, from “deep to deep” –the most accessible depths of the artist’s mind to the corresponding depths of the viewer’s mind. For our inquiries, a shared meaning for “consciousness” and the problems in understanding it is important.  Read on…


The history of science includes numerous challenging problems, including the “hard problem”(1) of consciousness: Why does an assembly of neurons—no matter how complex, such as the human brain—give rise to perceptions and feelings that are consciously experienced, such as the sweetness of chocolate or the tenderness of a loving caress on one’s cheek? Beyond satisfying this millennia-old existential curiosity, understanding consciousness bears substantial medical and ethical implications, from evaluating whether someone is conscious after brain injury to determining whether nonhuman animals, fetuses, cell organoids, or even advanced machines(2) are conscious. A comprehensive and agreed-upon theory of consciousness is necessary to answer the question of which systems—biologically evolved or artificially designed—experience anything and to define the ethical boundaries of our actions toward them. The research projects described here will hopefully point the way and indicate whether some of today’s major theories hold water or not.” (Melloni et al 2021)[i]




IN ART and ORGANISM we can look at CONSCIOUSNESS as both a cause–considering how any particular state of consciousness affects the way something is perceived–and a consequence–considering how the feelings that follow any particular perception affect details of cognition and the various orchestrations of its many processes. Because attention is intensified by perceptions or experiences that might involve the drama of extreme emotions, extraordinary states dominate the discourse about how are various states of consciousness are connected to the profoundly affecting feelings they can evoke?    [like most phenomena with distinctive causes and consequences, their elements typically feed back into each other in ways that can lead to progressive reciprocal changes, which, when adaptive, can lead to a seeming unity]


WHO ARE WE? and WHY SHOULD WE CARE? Considering the causes, content, and consequences of CONSCIOUSNESS is the beginning of finding out WHO WE ARE–and that is the key to WHO WE CAN BECOME: our prospects for self-actualization and fitness. Even our ancestry–immediate (as in family) or remote (as in family of man, or even all organisms) is sought for clues about who we might become.   We are, of course, a repository of information derived from a life of stimuli, progressively curated with increasing sophistication from conception to the present moment: the reservoir of content that can be drawn upon to provide awareness sufficient to performing the actions that ensue at any given moment.  Recalling that it is manifest action in the world that guides natural selection, not latent potential.    


“CONSCIOUSNESS” enjoys enormous: a diversity of ideas reflects the diversity of needs to know that we are aware of.  A&O, in particular, explores the articulation or overlap between subjective and objective perspectives. To think critically about how what we know, what we think we know, and what we seek to know better (and why), start  with a simple, concise summary written by Steven Pinker:  READ CONSCIOUSNESS, his brief summary for TIME magazine, a  scaffold for the ideas to come.


a few first steps into a vast area including SLEEP and DREAMING


      Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.[1][2] It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feelwakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something “that it is like” to “have” or “be” it, and the executive control system of the mind,[3] or the state or quality of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself.[1][2] In contemporary philosophy its definition is often hinted at via the logical possibility of its absence, the philosophical zombie, which is defined as a being whose behavior and function are identical to one’s own yet there is “no-one in there” experiencing it.”  (See Wikipedia on Consciousness)  



“There is not just one problem of consciousness. “Consciousness” is an ambiguous term, referring to many different phenomena. Each of these phenomena needs to be explained, but some are easier to explain than others. At the start, it is useful to divide the associated problems of consciousness into “hard” and “easy” problems. The easy problems of consciousness are those that seem directly susceptible to the standard methods of cognitive science, whereby a phenomenon is explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. The hard problems are those that seem to resist those methods.”

(from D.J. Chalmers Unsupported image type.(1995) Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, in Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2(3):200-219)


So maybe here, we think about  how CONSCIOUSNESS is awareness of COGNITIVE PROCESSES (maybe enabling the adjusting of these processes?) and …

SAPIENCE (capacity to think, reason, cogitate) and SENTIENCE (capacity to sense, perceive, feel, or experience subjectively) exist in dynamic equilibrium. (see A&O notes on sapience and sentience) Sapience then must involve the ability to represent experience in a way that makes it amenable to specific kind of mechanistic organization, while sentience distills down to “how does it feel?” Together they constitute the ground of consciousness but exist in each individual in varying proportion according to experience and context.  The outcomes of their collaborations are manifest in the countless processes that maintain routine homeostasis through coping with unexpected exigencies.   Sapience and sentience are the two critical cognitive functions that exist in a dynamic balance that is highly sensitive to developmental change.  Look in in on A&O notes about RULES  


    • DEVELOPMENT: what changes in CONSCIOUSNESS can be seen as attributable to unfolding of an individual’s life program and to the experiences along the way? 
    • ECOLOGY: how does the environment affect CONSCIOUSNESS?  
    • EVOLUTION: what changes have occurred in the genetic programming of life programs and the capacity or competence for experience?  
    • PHYSIOLOGY: How do the multitude of processes necessary for maintaining an organism and enabling its ability to meet biological needs interact?  

In PHYSIOLOGY, So much comes down to BALANCE:  Aristotle would be proud. (read about the “Golden Mean“), but the physiologist in me sees balance in terms of a very large number of simultaneous processes that have a more-or-less powerful effect on each other.

GREAT CAREERS have been built on progressively more detailed and nuanced DESCRIPTIONS of CONSCIOUSNESS from the ethological perspectives.  Most (but not all) researchers and philosophers agree that something we have agreed to call CONSCIOUSNESS is worthy of intense study.  What passes for a definition is often a description of its physical substrate–BUT it is, in the end a FEELING that cannot be reduced to objectively definable causes and consequences (these are easy problems to solve).  Understanding the JUMP FROM physical phenomena to a FEELING was nicknamed the “hard problem” because we cannot find or yet imagine a clear path.

CONSCIOUSNESS studies are confused by decisions on what COGNITIVE PROCESSES (in the midst of many) are broughtto the foreground.   For example, it is arguably. a mish-mosh of  PAREIDOLIA and “FILLING-IN”:  

From https://neilgreenberg.com/consciousness-deep-ethology/ : discussing “adaptive function” of consciousness:  “BUT looking a little more deeply, we know that perception occurs in discrete little chunks, like frames in a motion picture.  And like those visual frames, the illusion of flow and continuity is created–what Oliver Sacks calls “a flowing mobile consciousness” (Sacks 1994:44) (excerpt at https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-reading-in-the-river-of-consciousness-by-oliver-sacks-2004/ look at “The Time Halos (Hysteresis) Connecting Pieces of Consciousness”).  So, perhaps consciousness originated as a device –or is an epiphenomenon of that device– for bridging perceptual moments, “filling in” (as in e.g., visual scotomas) (see Sacks (River of Consciousness) from NYR 15 Jan 2004) (MORE at Komatsu’s (2006) review, The neural mechanisms of perceptual filling-in, in Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7, 220–231; excerpt at https://neilgreenberg.com/deep-cns-filling-in/ ) 


“The nature of consciousness seems to be unique among scientific puzzles. Not only do neuroscientists have no fundamental explanation for how it arises from physical states of the brain, we are not even sure whether we ever will. Astronomers wonder what dark matter is, geologists seek the origins of life, and biologists try to understand cancer—all difficult problems, of course, yet at least we have some idea of how to go about investigating them and rough conceptions of what their solutions could look like. Our first-person experience, on the other hand, lies beyond the traditional methods of science. Following the philosopher David Chalmers, we call it the hard problem of consciousness.

But perhaps consciousness is not uniquely troublesome. Going back to Gottfried Leibniz and Immanuel Kant, philosophers of science have struggled with a lesser known, but equally hard, problem of matter. What is physical matter in and of itself, behind the mathematical structure described by physics? This problem, too, seems to lie beyond the traditional methods of science, because all we can observe is what matter does, not what it is in itself—the “software” of the universe but not its ultimate “hardware.” On the surface, these problems seem entirely separate. But a closer look reveals that they might be deeply connected.”  (finish reading Hedda Hassel Mørch’s  2017 essay, “Is Matter Conscious?” In Nautilus, issue 47.  April 6, 2017. http://nautil.us//issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious )

OK, so why care about consciousness?  To open this idea, “…understanding consciousness has become increasingly important for researchers seeking to communicate with locked-in patients, determine whether artificial intelligence systems can become conscious, or explore whether animals experience consciousness the way humans do.”  (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6463/293 ).  Do YOU care? why?

There is an abundance of hypotheses, and a few have “traction” sufficient to invite large scale research

NEW (2019) INITIATIVE:  One strategy for helping us decide about competing theories about the source of consciousness might be to compare outcomes of competition where the rules of engagement have been agreed upon.  A Foundation has agreed to support this and they will begin with  “…global workspace theory (GWT), championed by Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris, and the integrated information theory (IIT), proposed by Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. … The GWT says the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which controls higher order cognitive processes like decision-making, acts as a central computer that collects and prioritizes information from sensory input. It then broadcasts the information to other parts of the brain that carry out tasks. Dehaene thinks this selection process is what we perceive as consciousness. By contrast, the IIT proposes that consciousness arises from the interconnectedness of brain networks. The more neurons interact with one another, the more a being feels conscious—even without sensory input. IIT proponents suspect this process occurs in the back of the brain, where neurons connect in a gridlike structure. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/366/6463/293.abstract

In Art & Organism we speak often of the flow of information within and between organisms and their environments in the simplistic terms of INPUT, INTEGRATION, and OUTPUT.  One theory the emphasizes the perceptual dimension of CONSCIOUSNESS was proposed by Michael Graziano: look in on our A&O notes on PERCEPTION.

SO, is CONSCIOUSNESS: is it something we perceive? (or does it perceive US?)

Oliver Sacks’ RIVER of CONSCIOUSNESS develops the idea that brief frames of experience, when fused together, convey a sense of consciousness much like the individual frames of a motion picture convey a sense of motion.  Read excerpts from Sacks “River of Conciousness”




Look in on the meaning of TIME, TIMELESSNESS

and all it implies for CONSCIOUSNESS at the A&O notes on TIME



CONNECTIONS are US?   We have grown accustomed to the idea that meaning (of anything) derives from connectedness (to everything) more-or-less proximate to the phenomenon.   Our vision of the organism as a system: a level of organization that exists by virtue of the integration of multiple more-or-less specialized organs.  But the inconceivable number of potential connections in the human brain (c100trillion) in itself can represent the meaning we identify as consciousness,  a level of organization beyind that of the mere organism, yet confusingly located within it.  Now READ: Phil Jaekl (AEON, 2021)


CONSCOUSNESS and the BRAIN:  We can now share with Freud whose early training in neurology convinced him that the biological bedrock of behavior, generally understood as psychology, was neurophysiology (Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/freud/freud01.html#obj22 )  “In his 1895 “Project for a Scientific Psychology” Freud attempted to construct a model of the human mind in terms of its underlying neurobiological mechanisms. In this endeavor “to furnish a psychology which shall be a natural science,” Freud introduced the concepts that to this day serve as the theoretical foundation and scaffolding of psychoanalysis.”  He did,however, as his career and need to be a practitioner rather than a researcher developed, disavow the Project, and his “speculations about the fundamental mechanisms that regulate affect, motivation, attention, and consciousness were relegated to the shadowy realm of “metapsychology.”

Nonetheless, Freud subsequently predicted that at some future date “we shall have to find a contact point with biology.” It is argued that recent advances in the interdisciplinary study of emotion show that the central role played by regulatory structures and functions represents such a contact point, and that the time is right for a rapprochement between psychoanalysis and neuroscience.

Current knowledge of the psychobiological mechanisms by which the right hemisphere processes social and emotional information at levels beneath conscious awareness, and by which the orbital prefrontal areas regulate affect, motivation, and bodily state, allows for a deeper understanding of the “psychic structure” described by psychoanalytic metapsychology…”  (Schore 1997)[i]



WATCH Anil Seth’s lecture at the Royal Institute on

The Neuroscience of Consciousness



Schore AN. A Century After Freud’s Project: Is a Rapprochement Between Psychoanalysis and Neurobiology At Hand? Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 1997;45(3):807-840. doi:10.1177/00030651970450031001 

Even if an unanswerable question, exploring this topic to the can be an exhilarating experience.  So as DEEP ethologists we can at least build a wonderful scaffold to support our efforts. Of course any instance of consciousness at any level of organization occurs at the intersection of the DEEP themes: Development, Ecology, Evolution, and Physiology.  A sub-theme: Amongst the multiple cognitive functions that are integrated in consciousness, a first organizational scheme would be that of INPUT–INTEGRATION–OUTPUT.

And within INTEGRATION, prominent is MEMORY … Read about REDINTERATION

DYSFUNCTION.  Consciousness may be the supreme example of an experience we have that depends on many active processes functioning in exquisite synchrony.  Of course slight variations in any one of them has a more-or-less detectable effect on our consciousness, but usually within a range of tolerance such that we may not be aware of them.   Beyond that range, however, various dysfunctions reveal processes that contribute to consciousness that we were likely utterly unaware of.  Of course we can change our usual, more-or-less routine contexts and experience consciousness altered in ways that range from recreational to destructive. From disease through physical or physiological accidents that affect braiun function such as a mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack, or TIA) or worse…    Read more about revealing dysfunctions of consciousness. 

REPRESENTATIONS OF CONSCIOUSNESS:  Images of the brain, particularly in its cellular detail, are often strikingly beautiful: poised between empirical accuracy and validity and abstraction.  WORDS sometimes seem to help us understand what they refer to (or perhaps they make us more comfortable by condensing complexity to a more easily managed form).  ART in all its forms is, after all, an abstraction (simplified representation) … in fact at all levels of transformations between levels of organization, information is transformed.  (In science fiction, transcendent entities often represent themselves to humans in a more “manageable” form).

CONSCIOUSNESS: is it something we perceive? (or does it perceive US?)


    • Savant syndrome: expressions of extraordinary abilities are often associated with behavioral profiles that are in other ways dysfuntional or maladaptive–they seem somehow associated with the peculiarities of neurology responsible for the dysfunction– but remarkably (and much more rarely) they can be acquired, apparently the result of some neurological accident: see “Genius Explored” in Brain and Life (Dec 2021/Jan 2022)  

“NEURODIVERSE,” (first, what is “NORMAL“) and Consciousness Reading:  what may be revealed by dysfunction

READINGS:  “In Their Own Worlds by Sanford Schwartz in NYRB 7 June 2018;   The Electric Pencil: Using Art to Diagnose the Artist (Scheftel 2011)Hospital in Rio (Hoston 2004) ravidrin-on-psychiatric-art-in-pysche-2021

 Making a virtue of necessity?  Read: Witty Ticcy Ray by Oliver Sacks  

READING: Brain Hemorrhage and art as a symptom: Tommy McHugh

Artist’s visualization of consciousness-related parts of brain




“To classify consciousness as the action of organic machinery is in no way to underestimate its power.  In Sir Charles Sherrington’s splendid metaphor, the brain is an ‘enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern.’  Since the mind recreates reality from the abstractions of sense impressions, it can equally well simulate reality by recall and fantasy.  The brain invents stories an runs imagined and remembered events back and forth through time.  (E.O. Wilson, 1978).  The issue is relevant in light of the frequent sense that creative insights come from outside us: see Artists speaking of their experiences. 

The poet, Paul Valéry, reminds us that “consciousness reigns but does not govern.” 


“QUESTION ! a recent photoessay by Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist introduced us to “…neuroscientist-turned-artist Greg Dunn [who] aided by artist and physicist Brian Edwards, [represented consciousness] largely by hand, and using a special etching technique. “The piece was designed to be an unprecedented image of the brain,” says Dunn of his project, titled “Self Reflected.”  View this as presented in the magazine (New Scientist, June 17, 2017, APERTURE,”).  The question asks us to consider if representations of complex phenomena (words, pictures, music) –which are themselves simplifications, abstractions — can give us insight into complexity of which they are fragments ?”  (remember “redintegration?”)

ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES and THEORIES of CONSCIOUSNESS.  Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, there are multiple theories of consciousness––often complementary, often overlapping.



FREUD’s PROJECT.  Sigmund Freud was a neurologist, but it was not solving the problems that meant the most to him as a physician.  As he was transitioning to psychoanalysis he wrote,   “Project for a Scientific Psychology,”  … “to furnish a psychology  that shall be a natural science: that is, to represent psychical processes as quantitatively determinate states of specifiable material particles, thus making those processes perspicuous and free from contradiction (Freud 1895/1953-1974,  p.295).”    “He abandoned the “Project,” however … because it was too bold for the neurology of 1895. But he soon found other reasons for inferring the occurrence of unconscious mental processes—and other ways to study them. They became the central concern of his new science of psychoanalysis.”  (Woody & Phillips 1995:124).)

Freud’s ideas were always more-or-less controversial—the unconscious was the “dark energy” of the mind—knowable only indirectly or by inference, but Melvin Woody & James Phillips (1995) “argue that the project  is still viable” IF researchers “distinguish clearly between the neurological unconscious, the cognitive unconscious, and the psychodynamic unconscious.“They undertook a survey of  “…the boundaries of the neurological unconscious and the cognitive unconscious in order to show why the psychodynamic unconscious is not properly reducible to either, because it is an essentially hermeneutic concept, an artifact of the processes of interpretation whereby human beings knit their experiences together into networks of meaning.  No doubt these interpretative relationships are realized by neurological processes and interact with cognition.  But the dynamics of meaning-relations revealed in psychotherapy must not be confused with either the causal relations to be sought in neurophysiology, nor the relatively simple and low-level processing characteristic of the cognitive unconscious, nor the unconscious protocols or grammatical rules that cognitive scientists postulate to account for language and other sophisticated symbolic capacities.”


[Part of the problem in wide acceptance of the subconscious may have been that its “discovery” was in Freud’s view a great blow to humankind’s self image:  Read Freud’s observation


INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE may not be accessible, but we may still “feel” that it is there:

  • “… the sheer phenomenological experience of knowing (‘‘noetic feeling’’) occupies a unique role in  mediating between implicit-automatic processes, on the one hand, and explicit-controlled processes, on the other. Rather than reflecting direct access to memory traces, noetic feelings are based on inferential heuristics that operate implicitly and unintentionally.” (Asher Koriat 2000) [vi]
  • TIP of the TONGUE Monday, September 28, 2009   …   Just out of reach, on the tip of the tongue … presque vu … IS THERE (as Poet Franz Wright wrote in his pursuit of revelation) …  “some radiantly obvious thing I need to say, though quite what that might be escapes me at the moment, as it always has, and always will.” (2006). [vii]
  • The anterior cingulate and right middle frontal cortices are two neural areas implicated in the TOT phenomenon. One study showed that, relative to successful retrieval or unsuccessful retrieval not accompanied by a TOT, retrieval failures accompanied by TOTs elicited a selective response in anterior cingulate-prefrontal cortices. The study also found that while attempting to retrieve information, subjects rely heavily on visual spatial clues in correctly retrieving the information. For example, some subjects in the study that were trying to recall a name described looking at the person’s face in attempting to retrieve the name. Also, when trying to recall the name of an author, the subjects described attempting to read the name of the author from an imagined book. The authors of the study suggest that “the extent that the subjects in our fMRI study used a visual imagery strategy when in a TOT condition, the activation observed in right inferior PFC could constitute the neural correlates of these efforts to resolve these retrieval failures” (Maril et al., 2001, p. 657).
  • Actually presque vu has more of a sense of being on the verge of epiphany … [viii]

Bringing me to the SPIRITUAL.  Intuition is at the heart of Zen: The contradictions provided by koans “increase pressure in the trainee’s mind until the structures of ordinary reason collapse completely, clearing the way for sudden intuition” (Huston Smith 1986:199)


WHOSE CONSCIOUSNESS? Considering at least some states of consciousness as an expression of a higher or even emergent levels of organization, these quotes may be unprovable but provocative to our sentience as well as sapience (There are many levels of organization, and we are to be forgiven if we believe they may be endless).

Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence. (Alan Watts, attributed)


“The cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths; of exquisite interrelationships; of the awesome machinery of nature. The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” (Carl Sagan (1990), Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1990 Update), [Episode 1, The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean])



 INTUITION  |  Intuition presentation


  •  DIGITAL INTUITIONIn Janury 2016, “scientists announced … that they have created an intuitive computer. The machine acts according to its programming, but it also chooses what to do on the basis of something — knowledge, experience or a combination of the two — that its programmers cannot predict or fully explain.” (Editorial in Nature 2016)[v]



PANPSYCHISM: “universal consciousness”?

Panpsychism “… claims consciousness is inherent in even the tiniest pieces of matter — an idea that suggests the fundamental building blocks of reality have conscious experience. Crucially, it implies consciousness could be found throughout the universe.”[i]

“Sir Roger Penrose, who was among the first academics to propose we go beyond neuroscience when looking at consciousness, says we should strongly consider the role of quantum mechanics and in his book published in 1989 “The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics” he argued that human consciousness is non-algorithmic and a product of quantum effects.  This idea evolved in collaboration with anesthesiologist and psychologist Stuart Hameroff into a hypothesis called Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch OR).  It claims consciousness is likely due to quantum vibrations in microtubules deep within brain neurons as opposed to the conventionally held view that it is due to connections between neurons.

Importantly, however, “Orch OR suggests there is a connection between the brain’s biomolecular processes and the basic structure of the universe”, according to a statement published in the March 2014 paper “Consciousness In The Universe: A Review of the “Orch OR” Theory”, written by Penrose and Hameroff in the journal Physics of Life Reviews. … Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi,

Tononi’s theory of Integrated Information Theory (IIT), published in the journal BMC Neuroscience… a mathematical theory [that] says consciousness is a fundamental aspect of reality; that it exists and is structured, specific, unified and definite. A core idea suggests consciousness will emerge when information moves between the subsystems of an overall system: to be conscious, an entity has to be single and integrated and must possess a property called “phi” which is dependent on the interdependence of the subsystems.   (Reported by     in https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/a36329671/is-the-universe-conscious/ Jun 10, 2021   quoting David Crookes, https://www.livescience.com/is-the-universe-conscious.html in All About Space magazine 

“You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.” – attributed to Eckhart Tolle



[i]DIAGNOSIS: intuition & evidence based medicine,  Intuition and evidence–uneasy bedfellows?  Br J Gen Pract. 2002 May;52(478):395-400.   Greenhalgh T1

Abstract. Intuition is a decision-making method that is used unconsciously by experienced practitioners but is inaccessible to the novice. It is rapid, subtle, contextual, and does not follow simple, cause-and-effect logic. Evidence-based medicine offers exciting opportunities_for improving patient outcomes, but the ‘evidence-burdened’ approach of the inexperienced, protocol-driven clinician is well documented Intuition is not unscientific. It is a highly creative process, fundamental to hypothesis generation in science. The experienced practitioner should generate and follow clinical hunches as well as (not instead of applying the deductive principles of evidence-based medicine. The educational research literature suggests that we can improve our intuitive powers through systematic critical reflection about intuitive judgements–for example, through creative writing and dialogue with professional colleagues. It is time to revive and celebrate clinical storytelling as a method for professional education and development. The stage is surely set for a new, improved–and, indeed, evidence-based–‘Balint’group.

Comment in  Intuition, creativity, dialogue, tacit knowledge and … evidence? [Br J Gen Pract. 2002] & Intuition…or good mathematics? [Br J Gen Pract. 2002].  PMID:  12014539  [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]   PMCID:  PMC1314297   Free PMC Article

[ii]On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect Science 17 February 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5763, pp. 1005 – 1007  DOI: 10.1126/science.1121629  Ap Dijksterhuis,* Maarten W. Bos, Loran F. Nordgren, Rick B. van Baaren

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing.  On the basis of recent insights into the characteristics of conscious and unconscious thought, we tested the hypothesis that simple choices (such as between different towels or different sets of oven mitts) indeed produce better results after conscious thought, but that choices in complex matters (such as between different houses or different cars) should be left to unconscious thought. Named the “deliberation-without-attention” hypothesis, it was confirmed in four studies on consumer choice, both in the laboratory as well as among actual shoppers, that purchases of complex products were viewed more favorably when decisions had been made in the absence of attentive deliberation.

Common knowledge holds that thorough conscious thought leads to good decisions and satisfactory choices. Whether purchasing a new car, a desktop computer, or a pair of shoes, people generally believe that serious conscious deliberation increases the probability that they will make the “right” choice. This idea applies especially to choices between products that are complex, multifaceted, and expensive. Whereas most people are willing to buy a new set of towels without much thought, they are unlikely to buy a new car or outfit a new kitchen without deliberation.

A second pervasive idea is that the quality of a choice benefits from “sleeping on it.” Rather than (or in addition to) thinking consciously, people usually feel that “unconscious thought” is useful for making sound decisions. Whereas conscious thought refers to thought or deliberation while conscious attention is directed at the problem at hand, unconscious thought can be defined as thought or deliberation in the absence of conscious attention directed at the problem (1). An example of unconscious thought is the following: One compares two holiday destinations (say the Costa Brava and Tuscany) and does not know what to decide. One puts the problem aside and after 48 hours of not thinking about it consciously, suddenly the thought “It’s going to be Tuscany!” pops into consciousness. This thought itself is conscious, but the transition from indecision to a preference 2 days later is the result of unconscious thought, or of deliberation without attention.

The scientific literature has emphasized the benefits of conscious deliberation in decision making for hundreds of years (2, 3). The idea that conscious deliberation is the ideal (if not always attainable) way to approach a decision forms the backbone of classic (4, 5) as well as contemporary perspectives on decision making (6, 7) and attitude formation (8, 9). In contrast, the notion that unconscious thought is fruitful hardly developed beyond the status of “folk wisdom.” It has been postulated or investigated by scientists infrequently [but see (1013)]. The question addressed here is whether this view is justified. We hypothesize that it is not.

First, conscious thought does not always lead to sound choices. For example, participants who chose their favorite poster among a set of five after thorough contemplation showed less postchoice satisfaction than participants who only looked at them briefly (14, 15). Furthermore, conscious deliberation can make multiple evaluations of the same object less consistent over time (16). Two reasons why conscious deliberation sometimes leads to poor judgments have been identified. First, consciousness has a low capacity (17, 18), causing choosers to take into account only a subset of the relevant information when they decide (13, 19). Second, conscious thought can lead to suboptimal weighting of the importance of attributes (1316): We tend to inflate the importance of some attributes at the expense of others, leading to worse choices.

Conversely, unconscious thought, or thought without attention, can lead to good choices (13, 14). In a recent experiment, participants read information about four apartments of different desirability (20). They were either asked to choose their favorite immediately, or given the opportunity to choose after a period of conscious thought, or distracted for some time before they chose. In the third of these conditions, participants could only engage in unconscious deliberation: They knew they would have to choose later, but the distraction task prevented them from devoting conscious attention to the choice. Interestingly, unconscious thinkers made better decisions than conscious thinkers or than immediate choosers (13, 14).

Recently, we formulated the Unconscious Thought Theory (UTT) (21) about the strengths and weaknesses of conscious thought and unconscious thought, that is, of deliberation with and without attention. Two characteristics of conscious and unconscious thought are important in the current context. First, conscious thought is rule-based and very precise (22, 23). Unconscious thought can conform to rules in that it detects recurring patterns, as the literature on implicit learning shows (24). However, in order to actively follow strict rules, conscious attention is necessary. For example, one cannot do arithmetic without conscious attention. This capacity to follow rules makes conscious thought more precise in decision making, because it can strictly follow self-generated rules such as not exceeding a maximum price. Second, as alluded to earlier, conscious thought suffers from the low capacity of consciousness, making it less suitable for very complex issues. Unconscious thought does not suffer from low capacity. Indeed, it has been shown that during unconscious thought, large amounts of information can be integrated into an evaluative summary judgment (13).

[iii] “How can you try to not try?” … “It makes no sense, but the paradox is essential to civilization, according to Edward Slingerland. He has developed, quite deliberately, a theory of spontaneity based on millenniums of Asian philosophy and decades of research by psychologists and neuroscientists.

He calls it the paradox of wu wei, the Chinese term for “effortless action.” Pronounced “ooo-way,”it has similarities to the concept of flow, that state of effortless performance sought by athletes, but it applies to a lot more than sports. Wu wei is integral to romance, religion, politics and commerce. It’s why some leaders have charisma and why business executives insist on a drunken dinner before sealing a deal.”  (complete essay, Tierny 2014)

[iv]  Blaise Pascal 1623B62, French mathematician, physicist, and moralist, in Pensées (1670, ed. L. Brunschvicg, 1909) sect. 4, no. 277). 

[v] “Napoleon had it and so did Charles Darwin. Tennis champion Roger Federer has it in spades. The dictionary defines intuition as knowledge obtained without conscious reasoning. It is decision-making based on apparently instinctual responses; thinking without thinking.

Go players react to computer defeat.  Intuition is a very human skill, or so we like to think. Or, more accurately, so we liked to think. In what could prove to be a landmark moment for artificial intelligence, scientists announce this week that they have created an intuitive computer. The machine acts according to its programming, but it also chooses what to do on the basis of something — knowledge, experience or a combination of the two — that its programmers cannot predict or fully explain. And, in the limited tests carried out so far, the computer has proved that it can make these intuitive decisions much more effectively than the most skilled humans can. The machines are not just on the rise, they have nudged ahead.

Experts in ethics, computer science and artificial intelligence routinely debate whether clever machines in the future will use their powers for good or evil. This latest example of digital discovery puts neural networks to work on a problem that is almost as old: how to win at the board game Go.

Outside business-management seminars, Go is not well known in the West, but it is older, more complex and harder to master than chess. Yet it is simpler to learn and play: two players take it in turns to place black or white counters on a grid. When a counter (called a stone) is surrounded by rivals, it is removed from the board. Winning — like so much in life and war — is about controlling the most territory. The game is wildly popular across countries in east Asia, and players from Japan, China and South Korea routinely compete in televised professional tournaments.

On this week’s issue of Nature, computer scientists at Google DeepMind in London unveil the successor to Deep Blue. It is a program called AlphaGo, and in October 2015 it beat the human Go champion of Europe by five games to zero. To put that into context, in Deep Blue’s time, a human beginner with just a week’s practice could easily defeat the best Go computer programs. A match between AlphaGo and the world’s most titled player of the decade is lined up for March.

AlphaGo cannot explain how it chooses its moves, but its programmers are more open than Deep Blue’s in publishing how it is built. Previous Go computer programs explore moves at random, but the new technology relies on a suite of deep neural networks. These were trained to mimic the moves of the best human players, to reward wins and, using a probability distribution, to limit the outcomes for any board position to a single verdict: win or lose. Working together, these machine-learning strategies can massively reduce the number of possible moves the program evaluates and chooses from — in a seemingly intuitive way….

When a conventional computer tells an engineer to place a rivet or a weld in a specific place on an aircraft wing, the engineer — if he or she wishes — can lift the machine’s lid and examine the assumptions and calculations inside. That is why the rest of us are happy to fly. Intuitive machines will need more than trust: they will demand faith” — “The machine becomes an oracle; its pronouncements have to be believed.”   from: Digital intuition.  (editorial)Nature  529,  437  (28 January 2016)  doi:10.1038/529437a     

[vi] Koriat Asher.  (2000)  The Feeling of Knowing: Some Metatheoretical Implications for  Consciousness and Control.  Consciousness and Cognition9, 149–171 (2000)  doi:10.1006/ccog.2000.0433, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on

And, Hart, J.T. (1965). Memory and the feeling-of-knowing experience. Journal of Educational Psychology, 56, 208-216.  : ABSTRACT:  To evaluate the accuracy of feeling-of-knowing experiences 2 investigations are reported. Both experiments (Ns of 22 and 16, respectively) show the phenomenon to be a relatively accurate indicator of memory storage, as measured by the ability of Ss to predict recognition failures and successes for items they cannot recall. The results are discussed in terms of the utility of a memory-monitoring process for the efficient functioning of a fallible storage and retrieval system. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved

[vii] Franz Wright (son of James Wright) quoted by Langdon Hammer in his review of “God’s Silence” in the NYTBR 2006)  Wright won the Pulitzer Prize, 2004

[viii] The anterior cingulate and right middle frontal cortices are two neural areas implicated in the TOT phenomenon. One study showed that, relative to successful retrieval or unsuccessful retrieval not accompanied by a TOT, retrieval failures accompanied by TOTs elicited a selective response in anterior cingulate-prefrontal cortices. The study also found that while attempting to retrieve information, subjects rely heavily on visual spatial clues in correctly retrieving the information. For example, some subjects in the study that were trying to recall a name described looking at the person’s face in attempting to retrieve the name. Also, when trying to recall the name of an author, the subjects described attempting to read the name of the author from an imagined book. The authors of the study suggest that “the extent that the subjects in our fMRI study used a visual imagery strategy when in a TOT condition, the activation observed in right inferior PFC could constitute the neural correlates of these efforts to resolve these retrieval failures” (Maril et al., 2001, p. 657).

The tip-of-the-tongue experience (TOT) has intrigued psychologists for nearly a century. R. Brown and McNeil (1966) provided the first systematic exploration of the phenomenon, and the findings since their seminal study suggest that TOTs (a) are a nearly universal experience, (b) occur about once a week, (c) increase with age, (d) are frequently elicited by proper names, (e) often enable access to the target word’s first letter, (f) are often accompanied by words related to the target, and (g) are resolved during the experience about half of the time. Important questions remain concerning TOTs: (a) Are emotional reactions necessary, (b) do only low frequency targets elicit TOTs, (c) do TOTs reflect incomplete target word activation or interference from related words, and (d) do spontaneous retrievals really occur? A more precise definition of the TOT experience is needed, as well as greater uniformity in the information gathered during TOTs. (Brown AS. 1991.  A review of the tip-of-the-tongue experience. Psychol Bull. 1991 Mar;109(2):204-23

[ix]Harold Bloom’s essay, “Pilgrim to Eros” in September 24, 2009 NYRB reviewing Byron in Love: A Short Daring Lifeby Edna O’Brien.  Norton.  From section 5 of the essay:

“ … No scholar or writer of fiction has achieved a plausible account of their six-year friendship, during which they shared over 250 days, frequently alone together, corresponded extensively, and seem to have read and discussed nearly all of one another’s poetry. Only the Goethe–Schiller relationship is comparable, but those great poets led conventional existences compared to the revolutionary and erotic firebrands Byron and Shelley, who unlike Verlaine and Rimbaud were not lovers.

Byron, except for a few allusions, carefully kept any portrait of Shelley out of his poetry. Shelley did the reverse, particularly in the remarkable conversation-poem “Julian and Maddalo” (1819), where Shelley is the idealist Julian and Byron is Count Maddalo, who had weathered much of his own Prometheanism. Goethe, who admired Byron, condescendingly observed that when Byron thought, he became a child. Shelley knew better, and I doubt that criticism has caught up to Shelley in apprehending the brilliance, range, and power of Byron’s intellect.

“Julian and Maddalo” is a beautiful exemplification of Shelley’s middle style: urbane, conversational, somewhat understated. Partly written as an answer to Manfred ‘s quasi-Calvinistic sense of fatalism, it depicts an evening horseback ride the poets took near Venice in August 1818:

I rode one evening with Count Maddalo
Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow
Of Adria towards Venice. A bare strand
Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,
Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,

Such as from earth’s embrace the salt ooze breeds,
Is this; an uninhabited sea-side,
Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,
Abandons; and no other object breaks
The waste but one dwarf tree and some few stakes
Broken and unrepaired, and the tide makes
A narrow space of level sand thereon,
Where ‘t was our wont to ride while day went down.
This ride was my delight. I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.

[x] Clin EEG Neurosci. 2006 Oct;37(4):330-5.  Error detection, correction, and prevention in the brain: a brief review of data and theories.

van Veen V1Carter CS.   Author information.  

AbstractErrors during speeded response tasks are typically immediately followed by a large component in the event-related potential, the error-related negativity; various lines of research have suggested that this component is primarily generated by the anterior cingulate cortex. This error-related activity has generated a high level of interest and investigation by cognitive neuroscientists because of the importance of online action monitoring for theories of cognitive regulation. A subsequent component, the error positivity, has remained more elusive to date. In this review we will discuss some of the extensive research which has suggested that these components are related to performance monitoring, and, should performance be compromised, dynamically adjusting control processes. Furthermore, evidence from patients with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder, suggests that such illnesses might be understood as resulting in part from disturbances in this action monitoring function.                 PMID: 17073172






[i] Making the hard problem of consciousness easier. Lucia Melloni, Liad Mudrik, Michael PittsChristof Koch  (2021) Science  28 May 2021: Vol. 372(6545):911-912. https://www.science.org/doi/full/10.1126/science.abj3259

[i] “Freud’s early training in neurology left him with an ambition to seek the biological Bedrock — of all psychological conditions. Memory, for him, was at the crossroads of the biological and the psychological. When we remember, we are recoding original neurological traces. He described his research in letters to Martha Bernays, his future wife.”   ( Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/freud/freud01.html#obj22 )



“A Project for a Scientific Psychology.” Holograph manuscript, 1895 [published 1950]. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (22)    Read the transcript