02/14/2006 08:42 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Intuition as a Means of Inquiry

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about scientific materialism as a sort of 'religion' that left me further pondering my field (genetics) with a newfound scrutiny. I was reminded of a quote by Jacques Monod (Nobel Prize Laureate in Medicine, 1965) who wrote in Chance and Necessity, "It is plain that to make the postulate of objectivity as a condition for true knowledge constitutes an ethical choice and not a knowledge judgement inasmuch as according to the postulate itself, there can be no true knowledge before this arbitrary choice. The postulate of objectivity, in order to establish a norm for knowledge, defines a value which is objective knowledge itself. To accept the postulate of objectivity then is to articulate the basic proposition of an Ethics: the ethics of knowledge. Therefore, scientific objectivity is located within and guaranteed by the scientist's subjectivity because "one thesis for which there can be in principle no scientific evidence is the thesis that only scientific evidence counts." So that is the scientist's own 'leap of faith' to 'accept the thesis of objectivity'.

Having experienced alternative ways of knowing through meditation, contemplation, and stillness, I am more and more convinced that we have become narrow-minded in our pursuit of knowledge. Being once completely steeped in only 'seeing the world' through the lens of a scientist, I am now aware that that methodology (strong as it may be) is but one lens of vision. Many have seen that clearly before me and have written about the limitations of 'rational thought' or 'reason' as the only route to knowledge. Einstein expressed it in his discussion of rational vs. intuitive thought, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind a faithful servant, we have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift".

It is hard for a scientist to question their method of discovery because that is the method upon which they have learned and honed their profession. And, it is a valuable method, one that has unlocked many doors of truth and provided for massive, and continually expansive knowledge. The scientific method will continue to provide infinite answers as we explore our world - outside and inside ourselves. Yet, as a coin has two sides, there may be alternative ways of understanding the universe, reflected in intuition, insight, or awareness, that may not be completely 'objectified' (in the same way that your teeth cannot bite themselves or that your hand cannot grab itself). As we uncover these alternative ways of discovery, and cultivate them deeply in our communities, what may emerge is a more open-minded, spacious view of the universe, time, and our human nature. The first step in this process is to become aware that every method of investigation or inquiry may have limitations and to discover the limitations through experimentation or further inquiry. Lao-tzu wrote: "a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving, a good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants, and a good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is". It may be time to free ourselves from concepts to see 'what is' more clearly.

This is not an argument to eliminate scientific investigation or reason (in fact, many people in the world today seem not to follow or use reason enough which is perhaps more dangerous than using it too much), it is and will remain a major method of knowledge generation. It is merely an observation that complementary methods may be useful in understanding ourselves and the world, and it is our role as members of the human species, regardless of profession, to become aware of those alternatives and to integrate them into our lives and society such that we can be part of a more balanced world, a balance arising through the integration of both reason and intuition, a balance that may best be called, wisdom.