Does Meditation Develop Intuition? – Modern Koans

Posted by in Modern Koans, Writings

Question: I practice zazen because I believe it develops the intuition. But my intuitions often turn out wrong. What is it that I am missing here?

My response: My sense is that like consciousness, intuition is a complex combination of experience (memory) and brain wiring. I don’t subscribe to any metaphysical explanations for it. I suspect as you gain more experience in life your “intuitions” about the world start to improve (though I bet they don’t bat any better than your average baseball player). If I’m right and it’s experiential, experiences don’t always lead us to a good gut feeling about how the world works, our intuitions will vary in their accuracy.

Say, for instance, I am the captain of a football team and I participate in a lot of coin tosses. I always choose heads and I’ve lost about 75% of those coin tosses. When I take my first course in statistics, the teacher will ask me “what is the probability that a coin will land heads?” I might intuitively respond 25%. But, the right answer is 50%.

Why did I get it wrong? There are probably lots of possible explanations. One might be that since I had amassed a decent amount of experience with coin tosses, I had gained enough confidence to intuit the answer. But because my experience was unusual, I got the wrong answer.

I see a number of reasons why zazen would be unhelpful for developing intuition. Click To Tweet

Another explanation could be that my experience led me away from the more obvious answer to the question. The reason that the probability is 50% is because there are only two options. The probability of any event is 1 out of the total number of possible outcomes.

I see a number of reasons why zazen would be unhelpful for developing intuition.

  1. First, the experience of zazen is primarily internal and therefore it excludes at least half of our possible experience. Introspection is not a broad enough data collection method. It’s also notoriously inaccurate.
  2. Second, developing expectations of improved intuition or anything else for that matter, is the root of suffering, so it seems like something we’d want to avoid in the practice of meditation.
  3. Third, I think that the idea of developing intuition is a little too fuzzy. Even if it were more tightly defined, I would still opt to wait patiently for some scientific confirmation that meditation might be able to improve it (whatever it is).

What do you think?  Is there something called intuition? What is it? Can we improve it? Does it require a metaphysical definition? or is it just another cool feature of the human brain?

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Modern Koans is an ongoing series that recognizes that good questions are often more important than their answers.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man. ― G.K. Chesterton

Dialectic Two Step, Modern Koans, Verse Us, Say What?, and Minute Meditations all copyright Andrew Furst

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Andrew Furst

Author of two books, Poet, Meditation Teacher, Buddhist blogger, backup guitarist for his teenage boys, lucky husband and technologist
Andrew Furst
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