"Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came
from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there" (Coelho,
1988, p. 134). While quotes such as this one intrigue my students, they
come to the TOK course poorly prepared to relate to their meaning. My
American students consider logical-mathematical reasoning the true test
of knowledge. This idea stems from western culture's support of logical-mathematical
reasoning as the most valid. Science -- or at least their stereotypical
idea of it -- is synonymous with meaning, and many students are only
vaguely aware of the limits of science. Thus, my students come to me
with little appreciation for intuition, and they do not even understand
the importance of intuitive thinking within the academic disciplines
they claim to respect. They also do not typically rely on, or trust,
the use of intuition in their personal lives. Students need more awareness
of the total human experience, and the powerful uses of intuition to
develop all types of knowledge.
I am experimenting with lessons promoting an understanding of intuitive
thought. I revisited my favorite learning theorist, Jerome Bruner, for
guidance on this project. Bruner writes in The Process of Education
(1977) that teachers should facilitate intuitive reasoning in
students and show them how it is different from analytic thinking. Developing
intuitive processes helps students to draw relationships between ideas
and find new uses for old ideas. Because my students are not receptive
to considering intuitive thinking, I share with them some background
on Bruner. Bruner states,
The third theme (of his 4 themes of learning) involves
the nature of intuition--the intellectual technique of arriving at
plausible but tentative formulations without going through the analytic
steps by which such formulations would be found to be valid or invalid
conclusions. Intuitive thinking, the training of hunches, is
a much neglected and essential feature of productive
thinking not only in formal academic disciplines but also in everyday
life. The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap
to a tentative conclusion--these are the most valuable coin of the
thinker at work, whatever his line of work (p. 13-14).
Omen Map Activity
Since my students have little awareness of what intuition means, where
do I begin? I start with intuition in our personal lives. We read Paulo
Coelho's The Alchemist (1988). It is a fable about Santiago,
a shepherd who travels the world in search of a treasure. He is seeking
his destiny, and must learn to recognize the omens along the way, and
most importantly, to learn when to trust the omen's truth and follow
I have students write down their favorite quotes from the book as they
read. Next, I give each student a piece of poster board with instructions
to draw an "omen map" representing the omens they've recognized
in their lives. (I find that drawing lowers defenses and rationalizations
and promotes a creative environment. The end result here is similar
to a road map of their lives, but shows omens rather than events.) They
are to draw pictures representing (1) the omens and (2) how their paths
in life were changed due to their having recognized the omens. I also
ask them to include their favorite quotes onto the "omen map,"
in whatever places they think the quotes belong.
At first, students do not know what to do; they are obsessed with "being
right." This is exactly the frame of reference I want them to drop
in favor of innovative thinking. The obsession to "be right"
gets in the way of innovation, that quality implicit in the intuitive
stage of knowledge creation. At first we discuss this issue a great
deal, and once students get started, they are fine. Some students draw
only a few items; others ask for more paper. My Indian and Asian students
have the richest drawings at this stage of the exercise. When the drawings
are complete, we hold a class discussion in which students share the
quotes they picked, and what they think Paulo Coelho's fable means.
Students openly share their puzzlement over how to recognize omens
and when to trust them as life guides. I purposely let them get to this
point on their own. A lecture on the importance of using intuition will
not get them primed for exploration. Instead, I plant the idea that
our intuitive side needs exploration, using examples of scientific discoveries
made using intuitive experiences, and life examples of people choosing
mates. I tell them that I have two ideas to get us started. They are
based on mythology and Jung's dream archetypes.
Myths: Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung
I then introduce students to Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth
(1988). Campbell makes some powerful points. He claims that myths are
stories about the search for truth, meaning, and significance. He encourages
us to read myths because they direct us inwards, where we can receive
messages of important symbols. Campbell warns us that it is dangerous
when a society no longer embraces myth: it no longer has an ethos. According
to him, myths are stories about the wisdom of life. The messages of
myth are timeless and cross-cultural, even though they typically develop
independently. Could this be what Coelho meant by reaching and experiencing
the "soul of the universe?" Campbell says that myths are the
world's dreams. They are archetypal and deal with all the great human
problems. They teach us how to resolve life's problems. Campbell says
new myths can arise, and that the myths of the future will have to be
about uniting people with the planet. Finally, Campbell says that myths
and dreams come from the same place--from realizations that find expression
in symbolic form. The ability to understand mythological symbols lies
in all of us, though western culture does not cultivate a sense of how
to recognize and use these symbols.
The next task is for each student to select a myth and bring it to
class. I put students in small groups, and each person reads their myth
How do the students know what to look for in myths? A key concept in
Campbell's work is that important mythological ideas typically come
to us in a symbolic archetypal form. Therefore, before the students
read the myths they bring in, we learn something about archetypes, how
to recognize them, and how to tell important symbols from unimportant
I find that Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols (1964) is very readable
and easy to understand. The first three chapters give an overview of
Jung's theories and good examples of dreams where meaningful archetypes
appear. Student interest in symbols is immediate. One student came to
class the next day and said, "I found a ladybug on my
car! What does it mean?" I make sure they understand that
Jung sees a difference between meaningful coincidences and those that
are not. I do not think that this instance of a ladybug has significance,
but some symbols students recognize are meaningful, especially in their
dreams or in mythological stories from their childhood. Some of the
main themes in Jung's work are hero stories, shadows, compensation symbols,
initiations, transcendence, self archetypes, persona archetypes, mandalas,
and the animus / anima. This book makes these concepts easy to understand,
and students enjoy the stories.
At this point students read myths of their choice and start recognizing
important archetypal symbols. They see more in the mythological stories
than they ever did, and we have fun reading the myths. Students brought
in myths representing all cultures and types of ideas.
After they've shared their myths, I have students go back to The
Alchemist and look for symbols they missed during the first reading.
They find so much more! They also realize that each day there is very
much in their own lives that they are not aware of.
My students wanted to take Jung further, and logged their dreams for
a few weeks. Dream content at their age consists mainly of hero stories,
persona archetypes, and initiation stories. They have to accept that
some of their dreams are not meaningful in an archetypal way. But now
they know the difference, and recognize more symbolic material from
their surroundings. When should they trust these symbolic messages?
That takes practice and time.
At this point, I asked if there was more that could be included in
their "omen map." There was. They mentioned Coelho's The
Pilgrimage (1987), another interesting tale about a journey Coelho
makes seeking truth. It is a guide to self-mastery and insight through
a series of intuition-enhancing exercises. These exercises in personal
uses of intuition are just a point of departure for studying the role
of intuition in creating knowledge. The possibilities are endless in
the TOK curriculum. Below, I list a few ways I link intuitive thinking
with the rest of my course.
Intuition in the Natural Sciences
We examine Stephen Hawking's video series The Universe. The
segment called Cosmic Alchemy specifically addresses the concept
of transformation (which relates to Jung' s "transcendence").
Transformation is seen both as a physics concept about the origin of
the universe and as something existing in the human mind.
The video A Brief History of Time addresses how Stephen Hawking
was able to create his ideas. Hawking is not a "normal" scientist;
he is an innovator. I want my students to, at the very least, be fascinated
with him and to realize how, due to his illness, he had to think in
ways beyond the ordinary rules. He dove into the inner world of intuitive
thought, and found beautiful solutions to old problems. His ideas were
then tested for truth.
The PBS video series A Science Odyssey provides some valuable
stories of how science and technology were created in the 20th century.
This series explicitly discusses intuitive scientific processes, how
initial ideas were unpopular with the scientific establishment and the
general public, and how the ideas were gradually accepted as truths.
Discoveries such as insulin, the separation of the continents, computer
technology, and evolution are addressed.
Intution in the Language Unit
We had fun in our language unit analyzing the Star Trek: The Next
Generation episode called Darmok. Captain Picard has tremendous
difficulty trying to understand an alien captain from another spaceship,
with whom he is trapped on a dangerous planet. Picard and his crew turn
to mythology in a desperate attempt to comprehend the unique language
of this race (the other captain speaks only in metaphors that refer
to mythological characters). At the end of the show Picard is safely
back on the ship, reading Homer. He says that if he understood mythology
he would understand a lot more about the world. This drives home the
point about myth bringing people together under a common ethos.
Intuition in Mathematics
Because I find that too often my students' mathematical experience
has been largely computational (they have not had the opportunity to
reflect on, and really come to enjoy and appreciate, mathematics) I
introduce Bruner's On Knowing (1979). It contains a chapter about
getting students interested in mathematical intuitive processes. Bruner
says that the pure mathematician is essentially involved in studying
puzzles and recognizing their deepest properties. Bruner uses a technique
called "unmasking" to challenge students to uncover the basic
properties of puzzles through intuitive processes. I have students work
in groups with a series of difficult puzzles, and identify what relationships
and patterns they see. The process is more important to me than being
Intuition in the Human Sciences
In the human sciences, creativity and intuition are necessary to create
novel ideas and make new connections. I find Freud's work on repetition-compulsion
to be a good example. Freud watched a boy repeatedly bounce a ball off
a wall and back to himself. As he observed this boy and thought of the
repetitious actions in mentally ill patients, he deduced that all people
relive traumatic events until they are resolved. It became a central
concept of his theory, one that has stood the test of time.
Intuition in the Arts
My students understand that an artist must view the world in different
ways, using his or her intuitive responses as a guide. I have them go
through this process themselves, by creating their own art in the form
of photography. Many find intuitive mathematical symbols in their work.
Intuitive Knowledge and Internationalism
To facilitate an international perspective on knowing intuitively,
we studied a Tai Chi form. After 10 weeks of practicing a little each
week, students started to internalize enough of the Yin and Yang and
breathing principles to begin to understand their importance, both in
healing a person and in helping the person relate to her world.
Intuitive thinking is fundamental to creative thinking in all of the
ways of knowing. I feel that in my classroom I've been able to plant
at least a seed of this idea.
Bruner, Jerome. On Knowing. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Bruner, Jerome. The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1977.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York, NY: Doubleday,
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins,
Coelho, Paulo. The Pilgrimage. San Francisco, CA:. HarperCollins,
Jung, Carl. Man and His Symbols. New York, NY: Dell Publishing,
[Re-edited in 2005]