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Intuition helps scientists reveal where expertise resides within the brain

 

Scientific American posted May 1, 2015 study, performed by Kelji Tanaka of RIKEN Brain Science Institute outside Tokyo, where a  group of neuroscientists studied the brains of Shogi players using functional MRI (fMRI) in effort to detect the neural signatures of intuitive adeptness within each player.

 

A series of experiments may have revealed where expertise resides within the Brain, suggests an article published by SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN May 1, 2015. Author Christof Koch shared the study performed by Keiji Tanaka of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute outside Tokyo, which involved the use of a Japanese strategy game called Shogi. This game engages players to use a nine-by-nine board and with two sets of 20 distinct game pieces that face each other. Although like chess, its Japanese cousin is much more complex. The object is to capture the opponent’s king as its players move pieces around a game board. As pieces are captured they can be dropped “into an empty position anywhere on the board at the discretion of its capturer.”[i] As participants engaged in the game play a group of Cognitive Neuroscientists used functional MRI (fMRI) to search for neural signatures within the Basal Ganglia of the Brain; more specifically they were drawn to a small region in front of the Caudate Nucleus, which lies under the Cortex.

 

“The Basal Ganglia receives measured input from the Cortex; the outer, rind-like surface of the Brain. These structures project back to the Cortex creating a series of cortical-basal ganglia loops.” This area of the Cortex is responsible for the conscious and deliberate analysis of any situation and is associated with conscious perception, no matter whether that perception is familiar to us or unique in nature. The study determined that the Caudate Nucleus turned on in professional players, while the same region of the brain within amateur players was not as reliable. They went on to proclaim that this specialized area of the Brain was less predominantly activated when subjects needed more time to think their moves through, which is a key factor as amateurs choose to engage in developing their intuitive muscle, so to speak. “When subjects had up to 8 seconds to search for the best solution, the sub cortical region remained silent.”  As players became more familiar with the rules of the game they became highly proficient at playing the game, allowing for the pronounced development of Caudate Nucleus.  The more the players learned the more superior the signal became.

 

Their findings tie intuition with the interlinking Brain areas called the Basal Ganglia, which is responsible for learning, executing habits and automatic behaviors.  Dr. Watson touched on this area of the Brain earlier, although she had not made reference to the Caudate Nucleus (CN) within the Cortex of the Basal Ganglia, which is where the highly specialized expert within each of us resides. When this area of the Brain is activated the blood flow in front of the Caudate Nucleus changes and the strength of the CN signal increases, revealing that the subject’s brain and intuitive processes studied during Shogi game play improved over time. This allowed the players to provide rapid, accurate answers as they learned more about the game. The more the subjects learned, the larger the signal within the Brain became.

 

With repeat practice or more education the intuitive genius within the brain gets exercised, becoming more sophisticated and precise. Just think, as we choose a specific field of study and fully immerse ourselves into it, the Caudate Nucleus gets exercised, strengthening a muscle so to speak, and our intuitive genius takes over.

 

To give you a few examples, I ask you to think about the amount of time it takes for a med student to become a doctor and that after 10 or more years of training a trained physician is able to look at their patient and intuitively know exactly what’s wrong with them, only after a cursory scan. Or, a skilled art teacher finds an old painting under a pile of rubbish at an estate sale that possesses the signature of a famous artist inscribed on the lower right hand corner. By looking at the brushstrokes the teacher intuitively knows that the painting is a fake.  Imagine further that with no real training, only possessing a deep love for horses, you’re passing a race horse stable just before the big race. You become mesmerized by a mare that takes your breath away, making your heart beat faster and your hair to stand up on the nape of your neck. You feel her energy and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are looking at a winner. 

 

When the Brain is exercised properly we learn to trust what we sense, thus allowing us to make spontaneous decisions at the blink of an eye without needing to perform a more thorough analysis.  Thus, Intuition can be defined as “influence” from the body or brain emerging first as instinctive feelings or sensations. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?

 

May 20, 2016 author Cari Nierenberg a Live Science contributor declared that researchers have found evidence that people using intuition “make faster, more accurate and confident decisions[ii];” findings of which have been published on line in the Journal of Psychological Science. Joel Pearson, associate professor of Psychology at University of New South Wales Australia suggests this same study[iii] shows that intuition does in fact exist and researchers are now better able to measure it. We will go over just how this happens very soon.

 

For now we need only understand that all living creatures possess what seems to be a supernatural ability to intuitively sense things.  Early in human development even the Caveman had experiences with intuition. Imagine as he sets out in search of food for the clan he is overwhelmed by a sense of impending danger just moments before he is swept off his feet by a large prehistoric raptor.

 

While readying for bed a Native American Shaman prays for his tribe as he seeks answers from the Great Spirit. While praying his body shape-shifts into the form of a wolf which allows him to walk the perimeter of a US Calvary camp to hear how the military plans to attack his tribe the very next day. By doing so he saves his tribe.

A twin living in North Carolina feels a sharp pain in her right pointer finger as her sister, who lives in Michigan cuts the exact finger down to the bone with a knife.

I have spent years in deep contemplation about this; asking questions such as, What is responsible for our intuitive urgings? Is it something inside of us that provokes these experiences or is it something outside of us, within our environment? Is it really a psychic experience that cannot be explained or is it just as researchers explained in the story of the Shogi experience? Can our sensory body and our brain be the cause of such experiences or is there more to it?

I think sometimes it’s more exciting to believe that these events are mystical.  Many people experience intuitive ‘hits’ so to speak and they seem perfectly happy not knowing how they do it or where those hits come from. How often do you hear people talk about knowing what their spouse was about to say before they say it?  How often have you had an experience with knowing who is on the other end of the phone when it rings? We all, at one point in our lives have experienced intuition in one way or another.

 

Advancements within the fields of Neuroscience, Quantum Theory/Physics, energy transference and cell communication research now help us better understand the complexities and connections associated with our sensory system and our environments. We’ve made it through the New Age movement where we were taught that intuition was linked to paranormal and metaphysical experiences that were thought to be of spiritual or religious origin and practices. Old and new information has come to light and scientists have made great strides in documenting the structures of the human body and its connection to the Universe. I am excited to reaffirm works dating back to Einstein as well as successfully documented theories that other scientists share from the 1800s and that modern science shares today.  Amalgamating old theories with new puzzle pieces shared by modern day physicists and cosmologists may help us to transcend old paradigms of thought; thoughts that are self-limiting, unfavorably influencing our behavior, causing us to believe that we must rely upon outside authorities and agencies to make decisions that can have longstanding negative effects on our lives...and the lives of those we care for.

 

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say that they are afraid of people with such abilities and when they themselves experience such things it freaks them out to the point of shutting down. It is my hope that the information Dr. Watson and I share in this book help to allay any fears you might have about intuition.

 

Based upon this information I don't believe Intuition is something to fear, but instead should be embraced and nurtured. Intuition is a brain process that cooperates with the cellular structure of the body to measure inside and outside stimuli which gives us the ability to make decisions without the use of analytical reasoning, and the big news is… anyone can do it!

 

To learn more, keep an eye out for "FLASH, The Science of Insight" by Dr. Ann Watson with Nicole Myers Henderson. to be published by Post Hypnotic Press, Canada sometime this year (2018).

 

 

 

[i] Christof Koch, Scientific American; May 1, 2015 Intuition May Reveal Where Expertise Resides in the Brain

 

[ii] May 20 2016 The Science of Intuition, How to measure Hunches and Gut Feelings by Cari Nierenberg              

 

[iii] Live Science

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