Got a Nose for Intuition?

23 Feb 2009

[Here's a post I wrote up last week during some downtime. It's not as cohesive and polished as I'd like in areas, but seems generally done enough let loose on the world.]


I wanted to share a quote with you from a fascinating book called Aromatherapy, Scent & Psyche by Peter & Kate Damian:

To give some idea of the brain's immense operational power and activity: A computer having the same number of "bits" as the average human brain weighing three pounds would stand a hundred stories high and cover the state of Texas.

That's a great visual statement. Of course, that book was printed in 1995. Today, the same computer would likely cover only an average-sized state like Alabama, and would be likely 10-20 stories tall. But, either way, it's still one hell of an immense computer.

The point is that our brains are unimaginably complex. And so are our noses. In fact, that entire aromatherapy book can be viewed as a book-length statement portraying the complexity of the human olfactory system. It's doubly interesting in that, as complex as our human sense of smell is, it absolutely pales in comparison with some of the more advanced noses in the animal kingdom. Consider this quote about human pheromones:

Pheromones secreted by the apocrine glands of human feet can linger for as long as two weeks. Every barefoot step, leaving as little as four-billionths of a gram of odiferous sweat substance, appears like a roadmap to a bloodhound; indeed, that minute amount is enough to penetrate shoes and be detectable by a good tracking hound. (ibid)

So, if our nose pales in comparison to a bloodhound's in terms of sensitivity, and if we assume that a bloodhound's brain similarly pales in comparison to a human brain in terms of overall capability and higher thought, then how unfathomably complex we all are -- each sensory experience and memory from throughout the course of our entire lives swirling together in our grey matter, any of which might demand our bloodhound-esque sense of attention and alter our entire outlook on life, at any time. What conceit to think we truly understand human psychology.

But, hey, we can always ponder the subject ...

This sheer complexity of the human brain is the kind of thing that always had me wondering how much free will we actually have. But, I don't want to discuss free will versus determinism at the moment. Whether free will is an illusion or not does not matter to me. I have argued both sides of that issue as thought experiments and, during my pro-free-will arguments, I often liked to discuss volition -- our acts of consciously doing things. (Or, if you're a deterministic person, then just read that as our "apparent" acts of consciously doing things.)

Lately, my focus is on adopting a new way to exist. No, I've already adopted it; it's more a matter of acclimating myself to it, getting a feel for it, etc. It's fundamentally different than I've done previously (at least, on a consistent basis). It's not objectively better or worse than my previous mode of existence. But, obviously, I view it as subjectively "better" in the sense that I find it more fulfilling, more rewarding, and more in alignment with my sense of compassion (which I have yet to write about at length, though that's coming). In short, I find it more "right" in kind of a zen sense.

My therapist calls this changing one's "schema" (see works of Jean Piaget ). Rarely do people do this, apparently. It seems it's human nature to just "stay pretty much who you are" your entire life -- although, I suppose if "who you are" is "someone who changes schema from time to time" then you aren't really changing schema. (I'd run that past the shrink if I weren't afraid of her throwing me into a padded cell.)

Okay, so what's this all about? Well, let me quote a brief paragraph from an email I'd sent my wife earlier last week. That'll explain some if it:

... I'm learning that seeing with intuition is something that takes practice. While it seems straightforward enough, it's really not. It's really almost counter-intuitive at times because you have to make sure that you're truly experiencing a true version of your intuition and not seeing through some other vehicle of the human psyche -- for example, the ego, which can and does mask itself, I believe, as intuition.

So, wow, there's true intuition, and then there's what you only think is intuition. How do you learn the difference? (My answer: Same way, as the old story goes, that you get to Carnegie Hall: "Practice, man, practice.") So, that's where I'm at, at the moment.

I'm sharing all of this because, at least in my experience, few people I've met actually live full-time from a place within the heart (which is, to me, the essence here). I've been in Corporate America for far too long, I think. Peppered among the many, many assholes, there are nice, decent, well-meaning people here and there, too. That's the way I used to be -- the refreshing, grounded, normal guy down the corridor who'd get your campaign out the door on time or whatever. But this schema I'm speaking of -- living intuitively -- is something different; this mode of existence isn't about making decisions based on cost-benefit analyses or even just being polite and professional toward others.

You see, I've realized that that isn't really life. It's not *quite* death, either. (And I'm talking about the nice people you know -- not the asshole types.) It's like purgatory, or something -- kind of a half-life. It's what people mean when they say they have a "nice" or "pleasant" life. We have ourselves so conditioned to this that we respond to that sort of thing positively. We say, "Hey, I'm glad you're doing well!" We say, "I'm glad you seem happy."

But close your eyes and concentrate. Smell harder -- because there's a ripe sadness to these words, driven below the surface and perhaps as faint as that four-billionths of a gram of human pheromone detectable only to a bloodhound. In fact, those words ("I'm basically happy" "I'm a nice guy" "I'm largely happy" "I'm a pleasant, polite person") do produce a similar pheromone -- the pheromone of unfulfillment. The question is: Can your "nose" detect it? Honestly, I never used to be able to, but now it's like ammonia. And that's why I'm so psyched to be leaving Corporate America and heading out into the world to help people develop their own bloodhound superpowers.

Please note: I'm not asserting that I've got the universe all figured out. God knows, "I got headaches and toothaches and bad times too, like you" (from the musical, Hair, "I Got Life"). I'm merely saying that, at least insofar as this stuff goes -- this new sense I'm feeling out -- I've glimpsed a truth that, as far as I can tell, few truly see (or, uh, smell). (Damn, Dee, get your metaphors straight!)

So, maybe that's what I'm saying -- that we can develop a nose for these things. And, when we do, we also become in tune with much more than we bargained for because we start sniffing out other things we'd never experienced before. In my case, these new scents are the bouquets found when you walk the path of intuition. I will practice it, I will encourage it in others (hopefully without being annoying). I suppose this post simply documents my realization that using a new superpower, while wonderful, takes a bit of practice. Whether I'll perfect living intuitively remains to be seen but, intuitively, I sense it's the right path and look forward to where it takes me.

* * *

Note: The writer in me naturally gravitates to metaphor. The bloodhound, in retrospect, may or may not have been an ideal vehicle here. Rationalists may rightly point out that there's nothing intuitive about a bloodhound's nose -- that, while four-billionths of a gram is tiny and therefore the bloodhound's nose sensitivity is impressive, there's really nothing extrasensory happening. Well, that's not how I meant it, of course. That's not a whiff of gloom I detect in you, is it?

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