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Should we trust our senses?

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Painting abstrct

By Jonathan Milne, Managing Director of The Learning Connexion

How did Vassily Kandinsky decide where to make the next brush stroke? Intuition is our way of finding patterns within patterns. Patterns begin with our senses and involve such a vast amount of information that we can’t unpack them ‘consciously’.

In an age of techie marvels, it may sound retro to talk about ‘learning by doing'. Then again, techie inventions may be a lot less marvelous than humans. We have to ask whether we’ve been conned into under-valuing our own possibilities.

The con is driven by money. Gadgets and software can earn fortunes. So do vaccines and medicines – products of heavy-duty technology.

Human brains mostly don’t make vast amounts of money although they are more complex than the most sophisticated technology. Our brains can make approximately 1015 connections when our 100 billion neurons interact.

The big number is only the beginning of the story. While some of the neuron connections are relevant to money, most of them relate to our senses. We can only hazard a guess about the scale of our human ‘computer’ (which doesn’t work like a regular industrial computer).

When we learn by ‘doing’ we engage with our senses in ways radically different from conventional learning. We’re processing a phenomenal amount of information from all of our senses. And that takes us to another con job. Scientists still don’t know how many senses we possess. It’s many more than five. Our whole being is built around senses.

Sense-based discovery connects with life, the universe and everything. It is different from ‘materialism’ and ‘reductionism’ which attempt to reduce everything to basic units.

Deep connectedness adds new layers to our understanding of cause and effect. It doesn’t shelter us from blunders although it’s more likely to be sensitive to long-term possibilities. At the same time, it can make us vulnerable to nonsense. For example, advertising thrives on gullibility. It sidesteps our senses by going straight to our wishes. Ironically the cure is a version of reductionism. Ask yourself whether there is specific evidence supporting the claim of an advertisement.

In a different context, we can pay attention to whether our hunches are accurate. If you think a friend is going to get in touch, how often are you right? When you are strongly attracted to buy something, does it make sense? We can investigate what is ‘sensible’ by suspending our wishes. When you get highly skilled you’ll find that your senses and ‘sensible’ are mostly in harmony.

A seldom-acknowledged sense in art is ‘sense of completion’. How do artists know when a work is finished? Leonardo dodged the question by saying ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ A more recent quote attributed to Paul Gardner: ‘A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.’ Were they right? Or do we really know when art is completed? How did Kandinsky know when to stop?

You might also be able to relate to the sense of ‘beauty’. How is it that ‘beauty’ crops up in so many different fields? Scientists talk of beautiful patterns, sport is full of beautiful ‘moves’ and farmers grow beautiful food. Aesthetic judgments have been associated with philosophy rather than a ‘sense’ – see Aesthetic | Definition of Aesthetic.

I’m inclined to believe that there is a dimension of human life in which beauty is a genuine sense even though it gets confused with other factors.

Are there ways to nurture our senses and intuition? Some possible steps:

  1. Explore your willingness to move into work that has no fixed ‘answer’.
  2. Notice when your intuition is effective and when you’ve been fooled by a desire.
  3. Go shopping without a list and note what gets your attention. Don’t purchase anything (at least for now). Later, review the notes and figure whether something purposeful is happening.
  4. Give your senses a regular workout. There are many different possibilities. Creating a dinner. Arranging flowers. Gardening. Hiking. Sport. Making art … and so on. The key is to be doing something that is mostly experiential.
  5. Practice ‘not thinking’. You’re ‘thinking’ if an inner voice is saying ‘You don’t know what this means’. Repetitive behaviour (walking, house-keeping, tidying your studio) can help to settle the inner voice. There are forms of meditation that have the same intention although you don’t have to meditate to get there.

Create an intuitive artwork (painting, collage, sculpture etc.) around the theme ‘INTUITION’


  1. Gather information. This can be started with a deliberate search on the internet although if you arrive at 131,000,000 links you’ll have to make some intuitive choices.
  2. Select (or create) images or items that somehow relate to what you find.
  3. Choose a format. It could be an A3 piece of card, a piece of particle board – whatever you like from whatever your situation allows.
  4. Assemble the images/items as ‘intuitively’ as possible. Move or alter the parts to fit whatever seems to be ‘right’ (keeping in mind that there are likely endless OK ‘answers’).
  5. Review your work. What does it have to ‘say’? Does it need to be changed?
  6. Alternatively, or additionally, trust your intuition to go beyond the ‘parts’ and create a unique visual statement of its own.
  7. Reflect on whether art artworks are (or can be) packages of intuitive information that require an intuitive response from the viewer? Reflect on your own work too. Is there an intuitive component?

“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” (Ray Bradbury, right). The idea translates easily into art and other fields.

# how many neuron connections in the brain
## Humans have a lot more than five senses
## THE SIXTH SENSE - Dr. Rupert Sheldrake Provides an excellent definition
Is Intuition Always Right? Provides tactics that complement our project.
Intuition - Wikipedia Broad overview with valuable historical and cross-cultural elements.
Please keep in touch. Sharing your work/play (including new links and stories of how you managed) is a gift for everyone.
I look forward to receiving comments, questions and images.
Kia kaha.


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