Intuition researcher and entrepreneur Asta Raami. / Photo: Pekka Karhunen

Intuition – a game changer for climate change?

Using intelligent intuition may be a game-changing tool in solving wicked problems such as climate change. Intuition is a learnable skill, argues researcher Asta Raami, and it enables us to tap into our non-conscious reservoir of knowledge and experience.

Climate change is a quintessential wicked problem.

That is to say, it is a complex dilemma characterised by such interdependencies and elusive sub-problems that a clear-cut solution proves almost impossible.

To solve wicked problems, we need a completely new mindset – a new way of thinking and learning. Rational and analytical thinking is not enough. Searching for a breakthrough beyond current paradigms is needed. Something deeply innovative.

To achieve this we need to tap into our intelligent, intentional intuition – our nonconscious gateway to our accumulated experience, know-how and wisdom.

This is the argument put forward by many intuition researchers.

Among them is Finnish researcher Asta Raami. Raami is something of a pioneer of the field in her country, having defended her PhD on the use of intuition in creative processes. She has since founded an intuition consultancy and coaching firm, with the mission of spreading understanding of intuition’s untapped potential.

For Raami, climate change is a field where intuition could prove to be a game changer.

– Climate change is a time-critical issue. The clock is ticking and we need to expand our solution space fast. This is a classic scenario of where intuiting could suggest new solutions fast, she believes.

Experience, out of the box

To harness the potential of intuition, it is important to discern intuition from emotions like fears, as well as from instincts and imagination.

– Through intuitive faculties we can access our nonconscious reservoir of accumulated experience and knowledge. Further, intentional intuiting allows us to acquire information which is out of reach to our reasoning faculties, Asta Raami explains.

To find an example of intuiting in a climate change context we could think of a researcher developing alternative energy sources, or a social organizer pondering a social innovation that diminishes the carbon footprint of a local community.

Both these professionals have years of experience in their respective fields and in this time have accumulated vast mental resources of what we call experience: case examples, tacit knowledge and mental models.

A breakthrough may happen if these individuals are able to creatively employ all this knowledge without getting bogged down by what has been done before – to use a mental road less travelled.

– Using intelligent intuition does not mean abandoning logic and reason. Any idea gained through intuition will and should be subjected to deliberate observation or rational inquiry after the intuitive process, Raami explains.

To return to our example, then, our social organizer will make notes of his or her intuitive moments and then subject them to the scrutiny of the whole work community. Or the scientific community. Or a rigorous experiment.

Raami´s own research on intuition abounds with examples that border on the mystical. She has looked into how exceptional individuals, top scientists and Nobel prize winners have described their intuitive moments.

For example, Barbara McClintock, Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, and corn genetics researcher describes her working process as integrating her empirical observations with her strong mental images of the organisms under study. She also describes a “feeling for the organism” and of the study object becoming a part of herself.

This type of knowing escapes explanation even for McClintock herself but she describes a feeling of unity between herself and the objects of her study. “Basically, everything is one.”, she says. (Keller, 1983 cited in Raami, 2017*)

Intuition: a learnable skill

Asta Raami’s core message is that intuition is a learnable skill.

The first step is to understand and accept that we have  two systems of processing information: conscious and intuitive. Thus understanding enables a deliberate decision to harness intuitive powers. Secondly, one must train their skills of perception and discernment.

– We need to learn to discern the signals our intuition is presenting us, and filter out any distorted ones. Learning this can be a long process. Intuition can be completely wrong and misleading if not backed up with critical evaluation.

The next steps have to do with a silent revolution of the mind. We have to ultimately convince ourselves that we will succeed in our goal.

– When we consciously set our focus and trust persistently in our ability to achieve it, our intuition starts working towards that focus. But we also have to be prepared to let go of our preconceptions. We have to accept the possibility that the solution may appear downright crazy at first.

Stop for a moment

The road to intuiting may appear long. Asta Raami believes it can begin with the smallest of steps -or rather a non-step.

Stop for a moment. Be silent, and turn your focus inward.

– Recent neurological research has discovered that an “Eureka” moment is preceded by a switch in attention. There is a change in focus that quietens the visual input and switches attention to internal activation, Raami explains.

Consequently, she believes, that any behaviour that encourages quieting of thoughts, be it mediation, mindfulness or just a moment’s silence can be helpful in accessing intuitive insights.

Experimenting with daydreams

“The moment I changed the world” by Reea Leponiemi.

This spring 2017, I took part in a working group on the future of sustainable education. The working group convened under the auspices of the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

The Fund invited education influencers from around the country – teachers and adult educators, administrators, civil society actors – to form an ad hoc “think and do tank”. The core question: how to make education, especially that of primary school, serve an ecologically and socially sustainable future.

The work of the group was informed by the insights from an upcoming book Sustainability, Human Well-being and The Future of Education (Palgrave). The central question of the book is how to make learners, schools and communities a part of a sustainable future.

The working group experimented with themes presented in the book, testing its innovations in real life. My team drew its inspiration from Asta Raami’s article on intelligent intuition, in particular her remarks on the benefits of finding time for short moments of calm in the middle of a busy day. Learning to silence the active mind and turning inwards can, according to Raami, sensitize towards intuition.

Our team wanted to study whether arranging 5-minute silent moments would have an effect on the working atmosphere in a school class and in a working place. A fifth grade class of 11-12-year-olds in comprehensive school in Hyvinkää, Finland, and an adult vocation education institute were chosen as living labs for the experiment.

Daydreaming to start the morning

During four days, the teacher led her class to a short five-minute silence at the beginning of each day. It was up to the children how to spend this moment – the only rule was to respect the peace of others and to try to focus on one’s own thoughts and to accept whatever feelings emerge.

We called these silent moments “daydreams”. A black box full of photographs was brought to class and a single photograph was picked up and showed to the class at the beginning of each session. The atmosphere in the photo could help in transporting the pupils’ thoughts elsewhere.

The children filled in a questionnaire before and after the experiment on how they were feeling. The questionnaire was multiple choice and included a spectrum of common expressions on feelings from angry to tired, to alert and peaceful.

A similar experiment was carried out among the employees of the adult vocational institute – a five-minute silence at the beginning of a working day, and filling in questionnaires.

Feelings of peace and fatigue

Ours was by no means a scientific experiment with generalisable findings – far from it. Rather we wanted to introduce the concept of intuition to a school and work environment in a concrete fashion, to spark discussion on it – and make some very tentative observations in the process.

Based on the questionnaires we discovered that the silent moments had a positive effect both in the classroom and in the workplace. Both groups reported feeling more peaceful after the experiment. The fifth-graders reported also increased feelings of tiredness followed by the silent moments.

The employee group felt the biggest benefit of the experiment was to bring the need to slow down out in the open -to offer brief respite from the constant performance of effectiveness.

Narratives on change

After the last daydream, we wanted to test one more thing in the classroom. The teacher gave the pupils half an hour to either write or draw on the topic “The moment I changed the world”. No further instructions were given.

We wanted to see what kind of narratives the children would spontaneously produce when offered the concepts “change” and “world”, and a subjective role in the narrative through the “I”. Would sustainability themes emerge, or even climate change? Climate change is a part of the curriculum of 3rd to 6th graders in Finnish schools.

-We have studied sustainability themes from different angles: social, economic, ecological. A part of fifth graders think of climate change in very concrete terms through their own life experiences. A part already use more abstract faculties, and independently follow media coverage on climate change and other phenomena, explains teacher Marjo Pajulahti-Kiiskinen.

The class created 17 stories in total, out of which 15 were drawings. Many (5) depicted high moments in the narrator’s life such as excelling in sports, getting a new pet or moving house. These were moments of the narrator’s world changing. The rwings and texts are exhibited in the online gallery below.

“The moment I changed the world”

Loved ones and cherished moments (5) were an equally popular theme, with depictions of friendship and starting school. The number of animals in the images was surprising: five stories featured an animal as protagonist.

As many as three pupils had drawn the moment of their own birth as the moment they changed the world -a concrete and profound thought.

Four creations touched upon the topic of sustainability. As many as three depicted an act of picking up a piece of trash and putting it in the garbage bin. One story recounted a holiday in Turkey where the narrator’s father had given food to a beggar (social sustainability). Four, more loosely sustainability-themed images included small acts of kindess: opening the door to someone or looking after an animal.

In this drawing by Viivi Toivonen, the narrator picks up a piece of trash, making a concrete change in her world.

Soft values in the scale of a child

It was interesting to find that all narratives were in the scale of a child’s world: the borders of the world are the borders of one’s own everyday environment and experience. Small deeds matter.

Protecting the environment is concrete: I see a piece of trash and I remove it. Super hero narratives where an individual saves the whole world from a massive threat were absent.

Based on these particular narratives, the themes of climate change and sustainability were not the first association from the concepts ”change” and ”world”. However, soft values an the ethos of good deeds shone through from the stories.

Our team would like to thank the 5th grade of Tapainlinna school, Hyvinkää, and their teacher Marjo Pajulahti-Kiiskinen for arranging the experiment.

*Raami, A. (2017, forthcoming) Toward Solving the Impossible Problems in Sustainability in Human Well-being and The Future of Education. Palgrave Macmillan.