Our understanding of the reality is rooted in our participation in the world around us.

Some of us participate mainly by observing, which is certainly one good mode of participation, but it gives us only one type of knowledge.

Experimentation — trial and error in various domains of reality is another. We might experiment with matter, or with logical forms or with words and sounds. Or we might experiment socially, and try out different public personas. Or we might experiment interpersonally and see what kinds of interaction is possible with different people in our lives. Anywhere reality is, experiment is possible.

Some of us participate in life mainly by learning about various realities second-hand and trying to construct a clear, consistent and comprehensive theory of everything.

Years ago, I noticed Kant used the word “intuition” strangely.

I always thought of intuition as hunches — as a mysterious kind of knowing arising from the depths of the unconscious. But this was just an artifact of the distorting schema of the freudian worldview (or maybe vulgar freudianism), which thinks with words about a spoken-about world. In this world, anything that is not sayable is just a sayable thing that cannot be accessed. The content of the unconscious is suppressed, or concealed in darkness — but in principle, but once it is brought into the light of consciousness, what was dark is now lucid and articulate.

But, it turns out intuition is much simpler than all this.

Intuition is our access to reality which bypasses language.

That’s it.

But many of us have it in our heads that it is always better to think things out carefully before acting. We inventory and assess the elements of a situation. We apply our theories in order to project the likely outcomes of our actions. We look for gaps in our understanding. We look for errors, contradictions and inconsistencies in our logic. We talk it out in our own heads and with each other. Then we make a plan. Then we execute that plan.

Things get decided this way, far, far away from the situation discussed. And often these decisions are made by people with shockingly little first-hand experience of the situations. They have never observed these situations directly, let alone participated in them or experimented with them. It is all second-hand knowledge. And plans are guided by theories which are also often not informed by first-hand participation. And often, on the ground, on the front-lines, these decisions are made to work, despite being unhelpful or even harmful to the situations in question.

Intuition is spontaneous response to situations. Intuitions might be purely practical. Or they may be unsayable understanding, but which, with effort and skill, can be outfitted with words. Intuitions might be a sense of significance — a sense of “something might happen here” or “this is important” or “this is good” — or the opposite of these. Intuition might trust or mistrust. All these can and do happen — and should happen — prior to language.

Whether words are “experience-near” or “experience-far” to us is a function of whether our intuition can handle these words directly, or whether other words must assist our use. When we must think about words, using other words, before we can get them to convey a point, we are in the realm of experience-distant, and those words feel dry and awkward or even meaningless.

And sometimes the words we use are just memorized strings that seem to refer to something real, but serve other purposes. Sometimes they convey a general attitude or mood. Or they may serve as shibboleths, signaling membership in a tribe. We say things ostensibly about the world, but in actuality, are meant only to indicate who we are — or, more accurately, what we are.

Experience-near language is informed by real, intuitive experience, and this allows the words to also be used and understood intuitively.

Experience-distant language can be used with skill and force, but it always feels separated from anything recognizably real.

Ideally, we would equip ourselves with language that intuitively connects with the things closest and most important to us. The tradeoff might be an inability to explain more distant phenomena and integrate the whole into a clear, consistent, comprehensive theory of everything. But there are tradeoffs in the other direction, too. A clear, consistent, comprehensive theory of everything might, for instance, be able only to theoretically account for things such as love, pain, morality or beauty — but be unable to offer any practical guidance or insight or do justice to the experiences of these things.

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