Intuition is a concept with a number of meanings. It derives from the Latin in-tueri: knowing from within, that is, by contemplation. Intuition is a mode of perceiving objects, concepts, and ideas through direct apperception, as when people refer to having had an insight or illumination. In modern psychological approaches to various processes of judgment, intuition, in contrast with analytical thought, is described as a fast and instant thought process that does not demand mental effort, is not necessarily conscious, and allows neither description nor explanation. One illustration is constituted by heuristic processes, which are a type of unexplained rules of thumb that allow us to make various judgments, including perceptual judgments, rapidly. Another common description of intuition is “just having a hunch.”
Intuition and time are related in both directions: On one hand, we can examine the role of intuition in the processes that lead to time perception and perception of duration, while on the other, we can observe the role of time in intuitive processes themselves.
Time is a key dimension to which every living creature must relate in order to adapt to its environment. Nevertheless, in the absence of any specifically defined perceptual apparatus for duration perception, on one hand, and, on the other, of any specific stimulus that represents temporal duration, the question arises of how time apperception occurs. Though this question is relevant in relation to any living creature, it is especially so to human beings due to their awareness of time. This is why philosophers have always wondered about the nature of time and about how the sense and consciousness of time and duration emerge.
An early example of this can be found in Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who deals with the question of time in the sixth book of his Confessions. He argues that, when not asked about the nature of time, he knew the nature of time; however, when asked to explain, he was unable to explain. His text suggests that time is a type of primary experience that we cannot explain. That is to say, time is not experienced as the product of higher- order cognitive activity. Indeed, some major philosophers share a notion of time as a primary intuitive concept.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) held that time and space are two major intuitions of the human mind. He rejected doctrines like Gottfried Leibniz’s, according to which experience is characterized by an inherent rationality. Kant argued that time and space are a priori categories necessary for human experience to occur. As such, he thought time and space to be enabling conditions of the human mode of experience. Time is not a real feature of things-in-themselves but rather a structure of the knowing mind.
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) rejected Kantian idealism but still associated time with intuition. He distinguished between an intuitive and an analytical mode of thinking. Intuition, for Bergson, yields metaphysical knowledge of reality as time, change, and creative evolution, which is certain knowledge. Reason, on the other hand, does not render absolute knowledge about reality but only relative knowledge about the material objects of science and experience. If reality is in flux—that is, not static—then for Bergson it is intuition that gives us this awareness of time and change as creative evolution.
Modern psychological theories have been dealing with the question of whether intuition forms the substrate of perception on the whole and of time perception in particular. But while most of them consider sensory input from the external environment a key component in a person’s image of the world, some acknowledge that this sensory component is not sufficient. One example is the constructive perception approach (e.g., that of Jerome Bruner). Gestalt psychology (J. P. Kotter, Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer) holds that perception does not consist of a direct reflection of physical features of external reality. The perceptual system imposes organizing principles (gestalt rules) on the incoming stimuli, and these eventually determine the resulting image in the human brain. These organizing principles could be considered a priori, intuitive rules.
Developmental cognitive research, to which Jean Piaget (1896—1980) was a crucial contributor, has dedicated much attention to the development of the ability to grasp time in its various respects, e.g., the ability to understand the sequential nature of the time in which external phenomena occur. According to Piaget’s findings, the ability to grasp time evolves in stages and gradually. A case in point is the development of the ability to integrate information according to the sequence and order in time of phenomena or actions. Children below age 12, it was found, are affected by intuitive thinking when making judgments about time, and this causes misperceptions. Abstract thought and logical reasoning evolve only in the formal operations stage, between ages 12 and 16. The ability to fully grasp time concepts matures only at a relatively late stage, and this testifies to the complexity of time perception. On the basis of this research, Piaget concluded that human understanding of time is not intuitive and depends on the acquisition of complex mental abilities.
Contemporary models of psychological time, too, consider the experience of time as the product of a cognitive process based on elaboration and integration of various types of information. This, it should be noted, does not necessarily clash with the Kantian approach: It could be that the concept of time as such—rather than the experience of duration—is intuitive and a priori.
Modern psychological approaches to cognitive processes and judgment consider intuition as a mode of thinking with unique features, which is unlike analytical thinking. This distinction refers to time as one of its parameters. First, intuitive thinking is very rapid, in contrast to analytical thinking. Second, intuitive thinking relies on past experience and on tacit knowledge (H. A. Simon), that is, on accumulated information that has been encoded in the memory over time.
Daniel Kahneman and Shane Frederick (2002) suggested that judgment can be achieved in two manners. The first is by means of a rapid intuitive, associative, and automatic process that demands no mental effort—this is also known as System 1. Alternatively it can result from a slower process that requires mental effort and that is controlled by rules and laws: System 2. Intuitive errors, accordingly, occur under two conditions: System 1 errs (usually due to applying past experience that is not relevant to the judgment in question) while System 2 fails to get activated in order to correct the error. Intuitive thinking, it must be noted, can produce effective and adaptive judgments if it is based on relevant experience, as happens in the case of expertise in the field of judgment. It is not easy to remove bias in the case of intuitive errors. Many perceptual illusions are the result of the activation of intuitive heuristics: Mere awareness of this does not suffice to avoid the perceptual illusion. Time illusions, too, which are expressed in erroneous experience of the clock duration of various events, are the result of heuristic intuitive thinking. Thus, for instance, in the case of the “filled time illusion,” a time interval “filled” with stimuli and events is perceived as longer than a time interval identical in duration but “empty” in terms of stimuli and events (see also Time, Illusion of).
In part, time affects heuristic thinking as it does due to organizational processes in the memory that occur involuntarily in the course of time. As a result, a person is not always aware of the correct order of events in objective time, so that it may occur that later information may be perceived as—or combined with—earlier information. This may be reflected in intuitive biases like false memories or hindsight bias.
Often errors in eyewitness evidence are actually in part the result of such processes. And so we observe that the very dependency of intuition on the accumulation over time of information in the memory may cause intuitive bias regarding the dimension of time itself.
See also Augustine of Hippo, Saint; Bergson, Henri;
Consciousness; Kant, Immanuel; Memory
Al-Azm, S. J. (1967). Kant’s theory of time. New York: Philosophical Library.
Kahneman, D., & Frederick, S. (2002). Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment. In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin., & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and biases (pp. 49-81). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Lacey, A. R. (1989). Bergson. London: Routledge.