Ways of Knowing™ Symposium: Exploring the Role of Intuition in Health & Healing

Research on Intuition: Methodologies, Challenges and what’s on the Horizon


Jeannie Achterberg, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Saybrook Institute

Richard Hammerschlag, PhD, Dean of Research, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine

Rollin McCraty, PhD, Director of Research, HeartMath Research Center

This panel will discuss research relevant to intuition and health care from a variety of perspectives.

  • Jeannie Achterberg reflects on the results of her 9-year study of distant prayer healing.  She’ll present the role of intuition in results and how intuition helped create the design.
  • Richard Hammerschlag reports low frequency measurements potentially relevant to the subtle energies of acupuncture.
  • Rollin McCraty shares the results of Heartmath’s research on intuition and the heart.
  • All the panelist will discuss entanglement or non-local exchange at the micro and macro levels, their interest in the power of intention, and what research they would like to see happen.
Richard Hammerschlag, Jeannie Achterberg, and Rollin McCraty

Richard Hammerschlag, Jeannie Achterberg, and Rollin McCraty


#Transpersonal Imagery and Intuition

Jeannie Achterberg, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Saybrook Institute

Jeannie Achterberg began by defining transpersonal imagery, which she associates with intuition. According to her, transpersonal images:

  • Are stimulated from an invisible source (others thoughts, divine or spiritual origin)
  • Have no obvious mechanism of transmission
  • Are immediate and unmitigated
  • Occur in nonlinear time and space

She raises the possibility that “You may not be the only one in your head!” by considering meaningful coincidences or synchronicities, paranormal phenomena, and the predictive quality of some dreams and visions.  Jeannie shared her personal story of having been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor and being told she would die.  Through the love and support of many, via prayers, faith and imagery, she believes her own life was saved.  She feels that there is high tech evidence about mind/body/spirit connections, and about the human interconnections of consciousness, but agrees with Bertrand Russell’s statement, “The problem with technology is that as knowledge increases, wisdom fades.”

One example of human interconnection is a research study performed at the North Hawaii Community Hospital on “The Evaluation of Potential Effects of Prayer and Healing Intention on Brain Function using fMRI.”  The study was done with pairs of senders/receivers, using random intervals of experimental and control conditions.  The receivers were blinded to send/no send conditions.  Statistical analysis found significance in 9 of 11 bonded pairs when sending intentionally, versus no send conditions (p=0.000127)  There was no significant group response when the pairs used were not bonded; however there are some good preliminary results with bonded pairs that are not trained as healers.  She acknowledged that nothing is really “sent” or “received.”

In collaboration with 5 large academic institutions (U. Wash, U. HI, UC Irvine, UCLA, Oxford,) Jeannie looked at the parts of the brain activated in the receiver when senders utilized different types of energetic processes.  With Qi Gong, the dominant area impacted was anterior cingulate cortex.  With Healing Touch, it was posterior cingulate cortex.  With Vibrational Sound Healing it was the left temporal lobe and left cerebellum.

These preliminary studies indicate a huge opporutnity for us to gain a deeper understanding of the physical impact of different energetic processes.  Such findings will help decrease fear and disbelief, and increase respect and recognition for such traditional, yet unconventional practices of healing.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the future course of

history depends on the decision made by this generation

as to the relationship between science and religion.”

– Alfred North Whitehead –


#Intuition: In Search of Physiological Correlations and Mechanisms

Richard Hammerschlag, PhD, Dean of Research, Oregon Coll. of Oriental Medicine

It is Richard Hammerschlag’s observation that there are two things that make healers successful:  intuition and intention.  He recognizes that man’s role in life is “to understand”—it is our nature.  Therefore, finding a way to “understand” intuition and intention is a natural human desire.

Richard’s initial approach to understanding intuition is to identify biomarkers, or physiological correlates, for intuition, such as hormones, endorphins, cytokines, immune elements, EEG, fMRI, HRV, etc.  He discussed two studies where biomarkers were suggested for non-physiological events: the first being studies correlating a placebo response and endorphins, and the second showing the impact of acupuncture on fMRI.  Note that while making correlations, these studies do not necessarily reveal mechanisms.

He then explored how Traditional East Asian Medicine can contribute to the exploration:

  • Acupuncture points may be windows to physiological imbalances.  Studies with cardiopathology in both humans and animals, and with gastric ulcers in rats have been suggestive of such a phenomenon.
  • Can bioelectrical perturbations at acupuncture points contribute to what medical intuitives sense?  Large biomagnetic field strength has been detected from the hands of Qi Gong masters during self-reported Qi emission.
  • Is medical intuition triggered in part by a sensing of abnormal electromagnetic fields?
  • Can person-generated weak bioelectromagnetic fields ‘correct’ or ‘entrain’ abnormal fields within the body?  Research at Columbia University has shown that low frequency electromagnetic fields increase enzyme activity and gene transcription.

Such research encourages further study to explore the constructs for understanding human function created by Traditional East Asion healing.  This may provide one way for us to understand the mechanisms and roles of the subtle, the energetic and the intuitive in human life.

In the history of science, the collector of specimens preceded the zoologist and followed the exponents of natural theology and magic…his primary concern was to make a census of as many beasts as he could lay his hands on.  Like the earth of a hundred years ago, our mind still has its…unmapped Borneos and Amazon basins.  In relation to the fauna of these regions we are not yet zoologists, we are mere naturalists and collectors of species.”

– Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell


#The Coherent Heart: Heart-Brain Dynamics and Intuitive Perception

Rollin McCraty, PhD, Director of Research, HeartMath Research Center

The mission of the HeartMath Institute is to help establish heart-based living and global coherence by inspiring people to connect with the intelligence and guidance of their own hearts.  Physiological coherence is one of the important phenomenon HeartMath studies, and is used to describe a number of related physiological and psychological phenomena frequently associated with more ordered and harmonious interactions among the body’s systems.

Heart-brain communication is a bidirectional flow of information, utilizing the autonomic nervous system.  Indeed, the heart seems to have a “mind of its own,”–its own intrinsic nervous system–and sends more information to the brain than the reverse.

Heart rate variability (HRV) is an important measurable phenomenon of the pattern of beat to beat change.  A shift in this pattern can occur in just 2-3 heartbeats.  There are direct neural links between heart and lungs, so taking a deep breath shifts the HRV.  Our emotions are reflected in our HRV.  Frustration, for example, correlates with a low HRV pattern, while gratitude or appreciation correlates with a high HRV pattern.  The heart sends ascending signals to many parts of the brain associated with emotion (e.g. amygdale, thalamus, medulla,) as well as impacting cortical functions.  HRV patterns vary between relaxation and appreciation, with appreciation having greater coherence.  The greater coherence creates a global synchronization pattern, which is the optimal state for health and learning.

HeartMath studied the electrophysiology of intuition, building on the work presented by Dean Radin earlier, and adding complexity and new measures.  Their definition of intuition as they are studying it is as follows:

Intuition is a process by which non-local information, normally outside the range of conscious awareness, is immediately sensed and perceived by the body’s psychophysiological systems.  It is not based on reason, logic, memories or extrapolations from the past.  Experience of intuition is not confined to cognitive perception, but primarily involves the heart and the entire psychophysiological system.

In using the same experimental protocol described earlier by Dr. Radin, Dr. McCraty did not get the same pre-stimulus response in skin galvinometry, however, he did get a pre-stimulation response in the heart (HRV) and in the brain (EEG.)   Heartbeat Evoked Potential Analysis (HBEP) showed significant and stable responses, correlative with the brain’s knowing that “something’s going to happen” 1.5 sec before it does.  So it appears that intuition occurs heart first, then heart to brain, then brain to body, then feeling (from body back to brain.)  There also appears to be an aging response, with older people being more open to these phenomena.

Other conclusions of this research are:

  • Intuitive processes have access to a field of information that is not limited by the boundaries of time and space.
  • Some aspect of our perceptual apparatus is continuously scanning the future.
  • Time symmetries commonly described by quantum physicists may also occur at macroscopic scales and in the realm of the human heart and brain.

Future research questions in intuition that can be addressed through rigorous scientific inquiry include:

  • Can intuition be taught?
  • Are some people naturally more intuitive than others?
  • How does emotional state or other variables affect intuition?
  • What are the physiological processes involved in intuition?
  • Ways of Knowing™: Exploring the Role of Intuition in Health & Healing Symposium