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Intuition vs Rationality: An underutilized superpower of Indian civilization

Steve Jobs attributed his success and creativity to intuition: the ability to understand what customers want without direct interactions with them. After his return from a 7-month quest in India to find the meaning of life, he expressed disappointment in how Western Civilization lacks intuition and is overly rational. He provided an example: unlike human newborns, a calf (a cow's offspring) starts walking after a few falls, indicating that the intuition (software) to walk is ingrained in the calf's body (hardware). He also praised Indian civilization for being blessed with intuition (we will revisit this point later in the essay).   


Based on personal experiences and many of Steve’s stories, intuition can also be cultivated by finding non-obviousness in everyday things. One famous story I recall is after the Apple II, when Steve recognized the disruptive nature of the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which replaced prompt-based commands on computers. He decided to bet everything on Macintosh. The process of how the design team developed the GUI is one of the best masterclasses on creating something from scratch without a reference. When the team was brainstorming the desktop's GUI, Jef Raskin (the design head of Macintosh) wanted a rectangular screen. However, Steve suggested a rectangle with circular edges. Jef, advocating for a rectangular design, argued that there were no designs with circular edges in our daily lives. Steve then demonstrated various rectangular designs with circular edges, even outside the office, until Jef agreed to a rectangular screen with circular edges.


As I read this, I was sitting in a cafe (the same cafe) and glanced around, surprised to see that everything was rectangular with circular edges (you can also take a look around). While this design choice seems obvious because it prevents sharp corners, why was it visible to Steve and not to Jef Raskin? This is a prime example of intuition, and it is like a third eye, granting us a superpower.


Let’s return to Steve’s observation of how Indian civilization is blessed with intuition. To make sense of his observations, I need to touch on a few diverse topics such as GOD, Spirituality, Religion, Science, Technology, and Math. However, I will keep my observations basic, presented in a narrative form. 


To begin, just a few months ago, I was not fixated on any religion. Although I was born Hindu and my ancestors followed Hinduism, my curiosity led me to question everything. Do I believe in GOD? My answer can't be binary. I believe there is a creator, and at this point, I believe in Science (universal laws: laws of physics, gravity, and abstract aspects of math).


When I close my eyes and contemplate the vastness of our universe — billions of galaxies and billions of stars in those galaxies — and the fascinating properties of space-time, the distribution of matter, and the potential existence of dark matter pulling our universe, it raises questions. What should I assume? Why should I not question whether all this could be the creation of someone or something?


Humans have been exploring the possibilities of life beyond our planet Earth, but we have yet to succeed. This brings forth an important question with two possibilities. 


The first argument is that there is no God. If there is a God, then creating so much just to make a habitable small rock (a tiny corner of almost infinite space and time) seems pointless. This implies that everything is merely a coincidence (a spark in the grand realm of the universe), and we are alone. If this is the case, we should do everything to preserve and protect ourselves at all costs.


The second argument is that there is a creator. To make life possible on this planet, billions of different factors (randomness) had to align, including the composition of atoms and molecules. Even though we have evolved over 3.8 billion years from single-cell species, the chances of survival would be one in billions, suggesting that someone must have intervened. If this is the case, it indicates that the Creator wants humans to explore the entire Universe, even if it takes us millennia.


This argument makes me sad because if, in millions of years, humans will be exploring stars and the universe, why must I live only 70 to 80 years? I also aspire to live millions of years and explore the Universe — billions of galaxies, trillions of stars, and trillions of planets! :)


To comprehend the unimaginable Universe, we can use an approximate timeline: 16 billion years of the Big Bang, around 8 billion years of Earth formation, 3.8 billion years of single-cell species formation due to complex chemical reactions on Earth, 2.8 billion years for multicellular species formation, 100,000 years for the first variant of humans, 12,000 years of human species, 5000 years of recorded human history, 2500 years of the first math, and 350 years since the discovery of the laws of motion. We will use this timeline to connect the dots of how Indian civilization is blessed with intuition.


It's time to transition from discussing the Creator to Religion. As I write this, I find it amusing because just a few months ago, I didn't adhere to any religion. However, today, I have much more faith in my religion, and this is intertwined with a robust rationality highlighted by the renowned scientist, Carl Sagan. As I read his famous book "Cosmos," Mr. Sagan emphasized:


Every human culture rejoices in the fact that there are cycles in nature. But how, it was thought, could such cycles come about unless the gods willed them? And if there are cycles in the years of humans, might there not be cycles in the aeons of the gods? The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself has undergone an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt by accidents, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycle runs from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.” (Being accurate about these fundamental aspects of our universe without the involvement of modern knowledge indicates that these were ingrained into our software: we are blessed with Intuition).     


If we live in such an oscillating universe, then the Big Bang is not the creation of the Cosmos but merely the end of the previous cycle, the destruction of the last incarnation of the Cosmon” This point also gives the precise answer to where was the Creator when the Big Bang occurred (Or during the formation of this Universe). 


In addition to the above, there are references to "time dilation" in the Ramayana, the subconscious influence on unborn babies in the Mahabharata, and mentions of high-speed Pushpak Vimana (an ancient aircraft akin to modern-day high-speed aeroplanes). These religious texts were written four millennia ago, and many of their assertions have been scientifically or rationally proven in the modern era. All of these highlight the extraordinary capabilities that Indian civilization has possessed for many millennia. Hence, Steve's praise for the intuitive prowess of Indian civilization was indeed factual. But why have we, as a civilization, not been able to leverage our intuitive prowess effectively?


I have a theory on this, and while I may be mistaken, allow me to articulate it: If we look at Western Civilization, it soars high on rationality, while Indian civilization is blessed with intuition. Rationality was cultivated with the aim of generating economic value by encouraging fundamental questioning, sparking curiosity (both obvious and non-obvious). This is one reason why we have witnessed economic growth in Western civilization. Conversely, intuition, driven by faith, suppresses the fundamental aspect of human curiosity, essential for fostering sustainable economic growth. However, time and again, it has been proven that the true magic for humanity lies in the combination of both intuition and rationality. However, neither is sufficient on its own. Many science writers are rational but struggle to make a meaningful contribution to the world, while numerous religious leaders are blessed with intuition but lack the ability to innovate or create tangible outcomes.


Steve attributed his success to intuition because, existing within Western civilization, he was also exposed to rationality. Hence, he became one of humanity's greatest contributors. (1) Similarly, anyone who has significantly contributed to humanity has either been blessed with or developed both rationality and intuition! 


Before writing this essay, I refrained from searching or seeking the definitions of intuition or rationality from external sources, as it seemed futile to adopt someone else's understanding. Thus, I did not commence this essay by defining either term. However, if I have to think about it: Intuition and Rationality are two different methods of making a decision. The former involves feeling this can be either due to internal or external and the latter utilises a process driven by science and technology (modern technology). 


As I mentioned in my previous essay, practical applications serve as the primary sources of modern-day knowledge creation. When someone develops intuition in a specific field, they inherently contribute to knowledge creation, thereby integrating some form of rationality into their decision-making process. For instance, when I first met my mentor Shashank Kumar (Founder of Dehaat), I inquired about the books he had read. His response was none. Even today, he may disagree with many rational notions from individuals in metropolitan cities because he conducts field visits; he recently spent time at a factory. Despite possibly lacking sophisticated rationality, his intuition has enabled him to create a Category Creator in India. This suggests that just as Steve developed intuition from rationality, anyone can develop rationality from intuition! 


As I mentioned earlier, intuition can also be cultivated by discerning non-obvious elements in everyday occurrences. This implies that intuition is environment-dependent. For instance, Shashank's intuition will be effective for different products and services built for the same Target Group. Consequently, building a robust intuitive understanding of products and services for the non-top 10% of Indians necessitates leaders immersing themselves in the environment among stakeholders. Presently, most builders are detached from the target group, which could explain why our Startup ecosystem struggles to unlock significant value from billions of Indians. The good news, however, is that as a civilization, we are blessed with intuition, which means we will require less time to achieve this.


As a civilization, we lack rationality because we excessively pride ourselves on our intuition, while historically, the combination of both has proven to be truly magical. Fortunately, unlike intuition, which requires spirituality and environmental exposure, rationality is scalable and can be taught, driven by knowledge—Science and Technology.


Imagine, Steve Jobs had to travel to India to acquire the superpower of intuition. We all live in India, and if we successfully add a layer of rationality — with a billion people — we could become the Universe's biggest value creators.


Thanks for reading, now share this essay with your network. I shall see you all the next week :) 


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