Indian Mystic and spiritual master Meher Baba was quoted many times discussing the evolution of the human being from instinct to intellect to intuition. When I first read about this concept it made intuitive sense to me, but I thought it could use some unpacking as its wisdom can be life changing.
At the most basic level the human being utilizes instinct to move through and understand the world. We are all imbued with animal instinct, it is our inheritance from our furry and slithery brothers and sisters. Even Meher Baba notes that the human being retains its animal instincts until it involves (inwardly evolves) past being driven by those instincts. Once we reach the human state, according to both Darwin (and Meher Baba) the human being is wired or imbued with a wholly different level of understanding and the power to introspect and reflect. Despite those advanced evolutionary capabilities there are many instances where we operate solely form instinct.
Instinct is the automatic response of the organism to a stimulus. We can think of the instinctual response as the one that preserves the physical safety of the organism or its young. Anthropologically this response stems from the hind brain, whose primary job is to send signals of fight of flight. Thus the predominant emotion of instinctual action is fear. However, instinct has levels of development within it and it can often serve to satisfy basic desires such as hunger, sex, sleep, or protection (the gratification impulses). It is the grounded aspect of human existence and we need to be able to tap into it in order to keep the organism alive and thriving. Without developed instinct we would not be able to function in the everyday world and would probably die very quickly.
Problems arise when we operate solely from instinct, when this happens our decisions lack depth, compassion, understanding or breadth. We are myopically focused on what we (or our immediate loved ones) need and couldn't care less about a bigger picture, or more appropriately we may be unaware that there is a bigger picture. Eventually, in order to continually evolve (or involve) as a human being we must move out of instinct to intellect in order to incorporate more of the grand scheme and move out of fear based protection responses. We must move out of our reptilian brain into the other areas of our brain because they're pretty cool too.
Intellect is the faculty that appears to be present in only a few species of animals, mainly the human being. With the possible exception of dolphins (who are aliens in my opinion) and some octopi and squid (who are also some creepy alien concoction), most animals do not possess what modern science would consider intellectual development. Intellect implies complex subjective and objective thought. It is through the intellect and its various gifts, tricks and traps that the human ego develops.
Intellect is the faculty which allows human beings to solve complex problems. With our intellect we can understand various levels of knowledge and integrate that knowledge into our everyday lives. Intellect is what's allowing you to read this post and understand what I'm saying. Intellect imbues the human being with foresight and hindsight.
We can appraise situations beyond our immediate gratification and begin to think about not only how we are affected but see a larger picture at work, and we may use different frameworks to understand what the larger picture is from science to religion and everything in between.
We can use our intellect to understand our instinctual and emotional responses and begin the journey toward greater self understanding. We can also use our intellect to understand the actions and emotions of others if we so choose and thus practice understanding and compassion toward fellow beings.
If we become dogmatic in our intellectual understanding we can become intolerant of views that don't match our conception of the world. We will refuse to allow in information that defies our intellectual ideas of the how the world and its people work.
When this happens we can become judgmental, punitive and patronizing, or depressed, hopeless and frustrated. We become justified in our defense of "the way it is" and want others to agree with us. This is the suffering ego in all of its glory.
We can also begin to overvalue logic, rationality and reason not recognizing that there are more evolved states of understanding that integrate and include these faculties but move us beyond doubt and cynicism (which are common side-effects of a hyper-developed intellect).
Currently the bulk of the Western world is enamored with its collective intellect, and have forgotten on some level the wisdom of the instinct and scoff at the precision of intuition. However, this too will change on a cultural/societal level with time. Just as we all evolve individually, cultures and societies evolve on a collective level...so are you ahead of, right on time with, or behind the cultural curve?
The move from instinct to intellect as a primary way of working opens us up to a complex world of knowledge. From intellect we can move to the substate of inspiration. Inspiration is a result of being inspired (imbued with spirit) by the world around us, either by its beauty or its ugliness. Inspiration is what moves us to create things in the world out of a desire to reflect what we have picked up through our intellectual capacities. Inspiration brings us art, music, film, poetry and dance.
The move into the subpshere of inspiration typically marks a shift into a more spiritually conscious way of looking at the world. Inspiration is a doorway into our intuition and the two often work in tandem.
The final state of understanding is intuition. When we move from instinct to intellect we can feel the shift from a self-preservation based focus to a much wider perspective that includes not only ourselves but the universe around us. It's like moving out of a dark one-room apartment that may be safe and secure into a massive 50,000 square foot estate full of hundreds of rooms, hallways, nooks, crannies and secret passages.
We can spend a long time in that estate, exploring all of its indoor and outdoor treasures but eventually we want to move into something even more grand, we want to make the whole expanse of the world outside our home, secure in the knowledge that we've learned or will learn everything we need to know.
The shift into intuition is the integration of the previous two states. We become aware of the interconnectedness and the hidden meaning behind the world and make our decisions based not on an overly intellectual evaluation of data, or the preservational instinct of fear, but a gentle knowing that whatever choice we make it will be the right one.
We become connected to a finely tuned level of information that seems to defy reason and rationality at times, but can consider those aspects simultaneously. Living from the state of Intuition requires not only developing but listening unfailingly to that inner knowing.
Intuition expands the "bigger picture" of the intellect even more and not only do we consider the impact on others but the universe at large. Every action seems to move us more into alignment with our authentic selves and problems and tribulations are seen not as punishments from others or the Universe but opportunities to follow our intuitive voices even more unfailingly. Through intuition we drop cynical doubt and move into peaceful faith that everything is absolutely fine, always.
Through intuition we tap into a wider net of knowledge that not only includes logic and "common sense" but we also become wiling to "re-write the rules" in order to bring about the greatest good, which changes in each moment.
Intuition allows us to see the answer or to a problem or situation in sometimes miraculous ways in an instant.
With balanced intuition we don't attach to the information that we receive, knowing that truth is of the moment and that the endless variables of the Universe will always ebb and flow and that our job is to follow the sway. With this truth reveals itself unquestioningly without us coaxing it, we recognize it intrinsically when we hear/see it.
Unbalanced intuition can be fanatical, irresponsible and lack common-sense, and so it is important that we move through the levels of understanding to integrate the experiences and insights of each. Some people "come in" to the planet with one or more of these levels of understanding developed, although very few people function from balanced and healthy pure intuition. This is a state we mostly see from spiritual masters, and there are few I would personally consider a "master". However, intellect masters can be incredibly amazing to watch as well.
These are basic stages of understanding the human being goes through in its involutionary development. Some people will remain at the instinctual level of survival, while others will function from various levels within the intellect.
Most of humanity primarily operates from the instinctual level, with moments of intellect pulsing in and out of consciousness.
Once you start recognizing the state through which you primarily operate you can begin to notice those moments of the other states and as such bring them into your awareness. Through doing this you will automatically start to integrate them more and more.