Reason and Intuition: Science Needs Both

An equal marriage of animus and anima -- the male and female poles -- is the key to discerning the truth

By Kelley Harris

The Romans believed that human consciousness was divided into two parts: a masculine intellect and a feminine soul. Accordingly, they postulated that man answers first and foremost to his rational, data-driven animus, while a woman's thoughts and actions lie at the mercy of her visceral, intuition-driven anima.

That view is probably not unrelated to more recent presumptions that the rarity of women in science can be attributed to irrational tendencies that bar women from the exercise of quantitative reasoning, which popular culture tends to equate with scientific thinking.

Quantitative reasoning is an attractively crisp style of thinking that sets science apart from other disciplines as something that enjoys nonpartisan credibility. However, I'm fairly certain that my success as a scientist will depend almost entirely upon the perceptiveness of my "women's intuition." Quantitative reasoning is a useful learned algorithm, but it cannot discern empirical truth on its own -- it can only distill truth from a sufficiently rich substrate of speculations.


  Thus, rationality is a prerequisite for scientific thinking in the same sense that reading music is a prerequisite for becoming a concert pianist. A marriage of animus and anima, in which reason represses intuition, just as husbands traditionally repressed their wives, cannot achieve scientific greatness because it asphyxiates a thinker's greatest asset. A scientist's mind must be a more progressive union in which reason guides and strengthens intuition as a colleague and friend.

If the stereotypically feminine sphere of consciousness determines the magnitude of a scientist's greatness, then why have men historically dominated the sciences? Because, unlike analytically and mathematically prodigious women, men with highly developed senses of feminine intuition have never been labeled "unnatural" and discouraged from pursuing their dreams. Since male thinkers have left us ample evidence of their intuitive brilliance, it seems quite reasonable to suppose that women's capacity for scientific insight has been historically underestimated.

Harris was a finalist in the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search

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