A few days ago I saw the film The Man Who Knew Infinity, directed by Mathew Brown, and inspired by the book that has the same name, written by Robert Kanigel.
This film tells the story of Srinivasa Ramunujan, an Indian self-taught mathematician born in Madras in 1887. Without a university degree, he had the ability to grasp the underlying structure of numbers, achieving newfangled results without relying on formal demonstrations.
When his talent was discovered, he was invited by the renowned mathematician G. H. Hardy to present and develop his theories at the prestigious University of Cambridge. Despite the contempt and racist harassment he received from part of the English society, once his talent was recognised, he became an elected member of the Royal Society of London and was placed on the same level as other relevant scientists, such as Isaac Newton.
In addition to his extreme intelligence, Ramanujan’s way of learning strongly caught my attention. When asked by a member of the illustrious Trinity College faculty how he was capable of such mathematical feats, he simply replied that numbers and formulas came to his head and that his job was simply to sort the information he received.
Obviously, this way of learning collided head-on with the rigidity of the prevailing system at the time, which was absolutely rational, which at its core was the pressing need for rigorous demonstrations to approve any given theory.
Said by himself, Ramanujan’s way of learning was based on allowing the numbers to reveal themselves in his mind after meditating for a long time. He used to say a beautiful phrase: ‘Numbers and formulas are the thoughts of God’. And he added: ‘knowledge is there, available, you just have to grasp it’.
Ramunujan’s clever way of thinking had an unusual essence, a way of learning that was absolutely disruptive for his time, and even for ours.
Ramanujan used his feminine traits to learn.
Femenine learning is trusting intuition.
Feminine learning is transcending rationality. It is to stop pursuing knowledge to allow knowledge to come to you and impregnate itself. It is letting go of control and trusting, it is recognising the source of wisdom within us. It is, in short, opening up to intuition.
Ramanujan wrote three notebooks full of formulas and theories and, when asked how he knew they were correct, he replied ‘I just know’ and in a very high percentage that intuition has proven to be effective. So much so that, in mathematical jargon, the term ‘arithmetic intuition’ is used when this untested certainty emerges with force.
In a rational environment, such as the one Ramanujan encountered in Cambridge or the one we find today in the vast majority of organisations, intuition takes little place. We give absolute preponderance to what we can consciously reason instead of that that emerges from our unconsciousness, despite the fact that our main information storage is precisely located there.
Learning to trust our intuition can even be a competitive advantage. An example is the statement made by Jeff Bezos once, founder of Amazon, who said: ‘when I have an important decision to make, I analyse it, but I always end up paying attention to my intuition’.
We are so used to ignoring our intuition that, on many occasions, we are struck by the doubt of differentiating between intuition or a simple interpretation of our mind.
An easy way to discern it is by paying attention to our body’s reaction, since true intuition is usually accompanied by an emotion and a physical sensation, be it a tingling in the stomach, a chill or a heart skip.
Sticking to evidence impoverishes us, our rationalism has robbed us of our wisdom.
Instead, by letting go of control and relying on our ability to grasp and process information beyond our conscious mind, extraordinary things can happen.
As Ramanujan proved, intuition is to transcend the limitations that as human we have imposed on ourselves.