Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Two Types of Intuition

More rough notes...

Intuition often gets talked about as if it was just a single type of thing which, depending on the context, is considered either a good thing or a bad thing. I think there's two different forms of intuition, one of which is more reliable than the other.

The reliable type is derived from a large mass of solid experience or knowledge. The ins and outs of the situation the intuition applies to, the subtlties, the important factors, the irrelevant details -- these are all burnt deeply into your brain and, put simply, the intuition corresponds with the way the world is. I will call this learned-intuition.

The other type is derived from the innate and learnt heuristics our brains apply to perceive, and reason about, the world. There is much variation in these heuristics, and comprable variation in their reliability, but being heuristics they are all ultimately shortcut replacements to considered thinking about the situation. This makes them generally less repliable than learned-intuition and -- appropriate!* -- considered thinking. I won't argue this point further in this post (though this is defintely something I want to talk about in the future), and you may not agree with me on this. I will call this type of intuition heuristic-intuition.

Accompianing both forms is a "gut feeling" that tells you the intuition is correct, though often you won't be able to put your finger on why it's correct. People often talk about intuition as if the reliability of both learned- and heuristic- intuition was the same (this and this give some sense of this) -- or rather, they fail to make any distinction between them.

Being aware of the differences between these two forms of intuition means being aware, when an intuitive view comes to mind, of which type it is (I think it should in general be fairly easy to tell if you think about it), and consequently how much trust you should put in it, and consequently whether you should ignore its judgement and instead bring in considered thinking.

[*] Certainly conscious, considered thought is not that great at "fuzzy" tasks, like picking out subtle patterns in things. This is due to its symbolic nature, I'd say.

1 comment:

  1. The difference between intuition and jumping to conclusions is very important; it is only intuition when our unsupported judgement turns out to be correct. This puts a bias on our opinion of intuition, fooling one into thinking that our intuition reliable. Try reading Bazerman on heuristics.