The Concept Of Intuition

Intuition is a kind of judgment that has the following 2 properties

  1. It appears quickly in consciousness, and
  2. We are not fully aware of its underlying reasons 

Several famous people considered Intuition to be more powerful than Mind

Steve Jobs:

Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.

Ralph Larsen, former chair and CEO of Johnson & Johnson:

Very often, people will do a brilliant job through the middle management levels, where it’s very heavily quantitative in terms of the decision making. But then they reach senior management, where the problems get more complex and ambiguous, and we discover that their judgment or intuition is not what it should be. And when that happens, it’s a problem; it’s a big problem…

Howard Raiffa, a Harvard professor and a pioneer in the filed of decision-making:

The human brain can be a magnificent synthesizer of disparate pieces of nebulous information, and often formal techniques and procedures thwart and inhibit this mysterious mechanism from operating efficiently.

Bruce Henderson, BCG’s founder:

The initial and final choices in Business are always intuitive!

Reed Hastings, Netflix’s CEO:

We start with the data. But the final call is always gut. It’s informed intuition.

Einstein:

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

It should now be clear that Intuition is a great faculty of the human mind.

Intuition has originated from the East–specifically Buddhism

As Steve Jobs remarked:

The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.

The nature of Intuition, however, is misunderstood

For instance, in his book Intuition, Osho says:

Intuition cannot be explained scientifically because the very phenomenon is unscientific and irrational. The very phenomenon of intuition is irrational. In language it looks okay to ask, “Can intuition be explained?” But it means, “Can intuition be reduced to intellect?” And intuition is something beyond the intellect, something not of the intellect, something coming from some place where intellect is totally unaware. So the intellect can feel it, but it cannot explain it.

Too bad.

By its habit of not explaining its concepts scientifically, Eastern world keeps on wasting its accomplishments.

Moreover, psychics too seem to have hi-jacked the concept, for their own ulterior motives. When I checked Amazon.com for some good books on Intuition, most books talked about intuition in mystical terms. Do check it out yourselves too!

Not good at all…

It is too bad that people who have put intuition in the right perspective in the modern times have not been from the east, but from the west.

Daniel Kahneman (in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow) debunked the mysticism around intuition when he wrote:

Perhaps the best short statement of it is by the great Herbert Simon, who studied chess masters and showed that after thousands of hours of practice they come to see the pieces on the board differently from the rest of us. You can feel Simon’s impatience with the mythologizing of expert intuition when he writes: “The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition.”

Bruce Henderson:

Intuition is the sub-conscious integration of all experiences, conditioning and knowledge of a lifetime, including the emotional and cultural biases of that lifetime.

Below, I am going to describe the nature of Intuition. That will make it clear that intuition is NOT mystical.

Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) precisely explain how intuition works.

Note: If you do not know how ANNs work, it will be difficult to understand this article. But, if you do, then this post will read easy!

An ANN can detect credit-card application fraud by training itself on past data (i.e. say data about 1000 past applicants, out of which say 30 applicants were fraud-cases).

The past data will consist of inputs (such as Age, Gender, and Location of the 1000 credit card applicants), and an output (whether each of the 1000 applications ended up as fraudulent or not, in form of a binary 1 or 0).

The artificial neural network fits a pattern (a complex mathematical model) between inputs and outputs, such that inputs can predict the output with minimal error.

A good model is able to correctly classify up to 60-85% application cases.

So, an ANN helps take judgments about future applicants, feeding their input data to the neural network’s mathematical model.

This was about artificial neural networks.

But, can we explain Intuition using neural networks?

Below I explain by use of an example.

Lot of us are intuitively able to judge people’s character.

How?

It works exactly as described above for credit-card frauds.

Our intuition about people’s character is formed over time.

In this time frame, we are exposed to tens of people. Our brain has gathered lot of past data about them, in due course.

The input data could be parameters such as: Looks, Facial expressions, Way of talking, Social mannerisms, Quality of relationships, Quantity of relationships, Length of relationships, etc.

The output data is again binary in this case (though it does not have to be binary): Whether that person betrayed us at any point of time or not (1/0).

Our mind, if we choose to use it actively, trains its neural network on the above-mentioned past data.

Once the neural network model gets trained, it becomes our Intuition.

That is it!

How can we test if my ANN-based theory is correct or not?

Will let us use some non-contradictory thinking here.

I am going to mention the 4 salient agreed-upon notions about intuition, and let us see if my ANN-based theory is able to explain these or not.

  1. Intuition appears quickly in consciousness
  2. We are not fully aware of its underlying reasons 
  3. Intuition is considered more powerful than rational mind
  4. Intuition while being more potent, is also fallible

Notion 1: Intuition appears quickly in consciousness

A neural network is a set of bio-chemical connections in our brains’s neurons that fire as per the trained model, and instantaneously generate the output (i.e. the judgment). An ANN is not a deductive and step-by-step reasoning process. That is why, it can yield instantaneous judgments.

Notion 2: We are not fully aware of its underlying reasons 

An ANN is considered to a black-box, unlike a statistical model. This means that one cannot clearly see the relationship between the inputs and the output. That is the way the architecture of an ANN (as well natural NN) is!

Notion 3: Intuition is considered more powerful than rational mind

Using just a 3-layers architecture, an ANN can handle enormous amounts of input data and connect it to an output. So structurally an ANN is quite potent.

Further, the real power comes from how the NN is trained. In case of our brain’s natural NN, we train it over perhaps decades. Right?

This means we give our brains huge amounts of data that is big on both aspects: the number of variables, as well the numbers of observations.

A NN can handle this enormity effectively than a conscious/deliberate reasoning process–because in case of conscious reasoning we will get overwhelmed by so much granular information!

Notion 4: Intuition while being more potent, is also fallible

Intuition is fallible, because we can err on the way we train our minds! We can feed biased inputs to our mind’s NN and/or override its output!

For example, when we are infatuated with someone, we are likely to ignore negative inputs about that person. So, our judgment about person suffers. Moreover, even in cases when our natural NN does tell us to judge that person negatively, we will still override the NN’s output, and go ahead. Because, we have the power to tell lies to ourselves!

That is all. Hope this post clarifies the nature of intuition to some extent!

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