User ID: 1796
What is intuition?
Intuition is the result of a subconscious mental process
I came up with this definition by pure intuition, it seems right to me, but how do I know it seems right? I just do. OK, but maybe it's not a good definition, maybe there are better definitions available online, and because I'm writing this for other people to read, I probably should check before posting (wait... is it "probably should check" or "should probably check"?, I think most people say the latter, but grammatically the former seems better), but I'm going to resist the urge for now.
Initially I started to write this post with a few drinks and wrote whatever came to my mind as it came, and the problem is that when you are thinking about how you are thinking, you are suddenly aware of how often your thinking process is interrupted by a thought, which if you explore it, it will lead you to more thoughts that are going to be interrupted in turn... it's a mess.
This stream of consciousness quickly ended being much longer than I anticipated, but I wouldn't subject my readers to it, why not? Because I've been writing for more than twenty years and I kind of have a feeling of what people like to read. But perhaps I should, maybe more people would like my unfiltered consciousness rather than these structured thoughts, or maybe what I think are structured thoughts other people would see as ramblings--not significantly different from the unfiltered ones.
It is difficult to write. After thinking about the topic I've realized I have so much to say about intuition, but if I say it all will take me a very long time to write, and it would take a very long time to read, and perhaps because of that nobody reads it. I would rather say a little about intuition so that more people read it, and if they don't, well, at least I didn't spend a lot of time writing about it.
But at this point I haven't said much about intuition, have I? Let me try to connect what I've said so far with intuition.
The best example I can think of is when chess master players do a move they are not even consciously aware of. It's clearly an intelligent move, and they can tell if it's a good move, but they can't tell you why. If you ask them why they made certain move, they might come up with an explanation, but this is not necessarily why they did it.
Research shows that the subconscious mind makes decisions independent of what the conscious mind experiences. My favorite example is a task in which when the actions of participants were analyzed systematically, it turns out all of them did the same thing, but they all came up with different explanations of why they did it.
This is a deep philosophical issue, because it touches consciousness, intelligence, the sense of self, and even free will.
How do I choose to write what I write? I don't truly know. I intuit that some things are better options than others, but how? Where do these thoughts come from? And if I didn't consciously choose these thoughts, then who is ultimately writing?
The truth is that intuition is a mystery.
I feel like I have made a "good" point, but I also feel like there's two important points I can make related to ChatGPT and Nassim Taleb. Should I stop now? I'm not sure.
Can intuition be wrong? Well, if it's a "mystery" one would be tempted to say intuition is just intuition, but I believe there's bad intuition, and this comes from understanding what an expert is.
When one starts to learn chess there are some mechanical things to remember: how each piece moves, what's the relative value of each piece, etc. The more one learns, the more these things become embedded on one's mind, so you don't have to think about them, you just intuit that a certain move is good because it leaves you with a material advantage. But then you learn that even if a certain move is advantageous in one turn, the opponent can answer in a way that leaves you in a disadvantage. So your intuition was not good enough, and you need to learn more. After countless hours of playing your intuition becomes top-notch.
But if intuition could be wrong, what alternative is there? Presumably the alternative is analytical thinking. Aha! This sounds like Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. Intuitive thought is System 1, analytical thought is System 2.
After hours of thinking about this topic and this relationship honestly just came to my mind.
Why didn't I initially thought of this? This is like asking a chess player why didn't he see a particular move... I cannot think what I did not think.
OK. But I haven't made my point yet, and now I have to consider explaining System 1 and 2 for people who are not familiar with them. Or maybe I should just assume everyone knows that, but no, because I remember the writing advice of Steven Pinker, beware of the curse of knowledge, except this is going to be read by mottizens and if I explain something that is so basic they might conclude that I am basic. Screw it.
I believe everyone thinks analytically (System 2), the only difference between an expert and a novice is that the expert has internalized so much analytical thinking into his intuition (System 1), that whatever the novice has to think slowly about, it comes naturally fast for the expert, leaving his analytical thinking free to do much more complex analysis.
So analytical thinking is nothing more than the process through which we build our intuition. The more analytical thinking we do, the better our intuition becomes.
I didn't connect this to Nassim Taleb, but the inspiration came from him, essentially: analytical thinking is overrated.
OK, now I really feel I have to make the next point.
Recently I've seen ChatGPT everywhere, after toying with it substantially and discussing what I've found, I'm pretty sure what I see and what other people see is quite different.
The argument that I've seen a lot of people make is basically "it's just a bot", whatever miraculous answers it provides are nothing more than a simulacra of an intelligent being. It's not "truly" intelligent because it cannot do analytical thinking.
The point that I think everyone is missing is that intelligence itself is a mystery.
I don't know how I am deciding the next word that I'm going to type. It depends on my current mental state, which itself depends on the entirety of what I've read in the past, and what I've written.
But I've reread what I've written five or even ten years ago, and it's not as "good" as what I can write now. It makes sense because now I've read more, and I've written more.
My intuition about what to write next is better now.
And this is exactly how language models work. The more data you feed into a model, the better it becomes at writing a response that is deemed "good" by its readers.
Pessimists say that even if ChatGPT generates something truly marvelous it's still just a bot, it doesn't actually know why it wrote what it wrote. But guess what... Neither does a human.
If I ask you: what is
8 + x = 10? You are probably going to come up with an answer immediately. Do you know how you arrived to that answer? We know that a toddler cannot answer that, so some training is necessary. The more training, the more automatic the response will be. ChatGPT also generates an automatic response based on its training.
I feel there's so much more to write about this, but I want to conclude on the basis of two propositions.
I could write a whole essay on free will, but let's suppose that it doesn't exist, also suppose that the true nature of humans is misguided, and we are nothing more than a consciousness. I believe these two things are true, but I don't have the space to substantiate them here.
Grant me those two suppositions. What follows is that we don't know what's going to come next from our subconscious mind, you don't know what I'm going to type next, but neither do I. My conscious mind is as much a passenger in this stream of consciousness as your conscious mind is (assuming it's still following). I'm just witnessing my intuition doing its thing, but in truth that's all I can truly do.
I still don't know if my definition of intuition is close to how a dictionary would define it, but it still feels true. And that's probably what all my knowledge is: whatever feels true. My intuition of what feels true comes from all the analytical thinking I've done in the past, and this is probably what a language model considers knowledge too.
Or maybe I'm confusing what intuition is with how it manifests, just like people in the past concentrated on how heat manifests, not on what it truly was.
Maybe intuition is the encoding of analytical thinking, which we only see when a decision has to be made.
Intuition is encoded analytical thought
Either way, I had never thought of intuition in this way before (I hadn't actually given it much thought), this insight wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't sat down and written about the topic in the first place. All my intuition was already there, I just had to play it out, and as I was writing, I was genuinely surprised by the thoughts that were popping out in real time (why didn't I think of that before?).
My intuition also tells me that my insight is not something trivial that other people have already expressed many times over, but I know I've had insights in the past that I consider non-trivial only for other people to shit on them, so I shouldn't let my hopes up. Worst-case scenario this intuition about intuition might feed future insights.
I've noticed a trend among the rationalist movement of favoring long and convoluted articles referencing other long and convoluted articles--the more inaccessible to the general public, the better.
I don't want to contend that there's anything inherently wrong with such articles, I contend precisely the opposite: there's nothing inherently wrong with short and direct articles.
One example of significant simplicity is Einstein's famous
E=mc2 paper (Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy-content?), which is merely three pages long.
Can anyone contend that Einstein's paper is either not significant or not straightforward?
It is also generally understood among writers that it's difficult to explain complex concepts in a simple way. And programmers do favor simpler code, and often transform complex code into simpler versions that achieve the same functionality in a process called code refactoring. Guess what... refactoring takes substantial effort.
The art of compressing complex ideas into succinct phrases is valued by the general population, and proof of that are quotes and memes.
“One should use common words to say uncommon things” ― Arthur Schopenhauer
There is power in simplicity.
One example of simple ideas with extreme potential is Karl Popper's notion of falsifiability: don't try to prove your beliefs, try to disprove them. That simple principle solves important problems in epistemology, such as the problem of induction and the problem of demarcation. And you don't need to understand all the philosophy behind this notion, only that many white swans don't prove the proposition that all swans are white, but a single black swan does disprove it. So it's more profitable to look for black swans.
And we can use simple concepts to defend the power of simplicity.
We can use falsifiability to explain that many simple ideas being unconsequential doesn't prove the claim that all simple ideas are inconsequential, but a single consequential idea that is simple does disprove it.
Therefore I've proved that simple notions can be important.
In many discussions I'm pulled back to the distinction between
innocent as a way to demonstrate how the burden of proof works and what the true default position should be in any given argument. A lot of people seem to not have any problem seeing the distinction, but many intelligent people for some reason don't see it.
In this article I explain why the distinction exists and why it matters, in particular why it matters in real-life scenarios, especially when people try to shift the burden of proof.
Essentially, in my view the universe we are talking about is
guilty', which is
innocent ⇒ not-guilty, but
not-guilty ⇏ innocent.
When O. J. Simpson was acquitted, that doesn’t mean he was found innocent, it means the prosecution could not prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He was found not-guilty, which is not the same as innocent. It very well could be that the jury found the truth of the matter
This notion has implications in many real-life scenarios when people want to shift the burden of proof if you reject a claim when it's not substantiated. They wrongly assume you claim their claim is false (equivalent to
innocent), when in truth all you are doing is staying in the default position (
Rejecting the claim that a god exists is not the same as claim a god doesn't exist: it doesn't require a burden of proof because it's the default position. Agnosticism is the default position. The burden of proof is on the people making the claim.
Changing someone's mind is very difficult, that's why I like puzzles most people get wrong: to try to open their mind. Challenging the claim that
2+2 is unequivocally
4 is one of my favorites to get people to reconsider what they think is true with 100% certainty.