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Call for Submissions: TheMotte Intuition Effortpost Competition

Tldr: Write an effortpost on the subject of human intuition by February 10th, we will pick the winner by poll, I will donate $200 dollars to a charity mutually agreed upon with the winner

I've been thinking a lot about the subject of intuition lately, due to some life events. What do we know without knowing we know it, what can we communicate without knowing we communicate it. When I'm thinking a lot about something what do I want to do? Read a bunch of Mottizens thinking about it too! So, on a whim while thinking about the fact that great works like the Oresteia, Frankenstein, and Rousseau's best work were the result of competitions; I've decided to launch my own little essay competition and see if anyone bites.

The basic rules are thus:

-- Write an effortpost on the topic of Intuition. Standalone or in the CW or side threads; only rule is effort. Intuition can be as broadly or as narrowly defined as you like. Effortpost we define informally, but I'd say it must be at minimum 2000-4000 characters that is substantially your own original work. No ripping off another post, of your own or someone else's. An original summary/condensation or retelling of someone else's thesis is fine. How will we be able to tell? I'm kinda counting on the crowd here, especially if we get a little competitive fire going. I wouldn't count on slipping anything by the peanut gallery here.

-- On February 12th, as long as we have at least three entries, I will publish a poll, and we will select a winner. If anyone has a suggestion for a better method of picking a winner, I'm open to it. I'm thinking a poll would be better than just raw upvotes, but I'm open to other possibilities.

-- Once a winner is selected, I will work with the winner to select a charity, and I will donate $200 to that charity. I say I will work with the winner, I'm not donating $200 to NAMBLA or Mermaids UK or the StormFront Charity Fund just because somebody wins a poll. I will do my best to be reasonable, but there are some lines I'm not gonna cross here, and IDK there might be legal issues in some countries. I will post some kind of digital receipt in all likelihood, unless it's something like give the $200 in cash into the collection bin at church or to a homeless man or something. I'm sure for most here, the bigger thing will be winning, and being acknowledged as the winner.

So why? The mood just sort of struck me. And how do you know it will really happen? You don't, except that I spend way too much time hanging around here so you can figure I'll probably stick to my word. And anyway, you'll get even more motte street cred for being the guy who got welched on than you would for being the guy who got $200 donated to mosquito nets or whatever.

I'm curious to see what a bit of direction and effort could bring out, or maybe we need chaos. We'll see if we get three.

Please bring up any questions, or rules I haven't considered.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

I'm too late to participate in the contest, but am somewhat interested in the topic, and wanted to at least mention a few things.

A while back I was looking into intuition in the context of Jungian personality type theories. It is the oddest category by far, with different people meaning different things by it, but everyone agreeing that it's one of the four major psychological functions, and that there are many people who strongly favor it, as much as a person might favor "thinking" or "sensing" or "feeling". No-nonsense postmoderns tend to talk about recognizing and internalizing complex patterns. Jung's meaning is less likely, but far more interesting, about seeing around corners of reality, perception via unconscious thought, and symbolic understanding in parallel to rational thought, bypassing thought. For instance, an account of a woman using introverted intuition.

A good place to go looking for "snake in my abdomen" sorts of intuitives seems, then, to be in poets. I used to read symbolic poets, and was pleased to see this essay on Charles Williams in the latest ACX link roundup. George MacDonald is an excellent . A bit of TS Eliot. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich comes across as strongly intuitive in Jung's sense.

There was a period of my life where I was reading those poets, and listening a lot to an excellent self-described introverted intuitive priest reciting TS Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Jung, and there was a sense of numinosity. This was very lovely, but apparently not sustainable. American culture is inhospitable to numinous intuitive poetry, and it turns out that I am not myself a poet. Even actual poets are struggling with disenchantment; I tried reading Wendall Berry, who people assured me was a great poet of rural America, and the whole book he was complaining about tractors and synthetic fertilizers, with no symbolism at all. Perhaps he is not an intuitive poet in Jung's sense.

In any event, if I were to attempt writing more about intuition, it would be in the Jungian symbolic vein. It seems like, as a civilization, we have relegated Jungian intuition to the sidelines of people arranging crystals and talking about chakras and astrology and tarot. I've been following someone like that lately, a woman I know in real life but don't interact with very much. She writes lovely, deep, insightful intuitive, poetic prose posts, but then goes on also about astrology a lot, in a way that seems poorly integrated. Possibly if there were some sort of details about the symbolism of the planets it would be less deeply off putting, as I have nothing against using celestial bodies as a storytelling framework. Intuitive energy is wasting away in boomer women coming to schools to talk about chakras, but then failing to convey any actual sense of the symbolism that attracts them to it; just some sterile disconnected handouts about what they "represent," staying rather firmly in the "thinking" sphere we moderns are comfortable with, despite that not being an appropriate treatment of the subject matter. This seems related to not having a shared religion to keep things on track, and I've read at least one person [paywalled] with an actual religion complaining about Jung's Red Book going off the rails very badly into utter nonsense, which seems to be his attempt at strongly intuitive, mythopoetic writing. I have not read The Red Book, and am not in a position to comment.

Old stories seem to suggest that ancient people were much more mythopoetic/intuitive storytellers, and it seems like the stress on more rational thought has to some extent crowded that out. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes is very suggestive in that respect. There was a link from the December ACX roundup that seemed quite interesting in a similar vein. but nobody knew what to say about it, and neither do I. Probably the right thing to do in this situation is go sit under a tree, look at the seedheads and read a poem, rather than write an essay, though as I say I don't have any more access to intuition than any other modern who likes spending time on rationalist adjacent forums, so this may not happen.

Wow excellent link there. I had no idea other folks had so clearly outlined some of my own half baked thoughts on intuition.

Disclaimer: I didn't feel up to the task so abstain from the contest. This annotated quotedump is at most a sketch for future work.

My thesis is the opposite of @felipec's: all human thought is intuition, and attempts to distill rational thought from intuition serve at best some communicative role; at worst, they are delusions. In both cases, rationality – and conscious thought – is born out of pain of stubborn mismatch, and principally amounts to a rigid pattern on intuition's surface, a tool to communicate with oneself to channel the powers of the whole – either to reduce noise in the system or to suppress doubts, affirming preconceived errors. Don't believe anyone who claims to rely on conscious mind only: he who has tricked himself has only deceit to offer you too.

Logically – of course, per the above that's a somewhat hypocritical label – my assertion relies on the problem of reason being groundless. Truth is philosophically intractable. On the highest level of abstraction, we do not have a principled way of choosing a metaphysical paradigm, assuming the universal ontology or epistemology. If we commit to the maximally expansive sort of common sense that respects replicable observations of any kind – the first, and the gravest, concession to intuition – it seems we should prize mathematics and, perhaps, physics. Well, millenia into the game, we do not have watertight foundations of mathematics, and indeed have two good reasons to believe they are unattainable; by the same token we cannot have ironclad logic. It certainly doesn't feel this way, which is why people have tried to build a mechanistic, interpretable system for truth-determination, but from Ramon Llull's Art to Leibniz's Calculus ratiocinator to Cyc they have all flopped miserably.

If we concede once more, limit ourselves to truths of the observable world and well-tested heuristics like Occam's for divining them, in the limit (and why not go to the limit, considering prior paradigm shifts from gathering more fine-grained data?) they require infinities to resolve. On an even more applied level, philosophy of natural science has largely dispensed with the notion of provability in favor of falsifiability; and even that is being supplanted by degrees of uncertainty – and second-order, and N-th order (un)confidence intervals in a tangle of interdependent methods and concepts...

The point that I'm trying to make here is that by virtue of having no grounding, reason also has no bottom – when in doubt, you can dig deeper, ask more foundational questions, escalate your demand for rigor in an infinite regress, to arbitrary levels, even beyond the theoretical attainability of an answer. Or, in practice: you can deny conclusions and hold on to your preconceived notions so long as you are not politically coerced to stop.

Knowable truth, therefore, is a political matter, as my recent interlocutor @hbtz has so eloquently put it: «The truth exists with respect to a human intent».

One of the most interesting aspects of the aforementioned intent here is that it's an intent to stop asking questions – because intuition has provided you with answers that feel satisfactory. * The institution of science (see @TheDag's contribution) is a powerful system for collective precommitment to a legible standard of satisfaction, circularly defined by the «consensus» of people who seem to intuitively believe (i.e. have halted their skepticism) on issues of words meaning something, Occam's Razor, knowability of mathematical truths and metaphysics which allow empiricism. On certain well-trodden topics where such consensual coercion is no longer possible due to power dynamics, it is possible to perpetually filibuster with «no consensus reached», and the institution of science has ceased its operation. As with filibuster, conspicuous appeal to procedure only reveals the competitive infirmity of one's case, but it is motivated by a ferocious intuitive sense of being in the right.

On the matter of actually being correct (as one can be), I recommend reading Andre Borovik's Mathematics for makers and mathematics for users, which touches on Kahneman's System1/2 dichotomy in a more affable way:

[...] advanced specialist mathematics schools, such as Kolmogorov’s School in Moscow, or Fazekas, or Lyce ́e Louis-le-Grand accumulated a considerable experience of advanced mathematics education at the secondary scohol level [...]

Also it is immediately clear that they provide mathematics for the makers.

They nurture in their students specific mental traits which are almost never discussed in the literature on mathematics education or mentioned in education policy discourse:

  • ability to engage the subconscious when doing mathematics;
  • ability to share intuition;
  • ability to learn by absorption;
  • ability to compress mathematical knowledge;
  • capacity for abstract thinking;
  • being in control of their mathematics.

Mathematics, in one of its many facets, is a language for communication with the subconscious.

[...] Dogs have many faculties which we, humans, are lacking – for example, a fantastic sense of smell. To exploit these faculties, we have to send our commands to the dog and interpret its reactions. A learner of mathematics is a dog trainer; his subconscious is his/her “inner dog” (or a puppy), a wordless creature with fantastic abilities, for example, for image processing, or for parsing of symbolic input. The subconscious has to be trained to react to commands “triangle!”, “side!”, “rotate!” in a way similar to a dog reacting to ‘sit!”, “bite!”, “fetch!”

[...] So, it is my conjecture that “the inner dog” is the physical causality module of our brain. It has an immense raw processing power, but it is mute. The social causality module has access to language, but otherwise is very slow. It has to train the physical module, the same way as people train dogs.

A child can be told by adults: “this is left and this is right”, but his inner dog may tell him, using its posture and a sceptical position of its ears as means of communication: “sorry, master, but they smell the same to me”. For a child, to retain mathematical ability means to retain ability to listen to his subconscious and not to hurry to accept, as absolute truth, what he is told by adults.

Rich Sutton argues with regard to the bitter lesson of AI research that

the actual contents of minds are tremendously, irredeemably complex; we should stop trying to find simple ways to think about the contents of minds, such as simple ways to think about space, objects, multiple agents, or symmetries. All these are part of the arbitrary, intrinsically-complex, outside world. They are not what should be built in, as their complexity is endless; instead we should build in only the meta-methods that can find and capture this arbitrary complexity. Essential to these methods is that they can find good approximations, but the search for them should be by our methods, not by us. We want AI agents that can discover like we can, not which contain what we have discovered.

In humans, those meta-methods are what intuition is made of. And regarding its opposite, @self_made_human describes current attempts at aligning AIs as

pasting a smiley face mask onto a monstrously inhuman shoggoth

– well, human delusion of «thinking step by step» and such fits here too. Barring simple degenerate cases and deterministic toy algorithms, we do not know which eldritch algorithms have nominated the next step as self-evidently logical and fit for the office.

And that's okay. The procedure, in moderation, helps the shoggoth remember how to move.

* Terminating the regress of rational search has a therapeutic dimension too.

As a Russian PUA guru/grifter Denis Burhaev had inartfully claimed in his book «Another Chemistry», a well-formed human mind is a cyclic graph with inbuilt intuitive attractors:

The life of any organism can be thought of as a kind of system with a number of elements. The task is to make sure that all these elements are tied onto each other as much as possible. Either they are mixed equally among themselves, or they are tied to some key element, it doesn't matter, the main thing is to minimize the number of loose ends. All lack of happiness, existential depression and spiritual quests begin when these loose ends remain.

[then] the person regularly suffers from self-reflection with metamodelling. I.e. he starts asking himself questions: «What is this for?», «this follows from that», «why is it so», etc. If, as a result of his searching he reaches some open-ended branch, and he doesn't know how to proceed, then this effects a complete obstruction in his personality. And if this ribbon, like Möbius strip, loops on itself, even though there are 233 sub-items, a man may not even reach the end; he is just looking ahead, sees no limit and no edge, and everything is all right.

[...] When we start listening to the answers of that person, the answers may become looped, i.e. after a certain number of 'question-answer' iterations the person comes to some absolute, on which he gets fixated.

If there is such a branch, no matter how crooked or branching itself it is, no matter how many consecutive links it has, it is good! Because the psyche of such a person is stable.

I’d never heard of intuition in mathematics - that’s a fascinating perspective.

As I said to @felipec elsewhere, I wonder if rationality or conscious thought can be seen as a sort of overarching myth which we use to coordinate. Every human mind has its own tangled threads, and rationality is a sort of weave we use to impose order on them, similar to religion or social customs, just more defined.

I know the left often decries capitalism as a religion - but what if mathematics, physics, and economics really are a new iteration of these classic religious myths?

They bind people together, coordinate action at a large scale, loosely get people to share some moral valence (albeit worse morals than religion did imo). The main difference to my mind is that there is an inherent logical structure behind them.

Perhaps this logical structure prevents the sort of fervent, faith based belief that older religions engendered. Then again, maybe we simply need to wait until we can find the synthesis between the vehicles of religion and rational structures.

Intuitionism is a massive topic in mathematics that I will not be able to do justice to – I suggest you check out Intuition/Proof/Certainty section in Reuben Hersh's «What is mathematics» that Borovik references, and Hardy on Ramanujan (@FiveHourMarathon you too could look intot that) and Grothendieck's «Reaping and sowing». But that's only scratching the surface.

Mathematics is obviously (I suppose) the pinnacle of rigorous human analytical reasoning, yet it's also where we most clearly see the raw dominance of intuitive, illegible thought. We still cannot formalize insight, because it comes from intuition that precedes all our formalisms, from the darkness that comes before.

Voevodsky, in a typically Russian Messianic attempt, strived to close the domain, and died trying.

I wonder if rationality or conscious thought can be seen as a sort of overarching myth which we use to coordinate.

A useful thought. It reminds me: there's a theory that our self-consciousness is just an encoding procedure for building efficient and densely connected episodic memory that enables adaptive behavior (that still arises not from narratives but from statistical inferences that narratives we tell about ourselves merely give form to). Yours is a model for the societal level.

what if mathematics, physics, and economics really are a new iteration of these classic religious myths?

Well they do provide a consensus reality, and pretty clearly a more accurate and adaptive one. (Not so much consensus morality). The question is whether the common «atheist, rational, empiricist» worldview is substantially informed by mathematics etc. as such, as opposed to journalistic and educationist narratives weaponising their prestige. See pic.


the darkness that comes befofee

Ahh a fellow Bakker fan eh?

And again fascinating points here. I’m not sure I grasp the theory about densely connected episodic memory, but it sure does sound smart.

In terms of your image, I’d say that science started off more in tune with object level reality/mathematics, and has been bastardized after we destroyed the elite class. It’s like a religion that has thrown open the gates to its priesthood.

I see the same fervent faith-based beliefs among self-described rationalists. The only difference is that it's harder to prove them wrong, precisely because more often than not the beliefs are correct.

It's a sort of hot-hand fallacy: if rationality has gotten these 99 things right, what are the chances than the next is going to be wrong? Has to be zero. Right?

Of course, most people are not going to agree, because most people don't see anything wrong with the prevalent orthodoxy of their time.

But logic itself is not set in stone, there's many. See One Right Logic. If you based your entire epistemology on "logic", but turns out many beliefs rest on a feature that other logics don't share, well... You may very well be believing false things that are impossible to prove in your logic.

My thesis is the opposite of @felipec's: all human thought is intuition, and attempts to distill rational thought from intuition serve at best some communicative role; at worst, they are delusions. In both cases, rationality – and conscious thought – is born out of pain of stubborn mismatch, and principally amounts to a rigid pattern on intuition's surface, a tool to communicate with oneself to channel the powers of the whole – either to reduce noise in the system or to suppress doubts, affirming preconceived errors. Don't believe anyone who claims to rely on conscious mind only: he who has tricked himself has only deceit to offer you too.

I don't see how that is opposite. I believe the conscious mind has no control whatsoever, the next step is decided by the subconscious mind, an almost infinitely complex process the conscious mind has no access to (and evolutionarily had no need to). So whatever the conscious mind thinks it's deciding is an illusion.

In my view the question is not consciousness vs. unconsciousness, it's intuition vs. analytical thinking.

Analytical thinking is thinking slow (System 2), intuition is fast thinking (System 1). However, the one deciding to switch gears to analytical thinking is also the subconscious mind, which uses prior training to make that decision, so it's using intuition to decide to not rely on intuition. And at which point will the subconscious decide to stop engaging in analytical thinking? Intuition will be used to decide that a satisfactory answer was reached as well.

So yes, all human thought is ultimately intuition, but analytical thinking is the special case in which the agent does a deeper search which is more computationally intensive and thus appear "slower" to us. Usually this deeper search is forced by a hint that the initial "automatic" response might not be correct.

But the important point is that all thinking builds up intuition, and this is not a view generally accepted. Many people deride intuition as if the conclusions reached by it were not as valuable as those reached by analytical thinking. I think that's the important starting point for discussion.

The year is 2003, the Redsox haven't won the World Series since 1918. Now they're in Game 7 of the America League Championship against the New York Yankee. Grady Little is their manager, he has a choice to make.

How long should he let Pedro Martinez pitch? This year Martinez has finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting, he's won 3 Cy Young awards in the previous 6 years. Without recapping his entire career, let just posit that he is really good. If you wanted to bet on 1 particular guy, with everything on the line, he is a guy you would want to bet on.

Through 7 innings, that works great, at the end of 7 innings Martinez has thrown 100 pitches and the Redsox led 4-2. Is 100 pitches enough? Should Little call it a night for Martinez and turn it over to the bullpen? Or should he keep rolling the dice with the 1 particular guy you want to bet on?

The Redsox score another run in the top of the 8th to make it 5-2. Little decides to bet on Martinez. That works out less great. 23 pitches later the game is tied and Martinez's night is over. In the 11th inning Aaron Boone homers to win the game 6-5 for the Yankees. The curse lives on. Who knows, maybe next year will be the year. It won't be this year.

The year is 2016, the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908. Now they're in Game 7 of the World Series. Joe Madden is their manager, he has a choice to make.

How long should he let Kyle Hendricks pitch? This year Kendricks has finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting. Let not recap his entire career either, but let posit that while he is not nearly as decorated a pitcher as Pedro Martinez was, he has been quite good this year, with everything on the line, he isn't a bad guy to bet on.

Through 4 innings that works great, when it's Hendricks time to pitch in the 5th inning the Cubs led 5-1, Hendricks gets the first 2 outs of the 5th, then he walks a batter. What to do?

For Maddon, that is enough, he pulls Hendricks at this point. That turns out to work, ehh, not exceptionally great. Before the inning is over the score is 5-3, at the end of the 9th inning the score is 6-6. The Cubs wind up scoring 2 runs in the 10th inning and win 8-7. Their curse is over.

Alright, anyway, intuition.

What exactly are we talking about?

Where these decision made on intuition? What does it even mean to make a decision on intuition?

To be straightforward, I'm almost certain that Maddon's decision wasn't made on intuition, its less clear to me whether Little decision was.

Moneyball was published in 2003. I'll probably butcher this synopsis, but roughly, it documents how the A's won a lot of games in the early 2000's by replacing the intuitive judgements of baseball scouts and managers with statistical analysis that didn't rely on human intuition.

For a few years after it was published, which method was better was a sports radio debate topic. Before long, it ceased being one, the teams that embraced the statistical method simply won too frequently. It is no long a question of whether you should rely on human intuition or statistical analysis, its how do you win the statistical analysis arms race.

Back to the pitching decision, by the time Maddon was making his decision, this was a studied question, Maddon was almost certainly aware of analysis that indicated that by the time pitcher see a batter for their 3rd time in a game, the pitcher's effectiveness drops considerably. Glossing over particular details of each situation, broadly speaking, the science was with Maddon.

Its hard to know exactly what the Redsox internal analytics department had produced by 2003. It seems likely to me that Little didn't have the benefit of this analysis in 2003. He may of had to rely on his intuition to make his decision in 2003.

Is this what we mean by intuition? This seems like a pretty crappy definition. Is every decision we make that hasn't been mathematically calculated an intuitive decision? I don't think that's what we mean.

Does it mean a decision we haven't thought out previously?

If Little sat in his hotel room the night before the game with his pitching coach, and spent several hours discussing exactly how long to keep Martinez in the game, and had agree that as long as they were winning he would go 8 innings, they were sticking with Martinez, would it have been an intuitive decision?

It seems like it would have been the opposite, it would have been a decision that they analyzed, and analyzed wrong. Nothing to do with intuition.

One of the suggested prompts to this question involved "how can we improve intuition."

Having read a few Malcolm Gladwell books in my life, my first instinct is "put in your 10,000 hours".

When to pull a pitcher isn't exactly a "haven't thought out previously" situation.

Complete games are quite rare, making this decision is actually something very close to an every game occurrence. Little should have had plenty of the practice needed for his intuition to be on-point.

(This is oversimplifying. While pulling pitchers in an every game occurrence, pulling pitchers in game 7s of playoff series is not. That comes with a set of end game considerations that the regular season decisions do not. For example, in the regular season you need to keep your pitchers well rested enough to pitch the rest of the season in a way that you don't at the end of the playoffs.) (But I think we're getting too far into the weeds here.)

Let's just posit that Little relied on his intuition, and his intuitions screwed the decision up. What should he have done to improve his intuition?

It seems really tempting to dismiss this as a totally idiotic framing of this question.

Baseball over the past 20 years is really clear about the answer to this. He should give up.

He should turn this question over to statistical analysis, and then listen to the analysis when it gives him an answer.

He should quit trying to get his intuition to tell him things that can be looked up.

Its sort of cold and windy outside right now, I just walked outside, here's guessing its 42 degrees.

Looking at my phone, my phone thinks it 40.

Not bad.

How good can I get at this game?

Can I develop my weather guessing intuition?

Every hour, I'll walk outside, make a guess, then check my phone.

I bet I could get pretty good and intuiting the weather.

What's the point though? I can just look at my phone, why develop weather intuition that's no better than taking 2 seconds to look at my phone?

I mean, I'm fairly certain my phone gets it from the National Weather Service or something. Are you afraid of BIG Weather Service?

It seems almost anti-science.

I recently listened to Robert Caro's books about LBJ.

One big theme of the books is the degree to which LBJ had a great intuitive sense for the one on one convincing part of politics.

There are several descriptions of LBJ abilities as "a reader of men". I'll quote one at some length -

From Master of the Senate, pg 136 -

"While Lyndon Johnson was not, as his two assistants knew, a reader of books, he was, they knew, a reader of men - a great reader of men. He had a genius for studying a man and learning his strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears, his deepest strengths and weaknesses: what the man really wanted- not what he said he wanted but what he really wanted- and what it was that the man feared, really feared.

He tried to teach his young assistants to read men-"Watch their hands, watch their eyes," he told them. "Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it's not as important as what you can read in his eyes"-and to read between the line: more interested in men's weaknesses than in their strengths because it was weakness that could be exploited, he tried to teach his assistants how to learn a man's weakness. "The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he's not telling you," he said. "The most important thing he has to say is what he's trying not to say." For that reason he told them, it was important to keep the man talking; the longer he talked, the more likely he was to let slip a hint of that vulnerability he was so anxious to conceal. "That's why he wouldn't let a conversation end," Busby explains. "If he saw the other fellow was trying not to say something, he wouldn't let it [the conversation] end until he got it out of him." And Lyndon Johnson read with a genius that couldn't be taught, with a gift so instinctive that a close observer of his reading habits, Robert G. (Bobby) Baker, calls it a "sense"; "He seemed to sense each man's individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin." He read with a novelist's sensitivity, with an insight that was unerring, with an ability, shocking in the depth of its penetration and perception, to look into a man's heart and know his innermost worries and desires."

So my audiobook setup is a bit odd, I like to listen in my car, we have two cars, one new with an USB port where I can listen to Audible books through my phone, hence the LBJ books, an old older car without any of this new fangled technology like USB ports, so I have to go to the library and check out physical CDs.

Around the same time I was listening to the LBJ books. The physical CD book I was listening to was Barack Obama's memoir, A Promised Land.

This is almost certainly a fool's errand. But I would like to keep political nature of Obama's legacy out of this analysis.

Anyway, with that terrible set up. Listening to these two book side by side, it struck me that Obama didn't sound anything like LBJ.

I was struck by how in the Obama book, all the key players seemed like fixed political pi

Having read a few Malcolm Gladwell books in my life, my first instinct is "put in your 10,000 hours".

Isn't it weird that in most submissions (3/4 in my count) the role of experience always comes up? In 2/4 Thinking, Fast and Slow is mentioned.

My insight was that intuition is analytical thinking encoded. The more hours one puts into a task, the better one becomes and intuiting. However, hours alone isn't enough, those hours have to be of a certain quality. Veritasium's video: The 4 things it takes to be an expert explores what that quality is.

The list is: valid environment, many repetitions, timely feedback, deliberate practice.

Putting 10,000 hours alone is not enough. Following your baseball examples, 10,000 hours without analytics is not going to be the same as 10,000 with analytics.

I think people are too quick to dismiss intuition based on bad examples.

My insight was that intuition is analytical thinking encoded.

No, absolutely not. You can train intuition (think, reflexes, like playing tennis) without any analytical thinking at all. Animals do it, no problem.

The main point of analytical thinking is to provide a check on intuition for when it goes wrong. Like, you encounter an optical illusion, a fish in the water appears farther than it is, so to spear it properly you need to aim closer, "wat in heck, my eyes deceive me" is where the improvement starts.

You can train intuition (think, reflexes, like playing tennis) without any analytical thinking at all. Animals do it, no problem.

Reflexes are not intuition to me.

The main point of analytical thinking is to provide a check on intuition for when it goes wrong.

That's what you assume, but you couldn't have done your current level of analytical thinking without having done some analytical thinking in the past. A baby cannot do your level of analytical thinking, even a genius baby.


McConnell was an obstructionist who got in Obama's way just to win political point. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi get somewhat more sympathetic treatment. But they’re sort of presented as fixed personalities as well. Pelosi is giving him grief from the left. Reid can’t get the Senate to be helpful with any reliability.

Obama as an intuitive reader of men doesn’t seem to come through at all. At least not to me when I listened to it.

Is it Michael Lewis fault?

So Moneyball was a best seller when it came out.

I remember seeing it on all sort of lists of books that smart people were supposed to read (I think I remember it being on a Harvard Business School reading list).

I think we might have learned the lessons from Moneyball too well.

There are certainly domains where the lessons are correct. Do you need to decide when to pull pitcher? Study it, count it up, do the science.

Lots of politics happens with a significant degree of statistical sophistication. Obama’s national campaigns should certainly be included in this.

Perhaps we’ve become so reliant on giving up out intuition that we’ve lost the ability where intuition does come in handy.

(Its worth keeping in mind, that for all LBJs gifts, he has a pretty checkered legacy of his own)

Ok, that's what I got, hopefully that was high enough effort to count as a high effort post and that gets us to 3 submissions.

(I love the concept of this competition, I hope we get more of this sort of thing, I wish I was a talented enough writer to contribute something better)


I'm putting up a poll to determine the winner, but if I were the one selecting it this would have had it in a laugher. Michael Lewis and Robert Caro are two of my favorite authors, Baseball was my favorite sport as a child, and the question of why was Barack Obama a wildly ineffective president (relative to expectations) is basically the second formative political question of my life (the first being Iraq War II).

Intuition is an interesting place to pin the difference between LBJ and Obama in terms of effectiveness. Say what you like about Lyndon and his legacy, he passed a ton of very important legislation, stuff that changed the face of the country on a permanent basis. Obama, for the most part, did not. Obamacare was an abortion of a piece of legislation, trying to fit a queen size sheet on a king size bed and call it coverage. Foreign policy barely changed from the Bush years. Etc.

I always thought that the difference could be placed in terms of a fundamental laziness on the part of Barack Obama, a "big speech" disease that caused him to constantly chase the big event, the big announcement, the big omnibus bill, the new direction new paradigm moment; while ignoring the little things, the relationships, that actually grind tough bills through Congress.

Listening to The Years of Lyndon Johnson literally right now, I'm struck by how (in Caro's inimitable verbosity) down and dirty it gets on what gathering political power actually meant. LBJ spent decades forming relationships, learning who to talk to and talking to them, shaking hands, doing favors. He accumulated positions in moribund organizations and then made those organizations powerful from his college frat to the DCCC. Most of those don't pay off, a few do pay off big, and he worked his way up. At every step it was a grind, it was putting in the work, going door to door, making phone calls, sending letters, sucking up and kissing ass where necessary, whipping subordinates into line. By the time LBJ became president, he had learned the value of hard political labor to get anything done.

Obama, by contrast, parachuted into national politics with his 2004 keynote speech, and was running for POTUS in earnest by late 2006 early 2007. He didn't have time to learn where the proverbial bathrooms were in the Senate before becoming president. He might have been an extraordinarily intelligent man, but he never learned the value of grinding away. Obama became president on the power of a few great speeches, and some great statistical environments for his run in the Post-Bush oncoming-Recession timeframe. He never spent time grinding away at any political project, and when he was president he never did that too much either. He constantly tried to give one big speech, and the media cooperated, that was going to change the whole direction. He never spent time whipping votes and trading favors, maybe he couldn't do it anyway.

And maybe that ties back to your Malcolm Gladwell 10k hours bit. LBJ put in the work in the trenches, from practically childhood with his father. Obama learned that wasn't necessary. LBJ needed that time to learn how to do what he was able to do, to get the Civil Rights Act passed. Obama's lack of that skill stalled the public option in healthcare.

Another lesson could be that intuition is useful at the top, but difficult to hire out. You can have an intuitive manager in the dugout, and the numbers crunchers back at HQ can feed him data; you can't have a numbers cruncher in the dugout and an intuitive guy back at HQ feeding him hunches. LBJ could hire numbers guys, Obama couldn't hire empaths.

PS: This product works beautifully for setting up bluetooth in all my old cars. Honestly I like it better than using the built in bluetooth on a lot of cars, which can be rather clunky. Just plugs into a cigarette lighter, and broadcasts FM signal to the radio. I really only couldn't find a station when I was driving through DC, once, and I didn't look all that hard.

lol, curious as to how far you are through the LBJ books.

Have you gotten to the point of Kennedy winning the 1960 Democratic nomination? I'm going trust that I don't need to give spoiler warnings for a historical event that happened 60 years ago.

An interesting take away, is that even by 1960, LBJ might have been someone who's gifts were past their time. At least in terms rising to the Presidency.

LBJ thought he could stay out of the primaries, and that all his backroom senate connections would get him the nomination at the convention. He thought Kennedy was a political lightweight who hadn't done anything of any real note during his time in the Senate.

But Kennedy was already the beneficiary of TV and 'big speeches', by then he was a staple of the Sunday morning political shows, for all LBJs Senate accomplishments, Kennedy was better known to the voters.

The comparison between Kennedy and Obama is an interesting one. I suspect you're right. By the time he arrived in Washington, he was already a possible Presidential nominee, 2 years later, he was literally running for the nomination. He never had time to build political alliances as anything other than a possible President.

One area I was trying to go in my post (not sure I got there, I was running out of steam by the end), is that might just be an odd product of our time. We don't reward that sort of political intuition, so we don't get leaders who have it.

To start with, its almost a dirty word to have been a DC politician for any stretch of time. Before Biden, between Bill Clinton, W, Obama, and Trump, we had 28 years of presidents with a total of 4 years of inside the beltway political experience before becoming President. Hillary had some line about "the most qualified candidate ever", but for the most part, deep Washington connections is almost never a selling point for Presidental candidate.

If anything, its almost the opposite.

You can market change, can you market the opposite?

Beyond that, I'm not sure we believe in that sort of intuition at all.

I singled out Lewis, but there's a large bookshelf of books about how our intuition sucks and we shouldn't trust it. I would put the Freakonomics, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, Cass Sustein's Nudge (who Obama worked with at U of Chicago and hired into the White House), most of the Less Wrong universe of stuff including SSC, all fit into that category.

I think that shelf has a lot of good insights, and its useful to sort of be careful about the limits of intuition, and where it can lead us astray.

I also think its somewhat antithetical to LBJs sort of intuition. The sort of leaders we aspire to be, and choose, after reading that stuff. Can't do the things that LBJ did.

Or at least that's 1 theory of the universe.

Thanks for the car adapter tip, not sure why it hadn't occurred to me that there might be a solution to my setup, but that's seems like something I should own. Purchased.

Thanks for the car adapter tip, not sure why it hadn't occurred to me that there might be a solution to my setup, but that's seems like something I should own. Purchased.

They used to be really shitty, I had one growing up that could pick 4 frequencies and never worked well. I think the newer ones are just much more powerful and so do a much better job.

I'm currently in the first book, he's about to lose his first senate campaign to Pappy.

I think your observation of how Johnson was a product of his time is a good one. We don't reward politicians for that kind of work anymore. We're constantly on the lookout for the next big thing, and ignore the steady workmanlike stuff. Even Biden, though he's the ultimate insider/swamp creature, wasn't elected on a record of effectiveness merely one of continued existence.

Do we have 2 submissions right now? Do we need a third by the end of the day to trigger the competition? I tried to outline a submission last week, and hated what I put together.

If we need another just to trigger the competition, I let the fingers fly and submit something.

I wish I had known about this post and this contest before today.

We are at 3 that I have counted, I'm going to comb through the main threads to see if there are any posts on the topic I missed. But even if we were at 2 I would have done it, i just put in the 3 minimum to avoid having two that were absolute drivel, or just one that was our learned friend Dr. Pedofascist writing something wild about how to intuit when kids are into it, and being FORCED to give them the win by default. Everyone submitted excellent work, any one of them earned the win.

I'd encourage you to submit though, it might be better than you think.

OK, here's my submission: My intuition about intuition.

What about counter-currents or Amren?

I don't know what that is, but if you think it fits it probably fits.

I might do it if I find the motivation, we'll see..

That's a difficult prompt, quite nebulous in scope. Feels like a high school essay prompt which by all means I hated more than University essay prompts. At least in University, the prompts were specific and constrained and I wasn't as much of a bumbling moron.

However, I will spend the next few days working on an effort post. A little transfer of wealth from the first world to the third world seems like a good enough incentive.

I'm happy to give you something more concrete as an assignment if it would help you, I always like reading your thoughts, and I certainly have a few clear topics that would be interesting to hear about from someone else.

I wanted to define it broadly to allow anyone to enter anything that was percolating in their head but hadn't yet been committed to text.

Share the prompts you have in mind. It's an interesting idea to outsource thinking, I'm surprised I haven't seen widescale adoption of this directly, as opposed to just letting the TV do its work indirectly.

-- We perceive the world at the level of our baseline skill. Is there any way to specifically develop skill at intuition, or is it only possible to develop skills which will then provide you with intuitions as they integrate into your brain? Can I learn to diagnose an engine problem by sound/feel, or is that just the residue of a thorough knowledge of engine repair in general? How does this apply to personal interactions, which we generally don't think of as a teachable skill but as purely intuitive? ((I'm perpetually amazed at my mechanic's ability to just "know" what is wrong with a car from how it feels))

-- Phantom vibrations seem to relate to the brain misinterpreting stimuli that are typically meaningless as meaningful due to the presence of a new stimulus in the form of phone vibrations. In what other ways have new stimuli short-circuited our intuition? Or have we formed new intuitions? ((I definitely run into phantom vibrations, or a constant desire to check emails, during certain work periods))

-- How much can we intuit about a person through text based communication? How much can we read between the lines of text messages, letters, forum posts in subtle ways beyond the implications of normal writing? Is this skill more or less present in those who use these formats more often? ((I recently formed a fairly profound connection with someone via text, and my intuitions about them proved right, and I've been wondering this ever since, luck or unknown skill?))

-- Blood Harmony is a degree of musical harmony that is traditional in country/bluegrass/gospel music; supposedly siblings can achieve degrees of harmony impossible for others. Is this a real phenomenon? Is it applicable to other fields than music? Does consanguinity create the harmony, or being raised together? Both, neither?

I'm interested! Do we submit as a comment here or privately to you?

As a comment in the main thread, as a standalone post, or as a comment in any other post. Basically anywhere we typically post on themotte.

Can the winner nominate the Motte as their charity of choice? A common cause of death I've seen with small communities like these has been money, whether it's in short supply leading to increasingly frequent outages, or the owner/operator has to start funneling their own cash into the site leading either to a growing sense of disgust/aversion to this project they've been saddled with, or worse they get an inflated sense of importance and grow more tyrannical with each check cut to the host. Not that I believe that's a likely outcome for this place, I think Zorba's hands are about as good as it gets in this particular field.

Absolutely, that pipeline is already set up and easy to use. All you need to do is win, my man.