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Intuition as pattern recognition



 

Intuitive insights suddenly appear as ideas or feelings. The solution to a problem leaps into your mind. You have a strong anxiety about taking some action but cannot understand why. Where do these things come from? You are continually, without conscious attention, recognizing patterns in the stream of sensations that impinge upon you. If one of these is important it is suddenly brought to your conscious attention. Perhaps you are playing a computer game and you suddenly recognize the voice of the company president coming down the hall. Even though you are strongly focused on the game, the recognition of that voice destroys your concentration as it is brought to conscious attention.

This same pattern recognition process is happening in another way. Your experiences as an unfolding sequence in time are continually being compared to previous sequences to see if there is some important relationship. If one of these is important enough it is brought to conscious attention as an idea or feeling. With sensation what is brought to consciouses is a recognition of something in the environment. With intuition what is being recognized may be unclear. Sensation mostly recognizes things we have experienced before although it does respond to images that are more fundamental. For example in a child entering adolescence a sexually attractive body stirs feelings that have deeper origins than life experience. In youth the recognition of a pattern in such images leads to feelings and then experience. The recognition does not have an origin in experience. It is not personal. It has an archetypal character  .

With intuition far more of the search for patterns is concerned with archetypal rather than personal experience. Little in our lives is fundamentally original. Almost every situation we encounter is similar to an immense number of previous situations. These similarities are not limited to the human species. They go back through the history of evolution. For example walking past a dog that feels you are violating its territory raises instincts and actions in the dog that are not so far removed from similar human instincts. Evolution molds life to respond to recurring situations. The I Ching  [39] is a catalog of recurring life patterns. It describes them so they can be directly understood by consciousness. That is part of the value of the I Ching as an intuitive discipline. It strengthens our conscious understanding of the patterns that intuition recognizes. With a better conscious understanding we know more about what to make of these patterns and we can better focus our intuition as a result.

There is no way to say why a neural net 

produces one response rather than another. You can do a detailed analysis of the state and explain exactly why this history and input produces this response but that is no explanation. Because intuition is a generalized pattern recognition process you cannot break up the result into a series of steps or analyze the process for mistakes. The way you discipline and develop intuition is completely different then the way you develop intellect. You train a neural net by exposing it to a variety of inputs and reinforce those responses that are correct. This is fine when we have an objective criteria for correctness. We need to develop intuition in domains where do not yet have an objective criteria for correctness.

The I Ching and astrology are traditional methods of developing intuition about psychology, sociology business and politics. These methods have stagnated and assumed and underground status. To some degree this was a practical necessity. Intuition leaps far ahead of intellect and intellect cannot fill in the vast canyons that intuition crosses. These leaps can miss the mark. Intuition, left to its own devices, soon finds itself trapped at the bottom of a canyon. Einstein's quarrel with many of his colleagues is an almost mythical example of this struggle. Einstein leaped into a canyon from which he could not escape.

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Next: Einstein's intuition Up: The ascendancy of Previous: Astrology and intuition
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