A Short Foreword #
I started writing this post in November of 2021, with many long hiatuses in
between. Since then, TOOL released a new
song – which is a bit eerie, I admit. As
such, it’s gone through a fair few revisions, and I’ve given up on proofreading
it as a whole many times; so it’s a bit rough on the edges. I hope, though, that
it is still enjoyable.
Intuition is our ability to make judgements on the rational using irrational methods. In reality, it’s hard to define what intuition is, and where other similar terms begin: gut feeling, instinct, insight, hunch, and so on. So, what’s really happening?
In this article I hope to paint a picture of the difficulties of defining a clear-cut definition of intuition, give my opinions on the inner workings of subconscious thought, before finally demonstrating my philosophical model of the matter, as well as providing some personal experience with gut feeling.
As I’ve already mentioned, there seems to be little consensus on the boundaries of what terms mean; they depend far too much on context, convention, area of science, philosophical model, etc. So, to alleviate this confusion, throughout this text, I use “intuition” to refer to the irrational, a priori, source of knowledge. As an additional note, I use “knowledge” here to refer to any information novel to us. For example, a bad feeling about a certain choice or decision is knowledge, just as much the population of Hungary is. I’m not sure these classes of knowledge form any natural relation amongst themselves.
We all have different experiences with intuition; not only with how (un)helpful it’s been to us during our lives, but our sensory experience of it differs as well. And it, too, is different based on which facet of intuition we’re experiencing, and is (seemingly) differently experienced by different people.
Although anecdotal, throughout years in education, you’ve almost necessarily seen classmates struggle with certain subjects, while excelling in others; usually it’s a split between natural sciences and humanities. At least in my observence, what happens is that people tend to apply a certain method of learning to areas where they’re simply not applicable; or their application fares poorly in academic terms.
For example, someone devoted to literature will probably have a hard time understanding a subject like physics of maths. While not necessarily the entirety of the problem, they will also most likely be treating these subject as they do literature: looking for story arcs and clinging to specifics – whereas the subjects are primarily those of generalisations, patterns, and abstractions.
This disparity in learning achievement isn’t confined just to different sets of subjects across people. Different people in the same subject might score differently, too; with methodology to blame for their otherwise would-be achievements.
Learning Styles #
To account for this gap in success, there have been many attempts to systematise the learning process, usually stemming from a mix of personal accounts, some educated guesswork, and philosophy. Sadly, no theory of learning to date seems to have gotten it right.
The most pervasive of theories seems to be Neil Fleming’s VARK model. It enumerates four sensory affinities through which new information is best processed:
- Visual learning
- Auditory learning
- Learning through reading/writing
- Kinesthetic learning
This is, perhaps, possibly the most applicable and best known learning style; it lets people find themselves in either category more or less strongly. Exactly within the end of that last sentence is the issue: it isn’t necessarily obvious that people discretely fit into a single category, or that these categories exist by necessity, rather than being phenomenal observances.
Although certain individuals definitely have a strongly expresed preferred method of learning, I posit the fuzzy border cases where two or more methods are as preferred make up larger swathes of the population than can be safely disregarded. In the literature on the VARK model I’ve read, multimodal (most commonly bimodal) students make up at least 50% of the sample size, sometimes reaching > 85%, like in this (n=91) study
In fact, Fleming himself makes room for this: his theory includes two multimodalities: those who can adapt to the preferred methods of those around them, and those with several preferred methods.
These two catch-alls make the entire theory unfalsifiable: your learning will inevitably Even if you allow for nonsensory sources of knowledge, it is hard to imagine all knowledge to be nonsensory; although the existence of an external world is a properly basic belief. take part through one of your senses, and you can (not) have a sense you’re particularly keen on using.
The issue with most of these theories lies in their similarity to birth charts – they give out too widely applicable statements to be particularly discrete. What’s more, their categorisation can also lead them to making false opposites, or discretise continuous ranges, etc. To help identify these troublesome theories, I’ve compiled a list of questions that probe the most common issues, which, if true, probably show the theory to be unapplicable:
- Can a single person fit into multiple distinct categories?
- Are two ends/opposites really orthogonal?
- Do two or more distinct categories really form a continuous scale?
- Can somebody’s standing in the theory give readings too inconclusive for helpful advice/help in learning?
Almost all theories that I’ve come across fail at least one of these questions: they’re either wrong in their model or are too general to give any particular advice.
Fleming’s VARK model is perhaps the best among its peers, as it provides a simple and clear grouping people can identify with, while also providing an escape for when those distinct groups start mingling. Its model seems correct and based enough in elementary sensory mechanics to be true, while acknowledging its shortcomings (fuzzy group borders), but that makes the claim unfalsifiable and necessarily true, which seems to me to be a form of arguing in circles.
It’s, in the literature I’ve read, given conflicting results, correlated little with any meaningful metric, and shown little improvement when adjusting teaching methods for particular model students – yet we can still find ourselves respond better or worse to either model category.
Obviously, learning (in a classroom setting) necessarily means using one’s senses to take in the lecture, be it through the speech of your professor giving the lecture, the text and images in your textbook, or performed hands-on work – and then recording and reproducing it later on.
Of note here is the required form in which we reproduce the knowledge we’ve acquired, too. It might be easier to perform actions which we’ve seen or have done ourselves than it would be to accurately describe them, especially if you are not that high in verbal IQ.
We know our memories are tinted through the feelings and emotions we experience at the time of their recording, as well as being retroactively modified to fit our depictions over time, too.
Disney’s children’s animated film Inside Out (2015) is perhaps the best rhetorical device to demonstrate this idea I rarely watch, and just as often enjoy modern movies, especially those aimed at children; which is a point I welcome others adopt. However, in this case I’ll concede for ease of demonstration, rather than any adoration for the motion picture. in a very literal manner, too. In the film, our memories are depicted as translucent glass spheres stored inside our heads. Each memory’s particular emotion is shown as the colour of the sphere which holds that particular memory. So, for example, sad memories are depicted as blue transluscent spheres, while memories that induce rage are coloured red.
We also note that our memories (experiences, too) contain multiple levels at which information sits. For example, if we should remember playing with the family dog, the raw tactile sensory information then includes how the dog’s fur feels against our skin; whereas the semantic meaning would explain to us how we were playing with the dog, et cetera.
However, when classes of information like this seemingly lose their boundaries, the logical conclusion at which we arrive is that certain sensory experiences can trigger other, abstract experiences; and vice-versa.
Although the mesh of information isn’t as well-connected, and we cannot trigger sensory experience through thoughts alone, this would be a satisfying description of synesthesia. In short, synesthesia is a condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway results in reports of another sensory experience happening simulatenously and involuntarily.
While I don’t doubt you’ve seen or heard descriptions of synesthesia before, it’s paramount to look at some defining characteristics so that I may tell you why I believe the phenomenon is ill-described.
Synesthetes may experience written letters in particular colours. That is not to say they see the letters as coloured; they see them in their original colours - but they can attribute a particular colour to particular letters as an additional property.
Another commonly reported form of synesthesia is associating sounds with colours. So, for example, a trumpet may sound orange to a synesthete.
Synesthesia’s Shortcomings #
The mechanism by which synesthesthetic experiences occur, if posited to be neurological misfires and cross-talk, would make the phenomenon a class of related symptoms with very intricate workings specific to each type of synesthesia.
However, a few statistical facts, in my opinion, make this explanation unlikely. For one, the description of synesthesia varies a great deal between individuals in both intensity, awareness of it, and description.
This in itself undermines it being at the sensory level: for if it truly happened before it reached a level of semantic comprehension, it would manifest to people in the same regard as other senses do. And while we don’t know if people experience senses the same, we can – however – compare their experience relative to other sensory stimuli they feel.
The Wikipedia page provides more examples, links, and information on this alternative than I should hope to give here.
Why Shouldn’t It Happen, Anyway? #
For those unfamiliar with cybernetics, it is the study of systems and the control thereof. It conceives of a system as that which has some state, can observe its state, and act accordingly to change it.
This mathematical formulation, when properly exhausted And research in it has been exhaustive: it was wildly popular in the 1960s, particularly among Soviet mathematicians. A lot of great works in the field are, then, available in their native Russian editions; though reading the dense mathematical notation will prove much more difficult than working through the Russian text. leads to a unified theory on dynamic, evolving systems; emergent properties, neural networks, networks, communication theory, etc.
The unique language it provides, in my opinion, is our best bet at describing the complex system of evolutionary mechanics, its outputs; as well as the emergent structure and properties of our own physiology. In short, it is more than capable of (in fact, it was built for) naturally encompassing nature’s own methodology, which itself emerges using the same concepts. Now, is the principle of cybernetics that which is a Platonic idea, having existed ontologically seperately and eternally; or was the intuition for the mathematical field gained from looking at what was already in nature; or did the two converge to the same point accidentally? Seems like a good question to further develop one’s metaphysical understandings.
Looking it at this way, one could argue that having a stronger sense of intuition would be more beneficial (to slow life history strategists, anyways), which would then lead to more success in producing and raising offspring, which would carry on that phenotype.
And even if it should give no such benefit to natural/sexual selection, given the complex neurological system governing our senses and semantic reasoning, the fact things such as synesthesia do happen might point us to a misfire in the control loop of our brains.
Sadly, as I know barely enough about cybernetics, I must concede this to be a fairly weak point, and I cannot argument it further; but I hope it sparks enough wonder in readers so they too may feel what I am getting at.
However, if we consider the gnosiological aspect: how do we receive information, starting at the sensory and moving to the abstract — other than the disagreements of nearly every philosopher with everyone else — we’ll find the following: we’re able to receive raw input through our sensory organs. After that, we’re able to extrapolate that raw data into semantic units of meaning; from which we can, too, further abstract over and find patterns in.
Our best and most basic cognitive ability is pattern recognition, and it happens at all levels of (sub)consciousness, simultaneously, at all times. In this way, blind people are able to sense facial expressions and body language, despite not consciously having any sense of sight. So, the bulk of semantic processing down the entire pipeline, even before hitting the consciousness, gathers and extrapolates a lot of information which is relayed back to the system as a whole in one way or another — this all being selected for and finely tuned by the number-crunching of natural selection.
It’s a very powerful (for lack of better term) argument, since it shows its point to be the necessary effect of a much simpler and pervasive cause, instead of the other-way-round.
Dismissing The Rejection of Intuition #
Modern (or rather post-modern) schools of thought are the champions of reserving judgement; their quest for truth leading them to accepting the lowest common denominator of it. Indeed, it rejects any degree of certain one might ascribe to any one claim. As they put it: since no single interpretation can be put forth as objectively more true than all the others, then all interpretations are in condominium of the truth.
It is this tricky sophistry that, in domain of culture, relativises truth to be a function of race, age, culture, and so on. A nihilist on steroids, the postmodernist looks at his handiwork: a chaotic mesh of uncertanties, its own existence debatable, and convinces himself it is reality.
The intellectual standstill – perhaps better described as a deadlock – resulting from the rejection of the principality of truth, is the eroding means through which yesterday’s common sense: universal statements, and self-evident truths – are proclaimed dubious, at best.
Whereas other thoughts have undermined (or strengthened) the authority which lends common sense statements their truthfulness, postmodernism rejects even the possibility for such an authority to exist. It is then, from this sophistry, that one should doubt his better judgement, much so the judgement of others.
And although I would like to posit this unnatural line of thinking to be, at the very least orcehstrated by, evil; the critical mass that comprises this movement is, as described by professor Dutton, not the willfully malevolent actors I might suggest them to be.
Instead, the cultural popularity of modern science has birthed a culture that
would be described in the West as “democratic”;
difference between the theological doctrinal differences between the newer
western branches of Christianity and the Orthodox Church draws a nice parallel
here and pathologises in part much of western thought.
In western theology, the Holy Spirit comes by the Father and through the Son (ὁ λόγος) – through reason. In Orthodox theology however, the Holy Spirit comes directly from the Father with no mediation by the Son. or rather, a society not quite up to speed with the renunciation of its non-objective, inherited, cultural views would be condemned as “non-democratic”. While most of America’s wars have been fought for profit, money alone isn’t morale enough for the mercenaries fighting the wars. So, the good conscience of helping the needy is invoked to stir up consensus to not only allow the assault, but approach it from a moral high ground: to install democracy. Generally, the word “democracy”, has been stained by the filthy mouths of the bad actors most common to invoke it. Part of that culture is restricting to only that which can be rationally explained, which in and of itself would not be that catastrophic. However, personal opinion is then let to be formed through empirical evidence, which is deferred to experts in the field.
The midwit, as Dutton calls him, is the intelligent fellow, befallen to this trap; he is intelligent enough to operate within the logical and societal frameworks, but either not intelligent enough – or too under spell of the preveiling paradigm to apply his own reasoning as coming a priori from a valid standpoint. Instead, he subjugates any grievances, and swallows that which is truer: the empirical evidence, no matter the absurdity.
While the psychological anatomy of such a person goes beyond the scope of this article, I’ve given the introduction of this character a fairly large exposition to bring closer the archetype to the reader; To be able to reject intuition altogether, one must – by necessity – seperate body from mind and reconstruct the meaning of truth.
Exactly therein lies the problem! Humans are still, very much, beings made of flesh, who were “non-human animals” not too long ago; still subject to the realities of biology and evolution, and it was these same conditions that gave us emotions and morals. Evolutionary conditions still apply in many aspects of our lives today; the free market being one of them – and systems which lend themselves to self-optimisation This notion of emergence is the basis for, among things, agent-based modelling in simulations: a single agent’s statics are modelled, and then a large swathe of agents are let to interact to simulate the outcoming dynamics of such a system. A less general instance of this principle is in computer graphics’ particles, at the forefront of which is UE5’s Niagara particles are perhaps some of the most efficient systems we’ve “invented” to date.
So, everything we’ve developed has been out of necessity to fit the goal of evolution (whatever that goal may be), and so to undermine your inherited foundations is to further yourself from that evolutionary goal. It is precisely these dysgenics that are necessary to espouse a constructivist worldview, on the basis of which I dismiss the rejection of intuition as a source of knowledge.
One should note that my argument is invariant to universal morals or a supernatural creator: even if the moral judgements gained through such methods is only socially advantageous, and otherwise amoral, our common evolutionary background and the teleology of evolution itself serve as the objective grounding upon which such moral judgements lie, and through which they have meaning, although it may not always be objective.
If one should instead believe in universal morals, then any constructivist or scepticist world view is simply unsound a priori, and no further argumentation can be done, or is necessary. And, while I belong myself in this category, it is important to demonstrate some assertions as being universally of value, regardless of philosophical foundation (unless of course, the foundation itself is extraordinary, too).
My Experience With Intuition #
My peculiar form intuition is something I’d developed relatively late in my life. While I can say I was always musical, or had a knack at mathematics; I only became aware of the full extent of that which I consider to be the underlying will causing both much after childhood, though in a period of personal growth.
Practically every sensory, spiritual, inner, or outer experience I can decay to a single common language: acute emotion. For example, taking a bus downtown has associated with it a certain feeling, while walking to there has its own, distinct feeling.
Now, I’m sure most, if not all, people can evoke feelings they associate with the purely empirical. However, where I seem to differ (at least to all the people I’ve discussed this with), is that I can accurately reproduce and catalogue these feelings at will.
So, not only can I “remind” myself of what it would be like taking the bus vs. walking somewhere, I can compare the two as well. The comparison, I should note, is hardly a linear scale; it feels more like gauging distance in -dimensional space – and it’s something I’ve had issue systematising.
In particular, my experience of music changed drastically when I became more prone to this. I started carefully picking out colours, and slowly becoming more poetic in my descriptions of songs; which my friends were quick to recognise. Particular songs have specific feeling and positions in this weird space.
At some point during my life, I decided I wanted to catalogue the music I listened to. It was a fun exercise and probably served as a surrogate journal. After just listing the artists and their albums, I realised that – to someone new to them – the list gave off very little information regarding the content of the albums.
I already had a good idea what I felt about each album. By conjuring up colours, textures, images, scenarios… I could taste what they felt like, compare how far away they are from the album, and settle on what matches.
So, if I could visually chart out a plot of albums against colours – or something like that – I would get a very useful map of music, sorted both by its content in absolute terms (something will sound green and cold to me regardless of any other songs I listen to before it), and in relative terms (you could see what was visually close together).
The issue quickly became figuring out how to plot a colour continuum, and how to do it in 2D; Colour spaces are a pretty well understood and developed fields, and there’s plenty of ways to work with them. However, a two-dimensional piece of paper and no more than four different pens can’t do any of those methods justice. and – after figuring that out – deciding if it really described everything as perfectly as it does in my head? Sometimes “orange”, even if it were a specific shade of orange could be caused by different things. In short, downsampling feelings to colours isn’t a bijective mapping!
Sadly, I realised that being so accurate and informational just wasn’t possible on paper. However, using the idea of using visual distances; and thinking about the endgoal of accomodating newcomers to exploring my musical catalogue, I came up with a pretty unique system that — while unable to tell you what I feel about each album systematically — can tell you where it stands relative to everything else.
The Polar Style-Difficulty Music Chart #
Further thinking about the idea of having stylistically similar data points be visually close together, I came upon the following issue: a radio hit rock song, an AC/DC song, and a Meshuggah song are all relatively stylistically similar; but they are worlds apart in a different metric.
Similarly, a song by Meshuggah and a song by Animals as Leaders aren’t too stylistically similar, but they are similar in the same metric as Meshuggah and AC/DC are apart.
This other metric, I call difficulty. In its essence, it describes how much of an acquired taste is required to fully enjoy a particular work; or, how foreign it would sound to someone not familiar with the music — how difficult it is for them to entirely understand the musical content on their first listen.
So, a numerical description of style and difficulty would describe the contents of an album pretty well. To those unfamiliar with a particular album, they can gauge a guess on what it sounds like based on how far away (and in which direction) it is from other albums they know. Similarly, for a single artist, it can tell you how diverse their musical output has been over their discography.
The remaining issue is then, deciding how to plot these two values. The most obvious pick would be a Cartesian system in , however, this implies that either metric can go on to infinity.
As the number of datapoints will always be finite in any given point in time (although this number might tend towards infinity, it never reaches it), and as there are uncountably many real numbers between zero and one, you could simply normalise each entry’s difficulty to be within .
Analogously, a similar argument could be made for the spectrum of musical styles. So, at the very least, we could limit the style value to be in as well. This means we can compactify all of into a square of metric surface .
However, if we accept that styles can be opposite — rather, that each style has its opposite, and that finding the opposite is closed over – then a periodicity in musical styles arises: Even if you don’t agree with this notion, distance across style in a Cartesian space is linear, whereas it’s in polar coordinates; which helps visually to cluster points.
Proof: For each style value , there exists a value . If two styles and have a distance of , then their opposites have the same distance. Since , and both and are in ; it follows that there exists a unique such that , where is subtraction modulo .
Polar coordinates, specifically the angular argument, has this periodical property musical styles have; so we can map style as angle, and difficulty as radius.
Two stylistic opposites are hard to determine by ear, and it’s still not clear to me that they exist in the manner described above. If you scroll down a bit to see my chart with actual data, you’ll see I’ve put goreshit and greaf as opposites to 2814 and Hallmark ‘87. It’s an entirely subjective judgment (or, at least one I cannot rationalise), but they don’t seem like polar opposites to me. Perhaps, lifting it into another (few) dimension(s) would better help describe any single point more completely.
In this sense, generalising the circle into an -dimensional sphere, each dimension’s angle would correspond to a single characteristic which lies on a continuum and is negatable; while radius would maintain its current meaning. This already sounds suspiciously related to neural networks, and other cybernetic systems; which most likely means it’d be a very complete model; if less intelligible to the average reader.
The Chart #
I’ve written down the values for a few (48) albums and have charted them down onto a circle in this manner below. You can hover your mouse over each point (or tap it if you’re on mobile), and you’ll see the artist, album, and cover in a popup; as well as a helper circle of the same radius, so that you may compare albums of different styles but the same difficulty.
I should note, the graph below is drawn entirely using only CSS; although with a bit of offline preprocessing, too. If you’re interested in how I made it, I’ve also written a post about that.
Without further ado, behold, the chart:
.foundation & Keys for Eclipse
From Distant Ways
Birth of a New Day
A Tribe Called Quest
Low End Theory
Animals as Leaders
Animals as Leaders
Animals as Leaders
The Joy of Motion
Animals as Leaders
The Madness of Many
Installing Symbiotopia 2.0
Color Advance SP
Gerry Mulligan Sextet
semantic compositions on death and its meaning
it’s the least i can do
A T R I U M
Herb Ellis and Freddie Green
Herb Ellis and Remo Palmier
Mushroom Jazz 2
Mild High Club
Going Going Gone
Kind of Blue
World Peace Is None of Your Business
Paradise of Yesterday
Young Narrator In The Breakers
Sunset Hills Hotel
Off Season - North Wing
The Blues Brothers
Miles Davis Quintet
Enchanted Instrumentals and Whispers
One Hundred Mornings
This is just a diverse selection of points I’ve bothered to transcribe from my notebook, which is both more detailed and cluttered. As you can see, there are some dubious placement decisions, but they’re probably the best picks possible.
Conclusion, or a TL;DR #
Intuition doesn’t seem to be a particular sense or abillity, and – by definition – manifests beyond a conscious understanding. It is most likely the byproduct of the many subsystems translating information into its own, natural language; as it bubbles up the consciousness ladder.
As such, it isn’t any one particular thing, but what emerges inductively out the workings of nature and life itself.
Practically, being more aware of the unaware parts of yourself will help you realise more of how it reacts to your surroundings, until you can automatically, and on-the-fly use your intuition to form decisions and opinions, trusting it even without a full rationalisation.