Good intuitions

Sometimes people have ‘good intuitions’. Which is to say something like, across a range of questions, they tend to be unusually correct for reasons that are hard to explain explicitly.

How do people come to have good intuitions? My first guess is that new intuitions are born from looking at the world, and naturally interpreting it using a bunch of existing intuitions. For instance, suppose I watch people talking for a while, and I have some intuitions about how humans behave, what they want, what their body language means, and how strategic people tend to be. Then I might come to have an intuition for how large a part status plays in human interactions, which I could then go on to use in other cases. If I had had different intuitions about those other things, or watched different people talking, I might have developed a different intuition about the relevance of status.

On this model, when a person has consistently unusually good intuitions, it could be that:

A) Their innate intuition forming machinery is good: perhaps they form hypotheses easily, or they avoid forming hypotheses too easily. Or they absorb others’ useful words into their intuitions easily.

B) They had a small number of particularly useful early intuitions, that tend to produce good further intuitions in the presence of the outside world.

C) They have observed more or higher quality empirical data across the areas where they have superior intuitions.

D) They got lucky, and randomly happen to have a lot of good intuitions instead of bad intuitions.

Which of these plays the biggest part seems important, for:

  • Judging intuitions in hard or unusual areas: If A), then good intuitions are fairly general. So good intuitions about math (testable) suggest good intuitions about how to avoid existential risk (harder to test). This is decreasingly the case as we move down the alphabet.
  • Spreading good intuitions: If B), then it might be possible to distill the small number of core intuitions a person with good intuitions has, and share them with other people.

I expect some of all of A-D play a part (and that I have forgotten more possibilities). But are some of them particularly common in people who have surprisingly good intuitions?

2 responses to “Good intuitions

  1. “On this model, when a person has consistently unusually good intuitions, it could be that…”

    Or it could be that you judge them as having good intuitions because you absorbed similar intuitions to them at an early stage, even though they don’t appear good to others who didn’t.

  2. Romeo Stevens

    Concentrated training in areas with tight feedback loops, and then porting over key insights when navigating via intuition in real world problems with poorer feedback loops. Example: lukeprog’s post on attending scientology and landmark forum seminars.


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