Intuition and Experience – from Thinking Fast and Slow

I’ve been reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” for the 3rd time now… Technically, I am listening to the audio book, and keep picking up new insights.

The most recent insight is related to intuition.  To net out the topic, intuition, Kahneman believes, is actually only familiarity.  A host of heuristics can influence our perception of how familiar something seems, however we the intuitions of people are often not very good, almost always fairing less well than a basic algorithm.  Therefore, we should be wary when we use intuition to guide an important decision.  Having said that, some people do develop intuition for some things, but two criteria must be met:

  1. The subject of the intuition must be “learnable”.  Some things, such as the stock market, politics, or the outcome of a lottery cannot be learned.  We do not get better at picking lottery numbers or deciding which stock to buy, only lucky or unlucky.  Others, such as fighting fires, playing poker or chess, can be learned, at least to some extent.  They contain repeatable, recognizable patterns.
  2. The person exhibiting the intuition needs to have had an opportunity to learn.  The 10,000 hours rule for chess playing is an example.  The other key element is that the person needs feedback related to the decision.  In the context of playing chess or poker or fighting fires, the person receives feedback quickly.  These two factors combine to build familiarity with specific situations, decisions and their outcomes.

Kahneman recommends asking questions about whether an intuitive judgement is a related to a  process and whether the person exhibiting the judgement has the requisite experience to have developed the intuition.

This is an interesting thought in the context of information security.

By the way, if you have not yet read “Thinking Fast and Slow”, I highly recommend it.  The audio version is excellent, too, even though it is nearly 20 hours long.