The Secret of Intuition

May 28


Abraham Thomas

Abraham Thomas

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14 new insights reveal how intuition controls the mind


1. The dilemma of control. We did not choose to be born. Not only were we pitched into this strange world without our permission,The Secret of Intuition Articles it has also now been confirmed that we lack even sufficient control over our own actions. To all outward appearances, human beings perceive the world, recognize objects and events, direct attention and even control their bodies. Outwardly, we also have a free will. But, in reality, we were scarcely in charge. Science described the activities of a region called the limbic system, buried deep within the brain. Being a more primitive part of the brain, this region was reported to be the seat of emotions.
2. The limbic system controls. Electrical stimulation of neurons in this region caused you to feel anger, fear, or shame. More often than not, the wide range of feelings and emotions, generated by this region, controlled our actions. Did your wishes, or the limbic system finally decide your actions? This was easily verified. Whenever you wished, could you raise your hand high? Sadly, no. While the hand obeyed your wish while sitting alone in a room, it would be frozen in place in, say, a theatre. Fear of public opinion decided the issue. It was the limbic system, which decided that it was not appropriate. It was the same when you first wished to jump off the high diving board. Fear of falling decided “NO!” The limbic system made you rigid. There were so many situations, when emotions ruled, while your wishes waited in the wings.
3. The mind and maths. Scientists reported that such responses of the mind occurred within a bare 20 milliseconds. The nervous system processed all available information and commanded the muscles to be frozen in just that span of time. It was a system, which contained over a hundred billion neurons. They processed the information from input to output in just half a second. How was this information processed? For most scientists, neural interactions were computations. Maths, or logic based. But, while the mind was multi-dimensioned, calculations were limited to “domain specific” problems. Apples could not be added to pears. No formula could compute the loss of a loved one and feel the pain. The mind could deal with diverse dimensions. It could recognize beauty, shame, or affection. It was obvious that the elegance of the mind could not be explained by calculations, or by convoluted reasoning chains. There was a flaw in the maths approach. There was an alternative. Instead of calculating, the nerve cells could be recognizing patterns.
4. Many nerve cells recognize patterns. A vast army of nerve cells recognized signals in the environment. Chemoreceptors in the nose and tongue reported on molecules which provided information on smell and taste. Other receptors were massed together to form sense organs such as the eye and the ear. There were receptors which reported on pressure, touch, pulling and stretching. Every sensation was recognized by specialized mechanisms and converted into nerve impulses. Feelings, those mysterious elements which maddened or enraptured humans, were also patterns of recognized nerve impulses. The fMRI brain scans have reported the firing of feeling impulses in the limbic regions. Patterns of hate and anguish, laughter and disgust. Function specific recognition was the key message for millions of cells.
5. The pattern recognition problem. Could pattern recognition be the basic neural process? Unfortunately, the recognition of patterns was too formidable a task for it to be simulated on computers. The diagnosis of diseases was a typical pattern recognition problem. The obstacle was that many shared symptoms were presented by a multitude of diseases. Pain, or fever were present for many diseases. Each symptom pointed to several diseases. In the customary search, the first selected disease with the first presented symptom could lack the second symptom. So there were back and forth searches, which followed an exponentially expanding trajectory as the database increased in size. That made the process absurdly long drawn – theoretically, even years of search, when searching extensive databases. In the light of such an impregnable problem, science did not evaluate pattern recognition as a practical process for the nervous system.
6. Algorithms and Intuition. As against such difficulties, an unusual new book, The Intuitive Algorithm, explains a process, which could instantly recognize patterns. Algorithms, were automatic procedures, which did most things in computers. They were mechanical tools, like gear boxes. You gained a predicted output for a specific input. Algorithms looked as far removed from intuition as a jack hammer from a baby. Because, intuition was a fabled gift, which enabled Einstein to discover relativity, or Mozart to compose beautiful music. But, the Intuitive Algorithm (IA) was different. It acted more like an adding machine, which could smile. The novel capability of IA opened a new world of possibilities in understanding the mind.
7. Instant pattern recognition. IA was unique. In a feat never achieved by computers before, IA could almost instantly diagnose diseases. IA used elimination to narrow down possibilities to reach the correct answer. In essence, IA did not calculate, but used elimination to recognize patterns. IA acted with the speed of a simple recalculation on a spreadsheet, to recognize a disease, identify a case law or diagnose the problems of a complex machine. It did this holistically and almost instantly, through simple, logical steps. IA proved that holistic, instant, real time pattern recognition was practical. IA provided the first clue to the secret of intuition. The website and the book explain IA in detail.
8. Mind was holistic. Walter Freeman the famous neurobiologist defined the critical difficulty for science in understanding the mind. “The cognitive guys think it's just impossible to keep throwing everything you've got into the computation every time. But, that is exactly what the brain does. Consciousness is about bringing your entire history to bear on your next step, your next breath, your next moment.” The mind was holistic. It evaluated all its knowledge for the next activity. However large its database, the logic of IA could yield instant pattern recognition. Since that logic was robust and practical, intuition could also be such an instant pattern recognition process. Intuition could then power the mind to instantly recognize an infinite variety of objects and events. Each living moment, it could evaluate the context of a dynamic multi-sensory world and its own vast memories. But, how could data be stored for such instant access?
9. Nerve cells have memories. The next clue to intuition pointed to the nerve cell as a potent recognition machine. The insight related to the recently announced discovery that nerve cells used a code for the recognition of smells. A combinatorial code. That discovery was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2004. It was a code, which recognized smells. But, you needed to remember a smell to recognize it. That memory had to be stored and recalled. And, the book, The Intuitive Algorithm, explained how a combinatorial code logically demanded a memory for combinations. Each nerve cell could remember millions of combinations and respond to recognized patterns. That major discovery also implied that the coding could grant a galactic memory to the nervous system. The secret of human memory was a puzzle sought round the world by thousands of scientists. Yet, massive memories could reside so obviously in the combinatorial codes of nerve cells.
10. Object Recognition. But, how could recognition be organized within this vast, enigmatic, neural circuit? Many scientists favoured the view of the mind as a single collective network. Friston suggested the example of interacting waves in a pond. A stone dropped into the pond affected the whole. According to them, complex internal computations created the intelligence. As opposed to this, medical texts reported that the mind had a hierarchy of intelligences, which performed independent tasks. Each intelligence was separate – like the association region that recognized a pair of scissors using the context of its feel. If you injured this region, you could still feel the scissors with your eyes closed, but you would not recognize it as scissors. You still felt the context, but you would not recognize the object. The IA logic could enable a group of nerve cells to evaluate context and recognize. So, intuition could enable nerve cells in association regions to recognize objects. Medical research reported many such recognition regions.
11. Event recognition. Instant pattern recognition was possible. The mind could be a pattern recognition system, which recognized objects and triggered motor outputs. Beyond mere object recognition, the mind could also recognize events. As against static objects, events were dynamic. There were reported cyclic timing networks in the nervous system, which could use IA to recognize events. Just the way a bank computer recognized a fraudulent activity. An event could be a simple verb, such as “walk,” or a complex idea, say, the achievement of democracy. The massive memories in nerve cells could enable them to recognize intricate events, like war, or a mathematical theory. Thought was the recognition of events. Recognition of the dynamic present from the context of complex remembered patterns. The concept has also been explained in The Intuitive Algorithm.
12. The mind – seamless pattern recognition. The the mind was a recognition machine, which instantly recognized the context of its ever changing environment. The system triggered feelings when particular classes of events were recognized. The process was achieved by inherited nerve cell memories accumulated across millions of years. When the mind recognized events, it triggered anger, or fear. And feelings triggered actions. IA could enable a feeling to move a muscle. Actions were sequences of muscle movements. A drive. Drive sequences could be remembered by nerve cells. Feel anger and pull the trigger. A single feeling could trigger a drive. That was how we were driven. So the circuit closed. Half a second for a 100 billion nerve cells to use context to eliminate irrelevance and deliver motor output. The time between the shadow and the scream. So, from input to output, the mind was a seamless pattern recognition machine.
13. Consciousness. Machines were perceived to be clanking mechanical things. If intuition was a pattern recognition algorithm, the mind could be one such machine. But, the reader could protest that we were different. After all, we could see, recognize and feel. We had a free will. But, pattern recognition could explain that too. Science reported that there was a region, which received sensory perceptions, recalled memories, and recognition images from all regions. This region was also known to be able to direct attention. They called these the prefrontal regions, the seat of consciousness. We identified ourselves with that region. The final seat of wisdom, which willed. This was the seat of a superior intelligence. Unfortunately, in spite of an exercise of will, reality persisted. Will, or a more powerful emotion decided. It was the primitive limbic system, which made the final decision. Emotions needed to be stilled so that consciousness could be free to arrive at calm actions. Thus, stilling emotions became the prime objective of sages, across millenniums.
14. Religion and mysticism. The final insight showed the limitations of intuition. This incredibly powerful recognition machine could creatively connect to memories of millions of years of history and even, the divine. Intuition was an elimination algorithm. It was a subconscious process. Creative and mystic inputs were timid and ethereal. Faith and expectation encouraged them, while doubt, or suspicion eliminated them. Inevitably, such a relentless elimination process often set scientific minds at loggerheads with religion and mystic insights. Because science was, by its very analytic nature, suspicious. So, without access to the whole, the wisdom of science was limited.
These ideas, and more, have been suggested in The Intuitive Algorithm, an unusual new book. These conclusions are yet to be accepted by science. It goes against millions of pages of their favourite theories. But the book has a powerful logic, which will ultimately prevail. In the meanwhile, open minds around the world could benefit from its insights.