Becoming an Expert: What Has Intuition Got to Do With It? – Tip #199

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Think about this problem from the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman:

“A baseball bat and a ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much is the cost of the ball?”

What does your gut say the answer is? Now, do some analytical thinking and actually compute for the answer. What is it? Is your first answer (based on intuition) the same as your answer after computation? (Hint: The correct answer is that the ball costs 5 cents and the bat $1.05.

Expert Intuition

Analytic thinking is required for a math problem, but intuition is great for making quick decisions.

According to this article published in the Mind and Machines journal, intuition is “the speed and ease with which experts can recognize the key features of a situation” or “the rapid understanding shown by individuals, typically experts, when they face a problem.”

In Situation Expert, this is what we call Instant Thinking. This is the phase where you have initial thoughts, gut feels, guesses, or preliminary ideas based on your first impressions of a certain situation or instant recollection of memories of similar situations you’ve encountered in the past.

Intuition is one of the key defining traits of an expert. People with expertise in a certain area can easily and quickly come to a conclusion about something they’re familiar with. William Duggan, author of “Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement” calls this “expert intuition.”

Hubert Dreyfus and Herbert Simon agree that intuition has the following aspects:

It is quick.
It is fluid.
It takes a large amount of practice.
Perceptual processes lie at the core of intuition.

The Getty Kouros Statue

I want to emphasize the items above with this story.

In 1983, the Los Angeles’ Getty Museum got hold of a Greek statue known as a kouros. After due diligence – that is, after analysis and inspection – the scientists and lawyers it consulted declared the kouros and its accompanying documents authentic. Based on this finding, the museum paid millions to acquire it.

Before the kouros officially became the museum’s property, curator Evelyn Harrison was among the new set of experts enlisted to re-examine the piece. Harrison and other art historians and Greek sculpture specialists took one look and declared the kouros to be fake.

The authenticity of the kouros is still a mystery to this day. But the point of this story is this: Whereas the scientists and lawyers took their time in painstakingly analyzing and examining data to arrive at a conclusion, art historians spouted their findings in an instant. Their years of experience with art laid the groundwork for their snap judgment (Kahneman’s automatic System 1).

Additionally, although intuition and analytic thinking seem to be contradictory, they aren’t actually on opposite sides. The problem of bias requires a balance between intuition and deliberate thinking (Kahneman’s effortful System 2). Kahneman says,

“Systems 1 and 2 are inseparable. In fact, they need to work together. System 2’s explicit beliefs and deliberate choices are based on System 1’s impressions and feelings. When System 1 encounters an ‘anomaly’ or a ‘surprise’, System 2 takes charge, overriding automatic reactions by having the last say. Together, the two systems operate to minimize effort and maximize performance.”


Joi Ito. The Limits of Explainability. Wired, March 1, 2018
Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2, 2013
Boston College. Trust your gut: Intuitive decision-making based on expertise may deliver better results than analytical approach. Science Daily, December 20, 2012
William Duggan. Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement
Fernand Gobet and Philippe Chassy. Expertise and Intuition: A Tale of Three Theories. Minds and Machines, May 2009
Daniel Terdiman. It Pays to Trust Your Gut. Wired, January 7, 2005
Christopher Knight. Something’s missing from the newly reinstalled antiquities collection at the Getty Villa. Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2018
MIT IDE. Where Humans Meet Machines: Intuition, Expertise and Learning. Medium, May 18, 2018
Tip #150 – Using Intuitive and Deliberate Learning in Story Lessons

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”