Monday, February 27, 2012


Cognitive Science and Acquired Intelligence

It was a cold day, I remember that vividly. The wind carried the cold in waves and crashed it upon the exposed skin like tiny little needle pricks. The flags flapped themselves into an edge-ripping frenzy and nary a person strolled the sidewalks. The smoke from chimney tops came out in horizontal streaks dissipating into the blue. It was also my first entry into the hallowed halls of the Board of Trustees Meeting of the hospital. After the perfunctory introductions, I was quietly reminded that first year members only listened, this with a broad patronizing smile of “you had better not speak your mind.”

Oh but I did.
“So are we go for the 6th floor renovation?” The chairman asked.
“Yes we have all the certificates and the appropriate financial backing.” The Secretary answered back.
“Lets move to the issues about the patient complaints.”
“Excuse me…” I interrupted.
“A rather stern look fell, across the room sparing 28 other members, on me.
“Yes, Dr. D?”
“How much is the renovation cost please?”
“It is what…” and the chairman looked at the secretary for answers.
“Eleven million dollars.” The secretary answered.
“And if I may ask, what renovations are being done?”
“The new OB-GYN floor doctor, of course. You mean you didn’t know that?”
“No, I didn’t.” I replied and not to be intimidated, asked the next question against the rising tide of disfavor, “So we are putting eleven million dollars for OB-GYN in our hospital? And what demographics do we have to prove the need. From my perspective the average age of the community in the region is 64 years and the average age of the admitted patient is 70 years. Both cannot replicate the germ cell anymore. So why the expense?”
“We did a thorough analysis Dr. D and the experts in the field have advised us that this will improve patient influx to help the hospital’s bottom line in as short as two years.”
“Thank you Dr. D for your input.”
The discussion was over.

(To know the ending of this story you can scroll to the bottom now or enjoy the philosophical debate about intuition and rationalization - Your choice.)

Of Computers and Brains:
Japan's K-Computer

You know for all the computing power of the fastest computing machines that exist including Japan’s K-Computer, which currently has the computational rate of 10.51 PFLOPS (petta floating points per second). And that is fast. Computing with all its power still lacks the intuitive sense, that ephemeral sense, that comes from the many sensory stimuli existing in nature that are received subconsciously, processed in the human brain, and yet never brought up to the conscious level until need arises. Even though Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in 1997, it took the computer giant IBM to harness the power of 2 million chess moves per second of evaluation to Kasparov’s 3 per second to beat him 3-1/2 to 2-1/2 score. This was, raw computational power of many-fold over plain genius intuitive power. Imagine the human mind!
Gary Kasparov
Of Newton and Leibniz:

Historically speaking, as Newton’s mechanistic order slowly came into view through his Laws of Gravity in the 1600s, the world changed. The mechanics of the industrial world was off and running. Close at hand was the little known but equally important although not as taciturn as Newton and not as egocentric in his disposition, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Leibniz was more rooted to a philosophical bent. He arrived at the theory of Monadology where “Monads” were all interconnected and thus everything was attached albeit tenuously to everything else. His counter culture of thought was relegated to the heap of obscurity for two hundred years. His intuitive incline towards the cathedrals of theology was the primary focus of universality in his thinking; that all things are inter-connected.

Video: Quantum Physics

Of Quantum Mechanics:
That phenomenon was resurrected later in the 20th century when the field of Quantum Mechanics came into being. From Einstein, Heisenberg, Pauli to Neils Bohr and his Copenhagen Interpretation to Paul Dirac and John Von Neumann the philosophical masters of physics and mathematics, each labored to theorize and then find proof for the Quantum Theory. What changed and brought forth more flood of thought was the Quantum Entanglement sponsored by EPR paradox (Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen) and later confirmed through experiments.

Video: Quantum Entanglement

Of Quantum Entanglements:

The EPR paradox states: Quantum entanglement is a form of quantum superposition. When a measurement is made and it causes one member of such a pair to take on a definite value (e.g., clockwise spin), the other member of this entangled pair will take on the opposing value at any subsequent time. So Leibniz’s interconnected Monadology espoused via intuition, was based loosely on some theoretical principles without so much as minor proof, and yet came full circle into a full blown, little understood, field of today’s Quantum Dynamics with today's growing “proofiness.”

Of Atoms:

So what is this interconnectedness, you ask? Well I guess besides the Neutrons and Protons, those empty bodies of emerging and dissolving energies the former carry no charge while the latter carry a positive charge and reside in the nucleus of the atom and are surrounded by this nebulous plasma of electrons, in different energy-states, that seem to have long and short reaches of connectedness, what is even more interesting are the electrons that orbit around near and far and never have the same Quantum state. This little gem of information is called the “Pauli’s Exclusion Principle,” which states that two similar electrons cannot share the same Quantum State. So you see, two electrons in the same region exist because they carry different spin states, each one knows the opposing electrons state, and so varying distances of these electrons around individual atoms have interconnectedness through the opposing spins. Fascinating don’t you think? The Yin and Yang of togetherness.

Of Leonardo DaVinci's intuition:

By now you maybe thinking, well where is this taking us, and you are not alone. I am thinking my way through this as you, so patience, dear friend. It is that intuition thing that Leibniz had in mind, that once was shuttered up and only later emerged at a different time, when finally our cognitive senses were able to process the information. (Apparently we humans are only able to understand and process data when that time and understanding is upon us and not before, a perfect example would be Leonardo DaVinci and his scrapbook of ingenious ideas. DaVinci’s Ornithopter that gave rise to the helicopter and so on elucidates this concept~that the 1400s concept was finally realized in the 1900s).

Of Interconnectedness:

On the other hand rational exuberance has also claimed the spotlight and still does in the macro world, the apple still falls on the head and creates a headache. The less understood Quantum Mechanics splits a single photon across two slits and gives us a different headache of confusion because of the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, you know the sort that states that the act of observation changes the particle into a wave and vice-versa, so the results are what you wish them to be. Get a grip on that if you can. Brian Cox explains the Pauli Exclusion Principle and the interconnectedness in the universe: 

So even though the scaffolding of the visible universe, based on rational reasoning, obeys the Laws of Gravity set in motion by Newton, underneath in the microscopic world, intuition plays a part in a conceptual exercise of Quantum Mechanics that although little understood has experimental/mathematical proof of its “certainty.”

Of Intuition and Rationalization: 

The premise, thus being that both Intuition and Rationale are at play in this vast universe of understanding, while the latter is easily understood the former is a nebulous concept in the mind. One doesn’t trump the other but, and here I am going on a limb, maybe complements. This tautological cascading thought has its genesis on a hunch, an intuition. We are exploring that hunch, aren’t we?

So how does that work in humans? Intuition is a “feeling” you know something like, I have a feeling that something is about to happen. Where does that feeling come from? Where is the genesis? Is that just plain fear? Or is it the collective sensory input from the millions of bits of information gathered by our sensory systems and placed quietly in our subconscious for calculation and when completed, it coalesces, the composition is arrived at in that cauldron of bubbling information, and the message is sent to the conscious mind for action.  So should we pay a lot of attention to intuition then? And is this at the expense of rationalization?
Of Gut Feelings:

It turns out most of our instinctual responses are the primary “off the cuff” responses. These responses although appear to be quick, un-thought through, out of the blue remarks they all seem to have a genesis in some rudimentary or collective insight. But here is the problem with this intuitive leap; sometimes it might be based on some false assumptions too. For instance, you want to invest some of your savings in a company and the last record in your mind is a newscast about company-A that was touted to be the next coming of Apple. And somewhere in the recent past you might have discussed that with a friend. Given that data, on the fateful day those thought remnants come flooding down the decision making tree and the quick, response is “my gut tells me…”

Or in another scenario, you might have walked down the aisle at a grocery store and seen some merchandise that you felt would be the next greatest thing for humanity and intrigued, you looked at the box for the name of the company that created it. The moment stuck in your brain and finally overflowed on the day you wanted to part with your money. These decisions although may seem irrational are still based on a modicum of previous experience. They may not have been properly vetted yet but there they are, ripe for the picking. This same principle has caused some companies to end up losing great deals of money on a product that was borne out of hubristic, un-vetted, irrational concepts to begin with and then to prove the decision-makers were on the right track (Ego battling the Super-ego) they spent more capital to market and in the end the entire fortune of the company was lost. It might be the right brain vetting the left brain dictates or vice-versa. But fortunes do run awry from time to time when the hemispheres clash.

So what with this intuition? Is it to be avoided? Is it irrational? Well, no? Intuition is based on a collective experience registered in the mind, remember? The sudden decision called as “intuition” is a result of “suddenness” of action and not the hidden analyzed and thought-through processes. The process as we have come to realize is the slow bubble that happens in the far reaches of the brain collecting and collating information and then through synaptic fiat, the molded concept finds its way into the pre-frontal cortex of the brain and voila a decision is made.

Of To Err is Human:

There is no bias in the intuitive expression. It is naked, dramatic and holistic. Intuition is also not based on emotions. Fear, anger, desire or happiness play no significance in the articulated thought within the conscious mind. Intuition draws from the well of experience and from the spring of underlying subconscious rationalization equally. However the caveat is if more thought is given to the intuitive resources, then explicit and conscious “wishful-thinking” can ruin the advantage of the intuitive thought by using rationalized modeling via limited experiential reserves – a rationalized intuition, so to speak and that can sink the entire enterprise. All your senses say NO! and you commit to a YES only based on a recent dubious experience (The weight of the recency of thought and experience out-weighs the entire reference). Thus the quote, “To err is human.”

Okay, so I am back there in the Netherlands of decision-making. Do we resort to intuition or not? And the ultimate answer still might surprise you.

Of Time, Data, Intuition and Decision:

It appears that when the information is sketchy and arbitrary with instability of thought then intuition plays a larger role in the quick decisions. Such intuitive based decisions under circumstances of unformed, misinformed and uninformed information turn out to last. The constraint of this instability resides in the time scale of data acquisition and the reliability of that data. Or simply put, getting data quickly that is large but sketchy makes the mind use its levers of past experiences and subtle nuances of living into developing the intuitive basis for a decision.

But before we run away with this probability, it is important to know that rational decisions made through analyses also are durable. The difference being that those analysis based decision outcomes occur when the information is verified, the databases are durable and all of that has been accrued and vetted over a longer period of time. Khatri and Alvin state, “ Use of intuitive synthesis was found to be positively related to organizational performance in an unstable environment, but negatively related to it in a stable environment.” In other words when the data and time are limited, go with your intuition and when you have a large volume of verified information go with that.

Video: John Lennon’s Intuition

Of Assumptions and how they arise:

Okay so we have a reasonable assumption of intuition and rationality, or so I think. But peeling the layer of that intuition, one finds that axioms (or assumptions) also arise from a collective of previous experiences or as Barnard states, “consist of the mass of facts, patterns, concepts, techniques, abstractions and generally what we call formal knowledge or beliefs, which are increased on our minds.” If we were to use the finite regress of the circumstances, then it would appear, the scatter of the colors from a prism tracing back to the point of light is the right metaphor, thus the colorful penumbra of experiences glow backwards into a single point of light, as a uniform directive of an assumption forms, a thought is realized and we call it “intuition.” 

Refraction in infinite regress backwards

That assumption, referred to above, becomes a hypothesis and is subsequently challenged by an experiment. Positive or negative proofiness is achieved and a rule or law of concept thereby achieved. QED! 


Intuition and Rationalization are the two faces of the same god, like Janus who looks at the past and the future at the same time and determines from the beginnings and the transitions, the present.

And the Rest of the Story:

Okay, now the story; whether you arrived via a shortcut or through the meanderings of my brain, here is the rest of the story.

Two years after the structure was built, here were the results. The Bed Occupancy Rate for the new floor over two year period was 69% and that was composed of 78% non-paying patients. The ROI was negative (colored in the magenta -way past the red). I realize some might say that the hospital is providing care to those who need it and that is true, yet to take loans and issue bonds to create an edifice that is now saddled with a loss makes for an interesting intellectual exercise in fiscal decision-making (the purpose of this exercise). So this complex act of biased rationalization against the simple act of intuitive questioning tells a huge story of reasoning. Whatever the eventual financial outcome is not the premise of this story, but the thought process behind the action. Oh and lest I forget, my questioning was never entered into the “minutes of the Board meeting.” Oh well, Cest la vie!

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