Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Special Secret of Intuition

Author: Abraham Thomas

The limbic system

Nerve impulses were known to relay feelings and emotions - whether they be the feel of silk, or the flush of shame. Sensors, or nerve endings reported on feelings from tissues all over the body. These included sharp pain, burning pain, cool or warm temperature, itching, muscle contraction, joint movements, soft touch, mechanical stress, tickling, flushing, hunger and thirst. Electrical excitation of certain parts of the temporal lobe, caused intense fear to be produced in patients. Excitation of other parts caused feelings of isolation, loneliness, disgust, or even pleasure. Out of millions of possible combinations of relayed nerve impulses from the limbic system, the seat of emotions, the mind differentiated the current combination to sense feelings and emotions. The ruling combination made you feel anger, fear, or shame.

The limbic system controls.

More often than not, these feelings and emotions controlled you. Did your wishes, or the limbic system finally decide your actions? This was easily verified by testing, say, your ability to hold up your hand. Of course, the hand obeyed your wish while sitting alone in a room. But, it would be frozen in place in, say, a theatre. Fear of public opinion decided the issue. The limbic system 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. 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.

The holistic character of the mind.

The system, with over a hundred billion neurons, processed the information from input to output in just half a second. All your knowledge was evaluated. Walter Freeman, the famous neurobiologist, defined this amazing ability. "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. How could so much information be processed so quickly?

Combinatorial coding

The mind received kaleidoscopic combinations of millions of sensations. Of these, smells were reported to be recognized through a combinatorial coding process, where nerve cells recognized combinations. If a nerve cell had dendritic inputs, identified as A, B, C and so on to Z, it could then fire, when it received inputs at ABC, or DEF. It recognized those combinations. The cell could identify ABC and not ABD. It would be inhibited for ABD. This recognition process was recently reported by science for olfactory neurons. In the experiment scientists reported that even slight changes in chemical structure activated different combinations of receptors. Thus, octanol smelled like oranges, but the similar compound octanoic acid smelled like sweat. A Nobel Prize acknowledged that discovery in 2004.

Nerve cell memories

Combinatorial codes were extensively used by nature. The four ""letters"" in the genetic code – A, C, G and T – were used in combinations for the creation of a nearly infinite number of genetic sequences. The book, The Intuitive Algorithm, (IA), discusses the deeper implications of this coding discovery. Animals could differentiate between millions of smells. Dogs could quickly sniff a few footprints of a person and determine accurately which way the person was walking. The animal's nose could detect the relative odour strength difference between footprints only a few feet apart, to determine the direction of a trail. Smell was identified through remembered combinations. If a nerve cell had just 26 inputs from A to Z, it could receive millions of possible combinations of inputs. The average neuron had thousands of inputs. For IA, billions of nerve cells, could have galactic memories for combinations. This could enable the mind to recognize even the most subtle patterns in the environment.

A pattern recognition problem.

IA disputed the assumption of most scientists that neural interactions were computations - maths, or logic based. Because, no formula could compute the loss of a loved one and feel the pain. The elegance of the mind could never be explained by computations, or by convoluted reasoning chains. But, pattern recognition could be infinitely subtle. Unfortunately, the recognition of subtle patterns posed formidable problems. The difficulty was an exponential growth of the recognition search path. The problems in the diagnosis of diseases was typical. Normally, many shared symptoms were presented by a multitude of diseases. For example, pain, or fever could be indicated for many diseases. Each symptom pointed to several diseases. When searching for the target disease, the first selected ailment with the first presented symptom could lack the second symptom. So, the back and forth searches expanded exponentially as the database of diseases increased in size. That made the process absurdly long drawn – theoretically, even years of search, for extensive databases. So rapid pattern recognition could never be imagined.

An elimination algorithm.

But, industry strength pattern recognition was feasible. IA introduced an algorithm, which could instantly recognize patterns in extended databases. The key was to evaluate the whole database, using elimination, not selection. Every member of the database was individually coded for elimination in the context of each answer. For disease recognition, if an answer indicated a symptom, IA eliminated all diseases devoid of the symptom. If the symptom was absent, IA eliminated all diseases which always exhibited the symptom. Diseases, which randomly presented the symptom were retained in both cases. Every answer eliminated, narrowing the search to reach diagnosis. When several parallel answers were received, recognition was instant. 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 was instant, holistic, and logical. The website www.intuition.co.in and the book explain IA in detail. Real time pattern recognition was practical. Elimination was the key. Intuition used elimination.

Elimination – inhibition – to recognize.

Elimination was switching off - inhibition. Nerve cells were known to extensively inhibit the activities of other cells to highlight context. With access to millions of sensory inputs, the nervous system instantly inhibited – eliminated trillions of combinations to zero in on the right pattern. The process stoutly used "No" answers. If a patient did not have pain, thousands of possible diseases could be ignored. If a patient could just walk into the surgery, a doctor could overlook a wide range of illnesses. Elimination was the pivotal key, which evaluated vast combinatorial memories. Medical texts reported that the mind had a hierarchy of intelligences, which performed independent tasks. They used intuition. For example, there was an association region, which 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. So, intuition could enable nerve cells in association regions to recognize objects. Medical research reported many such recognition regions.

The mind – seamless pattern recognition.

A pattern recognition algorithm, intuition enabled the finite intelligences in the minds of living things to respond holistically within the 20 millisecond time span. These intelligences acted serially. The first intelligence converted the kaleidoscopic combinations of sensory perceptions from the environment into nerve impulses. The second intelligence recognized these impulses as objects and events. The third intelligence translated the recognized events into feelings. A fourth translated feelings into intelligent drives. A feeling of fear could dictate an escape drive, whose purpose was to achieve safety. That demanded instant translation into responsive actions, varying across species. A deer bounded away. A bird took flight. A fish swam off. While the activities of running, flying and swimming differed, they achieved the same objective of escaping. 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, powered by the key secret of intuition – contextual elimination, from massive acquired and inherited combinatorial memories in nerve cells.

About the author: Abraham Thomas is the author of The Intuitive Algorithm, a book, which suggests that intuition is a pattern recognition algorithm. The ebook version is available at www.intuition.co.in. The book may be purchased only in India. The website, provides a free movie and a walk through to explain the ideas.

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