On Nov 30, 2019, at 20:13, Steven D'Aprano firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
On Sat, Nov 30, 2019 at 05:31:01PM -0800, Andrew Barnert wrote:
On Nov 30, 2019, at 16:15, Steven D'Aprano email@example.com wrote: On Sat, Nov 30, 2019 at 11:54:35AM -0800, Andrew Barnert via Python-ideas wrote:
To an experienced C programmer, both += and ++ are intuitive. But to a novice who’s never programmed, neither one is intuitive.
Can we have a moratorium on the use of the word "intuitive" until people learn to stop misusing it for "things people have learned to expect"?
It’s not “things people have learned to expect”, it’s “things people apprehend without having to think consciously”.
By that definition, reading is "intuitive", so is driving along a route you know well, for experienced pilots so is flying a plane, and for physicists, so is tensor calculus.
Yes. But reading is not intuitive for people who are semi-literate and have to think through each word, and tensor calculus is not intuitive for undergrad physics students. Very little is intuitive to everyone or to no one. Speaking a language is intuitive for almost all adults, but only because we’ve almost all learned one—people who were raised by wolves don’t find language intuitive.
But that doesn’t make the word useless. For one thing, while conceptually anything could be intuitive to a given person, most things are not, so it’s a useful question whether a specific thing actually is. And, more importantly, something can be intuitive to (almost all of) a community: native English speakers, Python programmers, drivers, whatever. (If you’re worried about the “almost” there, that’s no more a problem than the fact that we can say that English is a language even though no two people have the same idiolect, and cats are a species, and so on.) When someone says “that’s not intuitive”, they usually have such a community in mind, and they’re assuming you have the same community in mind.
By that definition, experienced Unix sys admins will consider:
find . -type f -perm 777
to be intuitive.
Probably, yes. And if they do, they’re right. Whether something is intuitive to you is usually available to introspection.
Which is what “intuitive” means.
No it doesn't: lack of conscious thought is a necessary but not sufficient condition.
I think you’re mixing up “intuitive” with some other word. Maybe “innate” or “instinctive”?
It doesn’t matter whether that intuition is pre-wired instinct or conditioning or intellectual learning or some neurotic mistake.
Yes it does matter. That's why I will often respond to assertions that "such and such is intuitive" with "intuitive to who?"
Well, that means you actually understand, and even use, the normal meaning of the word, even though you’re denying it. By your definition, your question wouldn’t make sense. Nothing about particular strings of letters is innate or instinctive or a priori natural or anything like that. It doesn’t make any sense to ask “intuitive to who?” If the meaning of intuitive inherently requires the answer to always be no one. But with the usual meaning, it not only makes sense, it’s exactly the right question.
If it turns out that it’s only intuitive to the person making the proposal (and they hadn’t thought that out), their argument for their proposal fails. If it turns out that it’s intuitive to the vast majority of the Python community and you’re just an oddball for not getting it, your objection fails. Of course usually it’s somewhere in between, but the answer still helps tease out what the actual area for discussion is. (For example, if X is intuitive to most Python web developers, but confusing to a lot of numeric programmers, is it in a library that nobody but web developers are likely to use, or is it a builtin that will affect the numeric programmers too?)
And the reason this is an important question is that it’s a very common mistake to mistake “intuitive to me” or “intuitive to this community that I’m part of” for “intuitive to a much larger community”. (It’s not at all a common mistake to mistake “intuitive to nobody, including myself” for “intuitive to a much larger community”.)
The bottom line is, the way "intuitive" is used on this mailing list just means "I like it" or "I'm used to it". With very, very few exceptions, I cannot take any argument seriously as soon as people start claiming "X is intuitive" or "Y is unintuitive".
What you should do is exactly what you just said you’d do a paragraph above: ask “Intuitive to who?”
The first definition on Wiktionary is “Spontaneous, without requiring conscious thought”.
Not any more it doesn't. What's your point?
Only kidding. I haven't actually gone and changed the definition, although anyone can.
Really? Go try blanking the page, or turning it into nonsense, and see how long it lasts before someone discovers and reverts it. (Don’t actually do this; you’re just wasting time for the volunteers, and making it more likely that any real edits you make in the future will be interpreted somewhat hostilely.)
Now try submitting a devious patch to the open source library you’re using to access WordNet and see how long it takes before someone discovers and reverts it. (Don’t actually do this either. Also don’t put a cat in a box with a cyanide capsule, raise a child for 18 years in a dark room with no human contact, use the entire nation of China to simulate a human brain, …)
Dictionary definitions don't always capture the nuances of the meaning of words. Often they do a really bad job of it. This is one: the critical aspect of *intuition* isn't just that it doesn't require conscious thought, but that it is *in-built*.
No, it really isn’t.
If a mathematician can manipulate multi-dimensional spaces in her mind the same way you can manipulate 3D spaces, does that mean we all have an in-built facility to manipulate 8 dimensions, or that what the mathematician is doing isn’t actually intuitive even if it feels intuitive and leads to intuitive insights? And if playing around with that 8D space leads her to intuit the solution to a problem (but now she has to go back and figure out how to get that same solution deductively so she can prove it), does that mean the solution was built into her mind all along? Or all of our minds? Even Plato didn’t think that. (Freud actually did think that, but he concluded that therefore intuition doesn't make sense and doesn’t exist, which isn’t very helpful.)
This isn’t a flaw in the Wiktionary definition and WordNet’s entry and every other dictionary in the world missing nuances. Read Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Brittanica and they’ll say a lot more about intuition (pretty different things about it, actually), but neither one says intuition is innate. In fact, a lot of Wikipedia’s article is about how different philosophical and religious traditions try to handle the idea of knowledge which is neither innate nor taught nor (consciously) rationally worked out (often by recourse to supernatural explanations). If intuition were inherently innate, there would be no such category and no such mystery to solve.