The mechanism of prodigious genius can be described as the rapid generation of expert intuition in some field by obsessive-compulsive, subconscious recombination of its fundamental principles, which provides the benefits of many years’ worth of mental rehearsal, relentlessly driven by fixation and the “genius addiction” proposed in previous posts. That is, a creative genius who has become fixated on a new field of study as being an impediment to his inarticulate One Problem (his destiny, as described by Charlton) will rapidly develop the instincts of a seasoned veteran in the field in a fashion that is not adequately explained by high IQ or the polymathic transference of shared principles between isomorphic applications in separate fields. I propose this phenomenon is uniquely a function of very high conscientiousness turned inward, having been severed from external concerns by 1) very high psychoticism and 2) the desperate need to find and communicate newer and bigger insights (representing the addiction’s next “hit”). I imagine the focus of this conscientiousness turns more and more inward until it operates at the highest possible efficiency, below the lumen, to produce the insights craved by the addicted brain.
To explain, I’ll refer to some concepts from math education. An ordinary, very high-IQ person will read a concept definition and develop the concept model from this very easily. However, he is not driven to obsessive-compulsive recombination of these definitions to find new concept models. To the extent he does so, it follows the ordinary path of garden-variety creativity. That is, he tries one combination, then another, then goes about his business and returns to the subject the next day. A genius comes at the problem from the bottom up. Rather than reading books full of concept definitions and generating concept models from these, his form of “intelligence” is (for example) to read a single, elementary book and come to an understanding of the rest by mental recombination. So that, when he reads a particularly difficult theorem in an advanced book he doesn’t think “interesting” like the high-caliber mind because he has just that moment been inspired to make the conceptual leap, he thinks “this is an elegant expression of what I was thinking about yesterday” because for him the model already exists in an inarticulate form. Effectively, the obsessive mental rehearsal serves in place of the drilled mechanical calculations necessary to produce true expert intuition, because this is a brain which is addicted to obtaining new expert intuitions and then making them explicit. This mechanical difference explains the difference in the level of creative output between typical high-IQ and genius.
Inarticulate understanding is much more powerful than articulate knowledge, but it typically has a very limited domain. Instinct is only useful for instinctual actions (like how to defend yourself from an attacker) and intuition is limited to areas of expertise where your training and experience are so great that you’ve noticed more patterns subliminally than your conscious mind can recognize and articulate. The canonical example is the 20-year firefighter who senses something and understands it’s time to get everybody out without knowing why exactly.
To dig deeper, Kahneman and Klein worked from a psychological model of recognition-primed decision making. In this description, intuition results from a process of recognizing patterns and similarities to past situations that have either been experienced directly or learned from others. (Of course, not all intuition is about a quick decision made in a collapsing building. Often it arises as a “gut instinct” influencing a more deliberate analytical process. It serves different ends but operates similarly in both cases. In both cases, one of intuition’s strengths is to quickly weight different types of data from different sources into a coherent judgment. “Thinking fast” is about the speed of the thinking, not the tempo of the situation we are in.)
However, this model can only lead to valid intuitions under certain conditions. First, a regular and predictable environment is needed, and second, prolonged practice allows an expert to learn these regularities. Here’s how Kahneman summarizes it:
“Memory also holds the vast repertory of skills we have acquired in a lifetime of practice, which automatically produce adequate solutions to challenges as they arise, from walking around a large stone on the path to averting the incipient outburst of a customer. The acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback about the correctness of thoughts and actions. When these conditions are fulfilled, skill eventually develops, and the intuitive judgments and choices that quickly come to mind will mostly be accurate.” (p. 416)
This means the context matters. In an irregular or unpredictable environment, we should always be skeptical of intuitive judgments (including our own). Firefighters, chess-players, doctors, and even athletes face repeated situations that are fundamentally orderly enough to be predictable and allow the acquisition of skill.
This is discrimination-type intuition, not discernment-type intuition. The accuracy and usefulness of the intuition generated from this process depends mostly on IQ and whether a field is “hard” or “soft”, which is to say the number of explanatory factors necessary to make a reliable prediction. A genius with a high IQ, expert intuition, and very little information would make a poor detective because the work depends much more on familiarity with many accumulated details than Hercule Poirot’s ability to put them together from the comfort of his chair. A genius with a (relatively) low IQ working in math will spend all of his time reinventing low-level concepts and restating them in idiosyncratic forms because he lacks the IQ necessary to absorb the sheer breadth of existing fundamentals in the field.
I have surprisingly little of the discrimination type of intuition in juxtaposition with my IQ and discernment, and this asynchronous development is likely a common feature of Asperger’s. However, being a genius has allowed me to overcome this somewhat by rapidly generating field-specific expert intuition in the way I described in the first paragraph (through almost purely imaginative recombination), but these rapid acquisitions (e.g. interpretation of movies and architecture) have conspicuously failed to produce a general factor of discriminating intuition.