In Mind Over Machine, the Dreyfus brothers detailed steps that one has to go through to advance from the level of a novice to an expert in any skill area. This was done to show that calculative reason could only advance to the third Competent level of expertise. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 142)

Skill Level Components Perspective Decision Commitment
Context free None Analytical Detached
Advanced Beginner
Context free and situational None Analytical Detached
Context free and situational Chosen Analytical Detached understanding and deciding. Involved in outcome
Context free and situational Experienced Analytical Involved understanding. Detached deciding
Context free and situational Experienced Intuitive Involved

Stage 1: Novice

During the first stage of the acquisition of a new skill through instruction, the novice learns to recognize various objective facts and features relevant to the skill and acquires rules for determining actions based upon those facts and features. . . . We call such elements "context free," and the rules that are to be applied to these facts regardless of what else is happening "context free rules." The manipulation of unambiguously defined context free elements by precise rules is called "information processing." If you recognize a letter E because it has certain horizontal and vertical lines in a certain relationship, you have done so by information processing. If you recognize it because it matches what you have seen before and learned is an E, you have used holistic template matching, not information processing. . . .

Learning my first computer programming language, I began with the syntax and semantics of Fortran. For instance, there were reserved words like INPUT and OUTPUT. If I wanted to read data, I had to use an INPUT statement, and if I wanted to write results, I had to use an OUTPUT statement. With that knowledge of elements and rules, I could write a simple program to read numbers from a card and print them on an output report. At this point, the elements of the language and rules for using them were context free.

Stage 2: Advanced Beginner

Performance improves to a marginally acceptable level only after the novice has considerable experience in coping with real situations. While that encourages the learner to consider more context free facts and to use more sophisticated rules, it also teaches him a more important lesson involving an enlarged conception of the world of the skill. Through practical experience in concrete situations with meaningful elements, which neither an instructor nor the learner can define in terms of objectively recognizable context free features, the advanced beginner starts to recognize those elements when they are present. How? Thanks to a perceived similarity with prior examples. We call the new elements "situational" to distinguish them from context free elements. Rules for behavior may now refer to both the new situational and the context free components. . . .

Once I learned the rudiments of Fortran, I wrote simple programs to acquire experience with how the language worked in particular situations. I had learned context free rules for how numeric as well as alphabetic data were stored in memory, but I did not have experience handling them. When I solved problems, I learned rules for how to handle both types of data in specific situations.

Stage 3: Competence

With more experience, the number of recognizable context free and situational elements present in a real world circumstance eventually becomes overwhelming. . . . To cope with such problems, people learn, or are taught, to adopt a hierarchical procedure of decision making, By first choosing a plan to organize the situation, and by then examining only the small set of factors that are most important given the chosen plan, a person can both simplify and improve his performance. . . .

Choosing a plan is no simple matter for the competent individual. There is no objective procedure like the novice's context free feature recognition. And while the advanced beginner can get along without recognizing and using a particular situational element until a sufficient number of examples renders identification easy and sure, to perform at the competent level requires choosing an organizing plan. Furthermore, the choice crucially affects behavior in a way that one particular situational element rarely does. . . .

As the problems became more complicated, I analyzed what I needed to accomplish in as much detail as possible so that I could group individual steps into logical program segments. I decided that in one step so and so had to be done, while in another, this or that had to be done. I devised a sequence for working on the program segments. For instance, repeated logic that could be treated as a subroutine was done first since it would be used in more than one place. In this way, I came up with a plan for solving the problem as a series of related but distinct subproblems.

The two highest levels of skill, levels we shall now describe in detail, are characterized by a rapid, fluid, involved kind of behavior that bears no apparent similarity to the slow, detached reasoning of the problem solving process. . . .

Stage 4: Proficiency

Usually the proficient performer will be deeply involved in his task and will be experiencing it from some specific perspective because of recent events. Because of the performer's perspective, certain features of the situation will stand out as salient and others will recede into the background and be ignored. As events modify the salient features, plans, expectations, and even the relative salience of features will gradually change. No detached choice or deliberation occurs. It just happens, apparently because the proficient performer has experienced similar situations in the past. . . .

When we speak of intuition or know how, we are referring to the understanding that effortlessly occurs upon seeing similarities with previous experiences. We shall use "intuition" and "know how" as synonymous, although a dictionary would distinguish them, assigning "intuition" to purely cognitive activities and "know how" to the fluid performance of a bodily skill. . . .

By this stage in the development of my expertise, I had coded many programs using the Fortran language. As soon as I approached a new task, certain features called out for attention given my accumulated experience. From the aspects that caught my eye, I sensed similarities between the present situation and previous programming tasks. I relied less on a conscious plan and more on my feel for an approach to the new coding problem.

Some people believe there is a kind of enlightened guessing based on neither principles nor past experience. That kind of mystical attunement, if it exists at all, is not what we mean by intuition. Intuition or know how, as we understand it, is neither wild guessing nor supernatural inspiration, but the sort of ability we all use all the time as we go about our everyday tasks, an ability that our tradition has acknowledged only in women, usually in interpersonal situations, and has adjudged inferior to masculine rationality.

The proficient performer, while intuitively organizing and understanding his task, will still find himself thinking analytically about what to do. Elements that present themselves as important, thanks to the performer's experience, will be assessed and combined by rule to produce decisions about how best to manipulate the environment. The spell of involvement in the world of the skill will thus be temporarily broken. . . .

The Dreyfus brothers were clear at this point that they did not mean intuition in the large. By this stage in my Fortran language skill, I had made a significant transition to the use of intuition in the small. Recognition of similarities with past situations took place without analysis on my part. But this only went so far before I encountered problem aspects that did not match past experiences. At this point, I would shift into my analytic mode to figure out what I had to do.

Stage 5: Expertise

An expert generally knows what to do based on mature and practiced understanding. When deeply involved in coping with his environment, he does not see problems in some detached way and work at solving them, nor does he worry about the future and devise plans. We usually don't make conscious deliberative decisions when we walk, talk, drive, or carry on most social activities. An expert's skill has become so much a part of him that he need be no more aware of it than he is of his own body. . . .

For many assignments at this advanced stage in my development, the coding solution simply flowed from my engagement in the task. I grokked the gestalt of what was needed and did it without resorting to rules to make action choices. The dictionary defines "grok" as "to understand thoroughly and intuitively." The term was coined by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land. A computer could recognize a pattern, but it could not grok a gestalt!

Now you have an overall view of our five stages of changed perception of the task environment and mode of behavior that accompanies skill acquisition. . . . The evolution from the abstract toward the concrete reverses what one observes in small children dealing with intellectual tasks; they initially understand only concrete examples and gradually learn abstract reasoning. Perhaps it is because of the well known pattern seen in children, and because rule following plays an important, early role in the learning of new skills by adults, that adult understanding and skill are so often misunderstood as abstract and rule guided. . . .

In the earliest stage of learning to code programs, I relied entirely on rote memorization and application of rules. Inexorably the rules gave way to direct perception of what was needed and expressing that in spontaneously writing code.

The moral of the five stage model is: there is more to intelligence than calculative rationality. Although irrational behavior - that is, behavior contrary to logic or reason - should generally be avoided, it does not follow that behaving rationally should be regarded as the ultimate goal. A vast area exists between irrational and rational that might be called arational. The word rational, deriving from the Latin word ratio, meaning to reckon or calculate, has come to be equivalent to calculative thought and so carries with it the connotation of "combining component parts to obtain a whole"; arational behavior, then, refers to action without conscious analytic decomposition and recombination. Competent performance is rational; proficiency is transitional; experts act arationally. . . .

When first introduced to the difference between the rational and intuitive, my business students, especially the more rational, were prejudiced toward the arational intuitives which they considered irrational. They referred to the intuitives as "flakes" meaning their style was insubstantial and could not be counted on. In contrast, the intuitives thought of the rationals as "straights" who were so caught up in technique, they never stopped to smell the roses.

Beyond Rationality

Involvement is essential for the holistic similarity recognition of proficient and expert performers. But if learning is to occur, some part of the mind must remain aloof and detached. A monitoring mind must decide when results justify reinforcement of chosen actions, when events indicate that expectations or decisions should be modified in future similar situations, or when what were seen as similar situations in the past should be differentiated in the future for purposes of expectation or decision. A portion of the mind is thus responsible for the tuning or disaggregation of current memories for more effective guidance of future behavior.

My work exploring the intuitive domain lead me to recognize the observer and the witness. The monitoring mind is the observer. That part of me noticed behavior, made judgments about it and decided how to modify that behavior in the future. However given time, the observer evolved into the witness.

There are rare moments, however, when all monitoring ceases. We are referring to those brief periods of what is sometimes called "flow," when performance, accompanied by a feeling of euphoria, reaches its peak. Athletes describe the phenomenon as playing "out of your head." They are sometimes taught that the "inner game" of their sport is the mental struggle to achieve that state during competition. From our perspective "flow" is not a sixth stage of the mental activities that produce skilled behavior but rather the cessation of the monitoring activity that normally accompanies the higher levels.

The witness simply notices behavior and moves on to notice the next behavior. This non judgmental aspect of my personality was the foundation on which the Meditator in the World rested. These roles of the observer and witness are discussed in the Intuitive Practices section of the Methods part of this site.

Creativity is another phenomenon that we note but do not examine. What we have been describing - the fine tuned response to events based upon the lessons of concrete experience - ignores the truly imaginative act for which there is no detectable historical precedent. Much of what passes for creativity is actually unconventional and unexpected interpretations of past events. Even Einstein, whose discovery of the elementary laws of physics is often held up as the paragon of creative genius, seems to have held a view rather like ours. He claimed neither that his insights followed from logic nor that they went beyond all experience, but rather: "To these elementary laws there leads no logical path, but only intuition, supported by being sympathetically in touch with experience." If so called creative geniuses do more than intuitively see new ways to use past experience, such radical breaks must be extremely rare.

Here at last was intuition in the large - the god given ability that each human possesses to reach beyond their learning and experience into the implicate order to connect with all there is to all there is. From this vantage everyone knows everything they need to know for anything they will ever do.