Intuition should be applied at the lowest possible level

by Rafael Harth 1 min read27th Feb 20189 comments


Earlier today I lost a match at Prismata, a turn-based strategy game without RNG. When I analyzed the game, I discovered that changing one particular decision I had made on one turn from A to B caused me to win comfortably. A and B had seemed very close to me at the time, and even after knowing for a fact that B was far superior, it wasn't intuitive why.

Then I listed the main results from A and B, valued those by intuition, and immediately B looked way better.

One can model these problems on a bunch of different levels, where going from level n to n+1 means hiding the details of level n and approximating their results in a cruder way. On level 1, one would compare the two subtrees whose roots are decisions A and B (this should work just like in chess). Level 2 would be looking at exact resource and attack numbers in subsequent turns. Level 3 would be categorizing the main differences of A and B and giving them intuitive values, and level 4 deciding between A and B directly. What my mistake showcases is that, even in a context where I am quite skilled and which has limited complexity, applying intuition at level 4 instead of 3 lead to a catastrophic error.

If you can't go lower, fine. But there are countless cases of people using intuition on a level that's unnecessarily high. Hence if it's worth doing, it's worth doing with made-up numbers. That is just one example of where applying intuition one level further down: "what quantity of damage arises from this" rather than "how bad is it" can make a big difference. On questions of medium importance, briefly asking yourself "is there any point where I apply intuition on a level that's higher than necessary" seems like a worthy exercise.

Meta: I write this in the spirit of valuing obvious advice, and the suspicion that this error is still made fairly often.