The nature of insight

Minds and Machines 5 (4):561-581 (1995)
Abstract
The Greeks had a ready answer for what happens when the mind suddenly finds the answer to a question for which it had been searching: insight was regarded as a gift of the Muses, its origins were divine. It served to highlight the Greeks'' belief that there are some things which are not meant to be scientifically explained. The essence of insight is that it comes from some supernatural source: unpredicted and unfettered. In other words, the origins of insight are unconscious, and hence, unexplainable. Wittgenstein felt that, as long as there continues to be a noun expression like to have a moment of insight which functions in the same way as the expression to have a hunger pang, thereby inducing us to treat moment of insight as the name of an experience, then people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up. To the founders of AI, this argument reeked of obscurantism. The moment of insight, they felt, is indeed a mystery, but it is one that begs to be explained in causal terms. Indeed, the problem of insight served as one of the leading problems in the evolution of AI. Hence anyone interested in the foundations of AI is compelled to examine the manner in which the early pioneers of the field sought to explain the eureka experience. In this paper I will look at some of the key conceptual developments which paved the way for Newell and Simon''s theory of GPS: the fundamental changes in the notion of the unconscious — the emergence of the cognitive unconscious — which took place in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century. In so doing, I hope to clarify what Wittgenstein may have had in mind in his strictures against mechanist attempts to analyse the nature of insight.
Keywords Cognitive unconscious  discovery  insight
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