Wednesday, March 13, 2019

27th Class: Insight, Instinct and Intuition

With our last class, we spoke about the stifling effects of attaining competency as a DM.  From here, we will begin speaking about how to transcend competency and obtain proficiency, as we defined earlier in the course.  Dreyfuss wrote of proficiency,
"As the competent performer becomes more and more emotionally involved in the task, it becomes increasingly difficult for him or her to draw back and adopt the detached, rule-following stance of the beginner."

Take note how this contrivene's the principles underlying the typical competent DM, who decides they've determined all the tenets and comprehension needed to participate perfectly well.  They've ceased investing themselves in any further understanding of the game.  They have decided they understand the game "enough."

And strangely, despite all we've said about this course thus far, that attitude is an objective point of view.  The remorselessly competent DM is one who holds the RPG at arm's reach ... whereas Dreyfuss's definition clearly defines proficiency as a subjective approach, one that is "emotional."

What goes on here?

To understand that, we will need to examine three often confused concepts: insight, instinct and intuition, in order to understand how we move past what we are "taught" and towards the manner in which we "comprehend."

Insight is a common occurrence for most people, though the term has fallen out of fashion.  It is an understanding of something that evaded understanding up until the moment of insight.  We are staring at a math problem, puzzling out how it is resolved, and suddenly we see it.  We are struggling with the reasons our biscuit recipe has been letting us down, when we realize the type of bowl, the water out of the tap or some other condition has changed.  We see the effect; suddenly, we understand the cause.  Insight has been described as an epiphany, or a eureka moment.

Instinct is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular behaviour.  The imprinting of a child on its mother, or the compulsion that one sex might have for another, would fall under instinct.  Since reflexes and self-preservation are clearly part of a human's instinctual make-up, we tend to define all sorts of things as "instinct," that are more correctly identified as "insight."  I might say, "I heard a scream overhead and I dived for cover instinctively," but the truth is I recognized the scream as a bomb falling and knew what to do.  In that moment, however, since fear tends to corrupt clear, rational thought, it seems more instinctive than insightful.

Intuition is less clear still.  Wikipedia defines it as the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence or conscious reasoning ... and yet in Wikipedia defines "intuition" as a sort of "insight," though clearly insight is a form of conscious reasoning.  At the same time, we run into the problem of separating "intuition" from "instinct," in that if it isn't conscious, how can we know for certain that the knowledge hasn't derived from the same pre-programming as imprinting?

These discrepancies have been noted for some time and we're not going to solve them here.  Our concern is to re-examine our definition of subjective knowledge in the light of these ideas.  Again, earlier in the course, we compared subjectivity with objectivity.  Let's briefly review this.

We described a subjective judgement as a belief in something, and we describe that belief as something that could not be proven by demonstrable facts.  We said that if it could be proven by facts, that it was an objective judgement.  A subjective DM, we said, would be one who would define everything by virtue of their firm, unquestioned beliefs ~ and that if they continued to be subjective in their approach to RPGs, as they approached competency, they would rigidly close down every option of play in conflict with those beliefs.

If this is true (and we should certainly question that!), then how do we reconcile this rigidity with Dreyfuss's apparent argument that subjectivity breeds proficiency?

There is more than one sort of belief.  The sort described in the 7th Class could be alternatively described as "prejudice," whereas many beliefs are open-ended and even alterable with the accumulation of objective data.  The statement that, "I know that I know nothing," is defineable as a belief that all objective data is potentially subjective.  Therefore, we can easily make room for a DM that holds subjective beliefs and makes subjective judgements as someone whose game would not become rigid over time.

Compare with this Dreyfuss' choice of words in the quote above: "emotionally involved."  There are all sorts of ways to be emotionally involved.  Dreyfuss clearly doesn't mean a performer who emotionally despises the task, or fears the task, or mocks the task; such a performer would never progress in their understanding.  It is clear that we are discussing positive emotions here: love, passion, fascination, obsession ... if there's still room for some of us to consider obsession positive.  I am frankly obsessed with numerous things, which should come as a surprise to no one.

So likewise, we are speaking of a positive, adaptable subjectivity:  one that allows the participant to look past the flat mechanics of the game and obtain insight from the apparent cacophony of rules and characteristics of the game; one that encourages the participant who is emotionally in love with the game to instinctively immerse themselves deeper and deeper into the game's structure, behaviour and function, moving past the game's superficial aspects; and one that encourages open-minded participants to obtain knowledge through intuition about aspects of the game that aren't written down in books, that aren't available from scholars, that are not imagined in Horatio's philosophy.

Through the next three classes, we will be discussing three "insolvable" problems associated with role-playing games, most notably in Dungeons & Dragons.  These are problems that every DM is forced to tackle once pursued by the notion that what we have, or what we have been given, simply isn't, "good enough."

How do we verbally, personally and effectively present the game so that players are impressed and interested?

How do we invent a narrative that possesses sufficient nuance, story, action and interest for our players?

How do we create a world that is believable and interesting enough that our players will care about it?

There are no universal answers for these questions ~ yet we cannot in good conscience ignore their presence in trying to understand how role-playing games work.

Until next time.

Oh, and if it isn't fully understood, you may bet that someone will use it to sell you something:


JB said...

Jeez. I just now got around to reading this class. I am currently working on some of these "insolvable problems" myself, so I'm pretty happy these are the subjects you intend to tackle next.

Ozymandias said...

I need to go back to the "practical application" series I started . . . but man, I haven't worked my brain this hard since college.

Thank you.

Drain said...

These three questions lie at the heart of pretty much everything, usually well beyond the pale of "varying mileage", as set per your recent polemic.