Intuition, action, and luck (and Harry Potter)

Saturday February 27, 2021

When work is going well, it feels good. It feels playful. Not like following a plan or map, but exploring freely with only the loosest sense of a destination in mind, until you find you've solved your problem. It feels like the luck potion from the Harry Potter world:

“What does it feel like?” whispered Hermione.

Harry did not answer for a moment. Then, slowly but surely, an exhilarating sense of infinite opportunity stole through him; he felt as though he could have done anything, anything at all . . . and getting the memory from Slughorn seemed suddenly not only possible, but positively easy. . . .

He got to his feet, smiling, brimming with confidence.

“Excellent,” he said. “Really excellent. Right . . . I’m going down to Hagrid’s.”


Why he knew that going to Hagrid’s was the right thing to do, he had no idea. It was as though the potion was illuminating a few steps of the path at a time: He could not see the final destination, he could not see where Slughorn came in, but he knew that he was going the right way to get that memory. When he reached the entrance hall he saw that Filch had forgotten to lock the front door. Beaming, Harry threw it open and breathed in the smell of clean air and grass for a moment before walking down the steps into the dusk.

It was when he reached the bottom step that it occurred to him how very pleasant it would be to pass the vegetable patch on his walk to Hagrid’s. It was not strictly on the way, but it seemed clear to Harry that this was a whim on which he should act, so he directed his feet immediately toward the vegetable patch, where he was pleased, but not altogether surprised, to find Professor Slughorn in conversation with Professor Sprout. Harry lurked behind a low stone wall, feeling at peace with the world and listening to their conversation.

It's good to have this sense of "feeling at peace with the world" and trying things even when you don't know for sure, consciously, how they'll help. It's following your intuition in the sense of Pragmatic Thinking and Learning.

It's also doing things because of "how very pleasant" they could be. It's a bias toward action–playful action–and trying things that are worth doing even if they fail.

There aren't any luck potions, but luck favors the prepared mind. This kind of intuition-guided flow state isn't a consistent method, but it's nice when it happens.