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The Ineffable Intuition of Chicken Sexers

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In the book Incognito by David Eagelman, the author discusses the strange nature of chicken sexing. This is the valuable process of separating female and male chicks as soon as possible, because each sex has different diets and endgames (most males are just destroyed). The mystery is that when you look at the vent in the chick’s rear, some people just know which are female. It is impossible to articulate, so the Japanese figured out how to teach this inarticulable knowledge. The student would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into a bin. The master would then say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on his generally correct observation. After a few weeks, the student’s brain was trained to masterful levels.

This is rather fascinating. I wonder how many things are taught this way, things related to intuitions, usually focused on relationships. I don’t think this would work in stochastic cases like stock picking because even a good stock might have succeeded in spite of itself due to some random luck, making it no more useful to generalize upon than a winning lottery number. A good mentor could really generate a first-order advantage, and perhaps that is relevant to mystery of what generates most of the intergenerational income correlation, because IQ seems only to explain 10 to 25% of it.

We all know a lot more than we can articulate, stuff that can’t be translated by our conscious self, which is why we still can’t generate a robust program to distinguish between a dog and a cat, even though a 4-year old has no problem. Nonetheless, we can train our unconscious thoughts via methods like the chicken sexer, primarily by emulating others who are good.

As Oscar Wilde said, the things worth learning can’t be taught, by which I think he meant taught via some schoolbook. Watching a father deal tactfully with anger, frustration, and persuasion is surely as valuable as learning the times tables. Many people have this emotional intelligence, and it is very beneficial, probably something that isn’t taught via reasoning, rather simply showing.

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