Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
In the acknowledgements section to this book, the author states what led him to write this book and it is instructive. Namely, a decision to wear his hear long led him to be viewed as much more threatening figure than he was used to being with a conservative haircut, and that encouraged him to think of the way that people size up situations implicitly and automatically, a fruitful area of study. This book is an enjoyable one to read or listen to (as the author himself reads his book with considerable skill) as the author deals with questions of expertise and sizing up situations . Throughout the book the author comments on different situations that test our ability to “thin-slice” situations and understand them with insight, and points out various ways that these skills can be refined or hindered and some of the complex results that come from studies into the essential elements of understanding different situations, and he presents his findings with a great deal of curiosity that indicates his own interest in the important small moments and in the ways that experts can be differentiated from phonies.
The look at our mind’s unconscious processing takes him into a variety of complex studies. For example, he examines the essential aspects of fights between couples that shows the essential nature of contempt in undermining marital happiness, examines the microexpressions that allow for mindreading, and the way that fatal encounters between people and police officers can be handled through avoiding hyperarousal on the part of armed police officers and allowing situations to be drawn out and therefore cooled down. On a less serious, but still interesting, note, the author explores the strange career of Kenna, whose music is (justly) praised by experts but not one that can be readily grasped by market research due to the subtlety of its layers that can be recognized best in live viewing or by skilled ears as well as the phenomenon of blind sip tasting and how it fails to account for how people actually drink sodas. The author even examines, rather poignantly, the phenomenon of screened auditions that seek to prevent people from hearing music with their eyes and thus confirming their own subtle internal biases. All in all, this is a work that definitely rewards those who have an interest in a wide variety of situations where insight and expertise can result from a proper honing of one’s automatic reasoning abilities.
There are, of course, numerous implications from the insights that Gladwell encounters. For one, he seems to have somewhat mixed motives when it comes to politics. He comments, for example, on the way that prejudices can be indicated in various tests like the IAT, and finds it disconcerting that he as a half-black man himself still struggles with having his mind behave in an entirely color blind way, as he would like to consider himself above racist thinking. In many cases, though, his interest does not appear so much to score political points as to sidestep partisan debates by looking for solutions to the problems that people have in thinking quickly and well, seeking to recognize the limitations of our automatic thinking and account for it and improve it so that our lives can be improved through a quicker recognition of what is truly important and essential when the meaningless clutter has been stripped away. This thoughtful approach appears to be a component of Gladwell’s work as a whole, and I am definitely interested in exploring more of his works. For those who enjoy thinking about thinking, this work repays study and reflection.
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