Blinking is a good thing…

We’ve all had times when we knew something before we had a ‘good’ reason to know it.  You have a funny feeling something is about to happen, or known a person was up to no good before they’ve done anything wrong.   In the book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell tells us how this happens, as well as why a snap judgment can be as dependable as a well-considered decision, and sometimes better.

Using everything from art forgeries to Pentagon war games to divorce counseling, Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Outliers) builds a convincing case for the snap judgment.  He uses scientific studies and front-page news stories to demonstrate how the brain is not just getting lucky, but processing information (speed dating)  without needing us to be involved.   And how this system – which is calls the adaptive unconscious – can be derailed by stress and other factors to become a liability (cops shooting innocent bystanders).

This book peaked my interest the first time I heard about it.  Psychology has always fascinated me – I want to know why people do the things they do.  This book discusses how a part of the brain can make decisions based on information that people are not even aware they have acquired.  It was a quick read (I read it on the plane from Anchorage to Portland) and well-written.  Gladwell keeps things interesting with tons of real-life examples to illustrate what could be boring scientific research.  You wouldn’t think that orchestral auditions, secluded Amazon tribes and the O.J. Simpson trial to could all be used to illustrate his point – under the right conditions, the brain can be trusted to do amazing things without our well-reasoned (and sometimes interfering) help.

One of the points I found interesting was the fact that – when pressed to come up with an explanation for why they did a particular thing or knew something they didn’t realize they knew, people would make up a story for why they did it. Gladwell calls it the ‘storytelling problem’ (and we all know people with this problem, don’t we?).  We aren’t comfortable with the fact that we don’t consciously know why we do things, so we come up with an explanation.  And in some cases, if we are pressed to explain what we know, we know a lot less (I know that sounds confusing – but read the book and it’ll all make sense).  Of course, when others then take these explanations and run with them… well, it’s the blind leading the blind (New Coke).  My ex-husband was always pushing for explanations for the crazy things our son would do when he was younger (and even now =).  But I have come to realize – and this book only reinforces my conviction – that sometimes there is no ‘why’ for what we do.  “It seemed like a good idea at the time” covers all manner of ills.  And now I have evidence that says that’s not always a bad thing.

Leave a Reply