Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time. Cheers, Fred.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
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Malcolm Gladwell was a reporter for the Washington Post for 10 years, first as a science writer and then as NY City bureau chief. Since 1996 he’s been a staff writer for The New Yorker. The Blink of this gift book is about conscious or unconscious pattern recognition. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)
The back cover of Blink says “Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to reveal that the difference between good decision making and bad has less to do with how much information we process than with our ability to focus on a few, particular details, Malcolm Gladwell shows how we all can become better decision makers – in our homes, in our offices, and in everyday life.” This is certainly true, but it doesn’t mention what types of information we have previously stored in the “fast response” part of our brain, where our spontaneous emotions and instincts reside, as we shall see.
There are 30 quotes of “amazing acclaim” at the beginning of this book. Here are two that I found worth giving here. Donna Seaman of Booklist says: “Gladwell brilliantly illuminates an aspect of our lives that we utterly rely on yet rarely analyze, namely our ability to make snap decisions or quick judgments. … Enlightening, provocative, and great fun to read.” Mo Gillis of Evergreen Monthly says: “Gladwell’s fascinating parade of colorful anecdotes and scientific research is a great read and good food for thought about thought.” I enjoyed his fascinating parade of colorful anecdotes that illustrate how our snap decisions, based on first impressions, can be our best decision. Although at other times in other contexts or situations, our delayed thinking – cognitive-based and carefully reasoned and digested – can be far better than our snap judgments. His anecdotes and discussions of them provide us with enough food for thought about thought to help enlighten us about these two different ways in which we react (fast or slow), or should react, to specific situations.
The contents of this book can be seen by using the option Click to LOOK INSIDE on the book's Amazon.com website:
Many scientists (myself included) have worked on various ways to improve the general situation that we call ‘pattern recognition’ and Gladwell calls ‘thin-slicing’ (as opposed to slower thick-slicing) of the data or observation in the situation. In the physical sciences we have learned to carefully develop pattern-recognition schemes, often computer based, that focus only on the most important aspects, ignoring those aspects that have no significance for a particular objective. Often we use instruments designed to recognize particular patterns in an event that are of enough interest to “trigger” our equipment to save the event for more detailed study (or send it to a higher level or second-order trigger), while continuing to observe and trigger on each forthcoming event in our experiment. I mention these details because I, as a trained student of pattern recognition in physics, have learned that our minds often are called upon to trigger an appropriate response in our lives in situations very different from research in physics. Thus I deduced early on what Gladwell was developing with his anecdotal stories in this book. But he surprised me with the situations in some of his very interesting and instructional stories.
One aspect delighted me as we (me and fellow grad students) learned to make a preference test match the goal. We did the same experiments that Gladwell discussed – the (infamous) Coke-Pepsi test. And we asked ourselves what significance were two single sips with respect to the enjoyment of a whole bottle. Our result, from back in the mid ‘60’s, matched Malcolm Gladwell’s – what we each preferred when leisurely drinking a whole bottle was unrelated to our blind choice based on two sips. This was a case where the quick blink response was unwise. But quick blink responses are wise if they involve a pattern recognition that we have learned, whether we are aware of our knowledge or not. As he points out, very often we aren’t aware of such knowledge. So if we have no idea of how further thought will help us make a wise decision, our best bet is to go with our snap judgment, assuming that it was based on ‘unknown’ (or unconsciously known) pattern recognition.
I did have a major disappointment when he discussed recognition of emotional states in humans using facial expressions and body language. I was very surprised he thought only using words would be adequate. For it is quite obvious that using words to describe how someone looks is far inferior to using pictures – photos or drawings are obvious choices to show how someone looks in a certain state of emotion. Using only words is as absurd as using words to tell how music sounds or how a portrait looks. This is for me a significant failure – Blink would have been a much better book had he described faces in the appropriate way. As a former science writer Malcolm Gladwell should have known the importance of using figures when they are obviously the appropriate way to communicate. I hope later editions of Blink fix this.