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The Book Club

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking”

Taken from https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1165384409l/4104.jpg.This is part of my “A Book A Week” endeavour, an extension of The Book Club I started on this blog when I was completing my National Service.

A blink refers to the psychological concept of thin-slicing, through which individuals, using their “adaptive unconscious”, make inferences or snap judgements with minimal information in the matter of microseconds. And Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” lays out three main arguments: First, that “decisions made very quickly” can be as good as those made cautiously and deliberately; second, that individuals must know when to trust and to be wary of these instincts; and third, that “snap judgements and first impressions can be educated and controlled”. But while the arguments are interesting, they are too simplistic, and the evidence used do not seem as rigorous.

It appears that the validity of the first argument, furthermore, is premised upon fulfilment of the second and the third arguments. In other words, the early proposition that “we need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing” is not entirely accurate, and I think the book would have been more convincing if its contents were reversed. That the ability to thin-slice can be educated and controlled, by understanding and manipulating “the environment in which rapid cognition takes place”, and that this process is important because “we have to acknowledge the subtle influences that can alter or undermine or bias the products of our unconscious”.

To support his arguments, Gladwell uses many examples from a wide range of disciplines, yet little effort is made in “Blink” to highlight shortcomings, such as isolated studies without replication, psychological experiments in unnatural or laboratory settings with college students (even the limited perspective of psychology), as well as potential biases and issues of generalisability. Examples drawn from psychologists John Gottman (known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis), Paul Ekman (for studying the relationship between emotions and facial expressions, and vice versa), and Robert Schultz (for autism spectrum disorders and their causes) were the most fascinating, though even so they were not always strung together cohesively. Many missed opportunities, in this vein.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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