REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell

“Blink” is a meditation on the capacity of our mind to “thin slice” reality and come to instantaneous conclusions about the intention of others (or the authenticity of a supposed ancient Greek sculpture  — to borrow a central example from the book).  It turns out that we humans do, indeed, size things up in the “blink of an eye”.  It is a central function of our mind, and yet one more operation that appears to occur on a sub-conscious level.  (Frankly, I’m beginning to think that just about all of our mind’s real work takes place at that level — the conscious part that we’re so proud of is usually the last to know!)

So if it is the case that our evolved skill at “mind reading” (the genuine kind, where we have to gauge anothers’ intentions, not the parlor trick of e.s.p.) takes place in the subterranean reaches of our unconscious, then what role does our conscious mind play?  Quite a large one, according to author Malcolm Gladwell.  For just because our mind is quick to judge, that does not mean it is always correct.

The book begins with examples of when “thin slicing” is employed (we will all recognize our own experience in these examples) then proceeds to explain the neuroscience of it before entering into the darker side of when the process fails us (there are some stunning examples from nationally-reported events that the reader will be familiar with).  The book concludes with the role that our conscious mind has in making sure that our “thin slicing” brain is more often right than wrong.  In so doing it gives us a unique (and, I think, useful) description of just what makes some of us “experts” who are able to spot a fake Greek sculpture, say, in just the “blink” of an eye, even after dozens of others have carefully tested the piece and confirmed its authenticity.

This is a highly entertaining and engaging book, filled with information of the kind that feels completely familiar the moment the shock of learning it wears off.  But it is, after all, a book about the way that we think every day of our lives, viewed from a helpful remove by an author well placed to hold up the mirror that shows us what science sees in the way we “blink”.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!

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