Blink – A Book Review


Initially, I expected something of more depth from this book, but I ended up enjoying the book and the story telling style of Malcolm Gladwell.  He narrated the  Audilbe edition of his book ‘BLINK’. At times he was irksome with his repeated reference to the story of the buying of the Greek kouros by the Getty Museum. The blink referred to by Malcolm is that quick subconscious impression or decision we make about things for which we later find rational reasons to justify. 

Malcolm is not very familiar with recent developments in neuroscience and makes little attempt to drill deeper into the possible dynamics by which Blink might work. The subconscious remains unfathomable. He refers to it as ‘thin slicing’ and the ability of the mind to recognize patterns given the bare minimum of information. 

A better explanation of ‘thin slicing’ is given by the Nobel Prize winner (2011), Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. The fast system is intuitive, and emotional; the slow system is more deliberate, and more logical.

Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives―and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. 

Gladwell on the other hand taps into a deep mystical yearning to be healed by nature, Blink exploits popular new-age beliefs about the power of the subconscious, intuition, even the paranormal. Blink devotes a significant number of pages to the so-called theory of mind reading. While allowing that mind-reading can "sometimes" go wrong, the book enthusiastically celebrates the apparent success of the practice, despite many scientific studies showing that claims of clairvoyance rarely beat the odds of random chance guessing.

Gladwell does acknowledge that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. This is the key to the understanding of ‘thin slicing’, or Blink. The brain receives billions of bits of information and where possible it fits them into patterns, much like the ‘training data’ in machine learning —  the field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed (see previous post) -- the quality of the subconscious brain knowing without knowing. Also there would be the genetic bias as to how your brain works depending on what ‘traits’ you have (see previous post). 

In summary then, Blink is not that mysterious, but Malcolm Gladwell knows how to spin a good yarn