Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

This is what I wrote about Blink on the Shelfari review site, a few months ago:

‘Interesting book and very readable. It explores the role of intuition in our thinking (the blink being that sudden feeling or understanding; rapid cognition) and how this may contribute to great decision making, but can also lead us astray.

I would have, personally, found the book more useful if there has been some guidance on when to trust the “blink” and how to develop the ability to “blink” more successfully. ‘

Recently, I picked up the book and re-read the final chapter and realise I had missed the point.

Blink ends with a “conclusion” involving a tale about a female trombone player, Abbie Conant. Abbie was chosen for an orchestra on the basis of an audition where she played the trombone behind a screen. As they listened, everyone knew she was the one trombone player they wanted for their orchestra.

Abbie’s problems began when she stepped in front of the screen and the music director realised she was a woman. Since she was a woman, his eyes told him, she could not have the strength to play a ‘masculine’ instrument like the trombone. She was demoted and given less pay than her male colleagues. Although she was picked because of her effect on the ears of the music director, she faced discrimination because of her effect on his eyes.

She took the case to court. And won. Now many orchestras conduct screened auditions and the number of women in orchestras has increased as a direct result.

What was the point I missed?

The first point is: we should encourage and allow the blink moment to happen, by keeping our minds free of prejudices and preconceptions.

The second point is: as we may not know what these prejudices and preconceptions are, we should be prepared to expend some effort creating situations to enable the blink to happen.

Do you believe your perceptions are always logical?

Do you believe you can hear clearly without being distracted by what you actually see ?

I was fascinated by a recent Horizon programme on the BBC that proves you can’t.

Don’t believe me? Try the McGurk effect for yourself.

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