Sunday, July 4, 2010


Yesterday I finished the book "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell. It is a provocative best seller on the process of thinking. The idea of thinking without thinking and also issues of how we respond to situations based on the kind of thinking we do were illustrated. We tend to make judgements both with our conscious and unconscious minds. The book illustrates that we can leap to incorrect solutions with both processes but in some situations it is clear that relying on and immediately acting on unconscious thinking is the best remedy. We can sometimes immediately assess a situation with a very thin slice of information and act immediately.

As a tennis player, I have often made a shot without thinking simply based on the ball return and an immediate assessment of the position of my opponent on the court. I didn't analyze, I simply thin sliced the information available and acted. That is not to say that there isn't value in analyzing the game of tennis and also preparing with a lot of practice. The author of "Blink" illustrates this with his own examples.

Another part of the book that intrigued me was the work on reading facial expressions as a means of understanding what a person really is thinking. The face has an extraordinary array of muscles that shape the face to display what is going on in the mind. I think we have all experienced the person who expresses praise with words but by the appearance of the face we know that it is false. Or someone may laugh at our joke, but they are really not amused if you look into their eyes that do not twinkle. While I was in graduate school at Iowa State University in the 1960's a fellow doctoral student had suffered from a disease that had paralyzed the muscles of one side of his face. Apparently this can occur later in life from exposure to chicken pox. This paralysis, was striking in that you had right face with expression and left face with none. To have the emotions illustrated on one side contrasted to the other blank slate was disconcerting and in recalling it now explains some of the discomfort it caused in our initial conversations. Fortunately repeated exposure dulled this reaction. My wife told me today that people who have botox treatment for wrinkles can end up with frozen expressions. What a tragedy!

Clearly the mind is a complex thing. As an academic I have engaged in a lot research that involved conscious analytical thinking and study. However, I do believe that breakthroughs that I achieved on a project almost always came from sudden unconscious flashes of insight from the unconscious mind.

I guess the conclusions I take away from this book are:
1. That I will be more alert to reading the expressions of folks I encounter.
2. I will listen more closely to my intuition arising from flashes of insight.
3. I will keep on synthesizing what I learn from both my conscious and unconscious thinking.

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