Monday, June 16, 2014

6 reasons why you should not buy "Blink: The power of thinking without thinking."

According to Malcolm Gladwell, Blink is "a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye." The idea for this book is interesting, however, blink fails to become a relevant book, or even an engaging one for six reasons:

No Thesis
The book is a series of anecdotes about unconscious decision-making. That's it, nothing else. At the beginning of the book, Gladwell narrates short stories to prove that we should trust our snap judgments. However, by the middle of it, the anecdotes are used as evidence that unconscious  decisions are not good.  In addition, the book fails to explain how this process works psychologically or neurologically, as well as explaining which decision-making procedure works best, the unconscious or the conscious one, and it does not give strategies of how to improve our decision making. This fails to provide a thesis and direction for the book, and ultimately, it is just random stories trying to prove that there are snap judgments, something that is considered common knowledge.

What is ethos you might ask? Well, this refers to the credibility of the writer. In other words, why should I believe what you are telling me? In this case, who is Malcolm Gladwell and why should we believe what he is saying? Malcolm Gladwell majored in history, however, because of his poor grades he could not enter into graduate school. He then tried to pursue a career in advertising, but he was not accepted into any agency, he finally pursued a career in journalism. This means he has no insight on the process of decision-making from a psychological or neurological point of view. So what would be the result of someone who is writing about something that is not their area of expertise? In this case is "Blink," a collection of stories in which the author tries to fit in with the theme of snap decisions; decisions that do not necessarily prove that snap judgment is good, even when that is the intention of the author. An example of this would be an experiment, in which, a video of a teacher is shown to students. The student had to rate the professor by seeing a two second clip of him/her teaching. The student that saw the video gave the professors almost the same rating as the student that had the teacher for a whole semester. However, several other hypothesis arise, such as this could have meant that people give good attributes to attractive people, and that the students who had the teacher for a semester were biased and saw evidence that supported their first thoughts and dismissed those that contradicted it. Or anyone could make any type of hypothesis, the point is that it should be tested again with the independent variable changed. Did Gladwell thought about this? No. Why? Because he doesn't know how to use the scientific method. Why? Because he is not a psychologist, but rather a journalist.

Old or Common
Well, if Blink is a series of anecdotes they must be interesting or the experiments must be new, right? Nope. They are old or common. The book was published in 2005 and there are experiments in the book that were done in the 1980's. That is more than 20 years and psychology is a field that is constantly evolving in a short time period. In the 1950's behaviorism was the dominant school of thought in the U.S. but 20 years later, it was overshadowed by the cognitive revolution of 1960. In addition, one of the stories Gladwell narrates is where a police officer shot a civilian that was innocent. Is this story interesting enough that it should be included into a book? Maybe, if it was used to explain a psychological process or serve as evidence for a theory. But in blink it is evidence that humans use snap decisions. In my opinion, there are far more interesting stories that could have made a greater impact on the readers.

It has already been stated that Gladwell does not explain the process of unconscious decision-making, how to improve them, when should we choose the snap judgments or the conscious ones, how we developed an unconscious instant judgment or where does decision-making lie in the brain. It is only anecdotes that are written in a way as to fill in pages. The book is more than 250 pages and instead this could have been a magazine article with a few examples that relate to the theme.

Interesting parts are not original; original parts are not interesting
Malcolm Gladwell did not bring anything original to the book, not a new theory, not a new point of view, not new evidence. The best thing about the book are the outdated stories, and he did not do the experiments but rather look them up, the same thing you and I could do. When someone else produced the best thing in your book, it is a sign that you should not publish it or at least write about something else.

No conclusion
With no thesis, what is the conclusion? Well, I do not think Gladwell knows. When he was asked what is Blink about he finished his answer by saying that in Blink he is "trying to understand (not explain) those two seconds" of rapid cognition. Then he continues by asking questions: "What is going inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better? In my opinion, you write a book to explain to your audience, not to understand them yourself. In addition, these questions are the one that he should have answered in the book, instead of asking them to himself.

My conclusion is that Blink is a book with a lot of filler, random anecdotes, no new perspective, evidence or theory, no thesis and no reason to believe him. If you want Blink summarized in one sentence, it would be: Trust you gut except when it is wrong. There, I just saved you time and money.

Feel free to leave a comment, questions, concerns, or suggestions.