Malcolm Gladwell

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Rationality vs. Intuition Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Rapid Cognition, “Thin-slicing,” and the Adaptive Unconscious Theme Icon
Rapid Cognition and Prejudice Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Intuition Theme Icon
Free Will Theme Icon
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Rationality vs. Intuition Theme Icon

In order to talk about the psychology of human behavior, Gladwell analyzes the adaptive unconscious: the part of the mind that acts according to instinct and intuition. But, as Gladwell notes, there is a problem—and maybe even a contradiction—in the idea of analyzing intuition. Sometimes, when people try to talk about their snap judgments, they find themselves unable to explain them at all. In other cases, the act of talking about intuition causes people to lose their intuition momentarily. These cases bring up an important question—to what extent is it possible to analyze and explain intuition, and, more generally, to what extent is it possible to control or develop the adaptive unconscious?

In the second half of his book, Gladwell shows how the relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind can be antagonistic. Often, people do things without being able to explain why: in Gladwell’s terminology, people are capable of exercising the adaptive unconscious without being aware that they’re using it. As a result, they can’t explain why they hold certain beliefs or perform certain actions, beyond a “hunch.”

Sometimes, a new problem arises when people are asked to explain their hunches; i.e., when people are forced to rationalize the behavior of the adaptive unconscious—they lose the power of that “hunch” altogether. For example, a psychological study found that subjects are intuitively good at evaluating the tastes of different kinds of jam. But when they’re asked to explain the reasons underlying their preferences, subjects turn into “jam idiots”—they lose their sophisticated tastes and their ability to remember different flavors. Gladwell terms this process—in which the use of the rational mind prevents the unconscious mind from functioning normally—“verbal overshadowing.” The implications of Gladwell’s argument are enormous: there seems to be a limit to how much we can understand our own hunches and snap judgments. While there may, in fact, be rational explanations for why people get hunches and snap judgments, our attempts to understand and explain them can interfere with the snap judgments themselves. Gladwell uses the metaphor of a “locked door” to describe the behavior of the adaptive unconscious—sometimes, it’s best for rapid cognition to remain “behind the door” and beyond rational explanation.

Gladwell believes that humans can teach themselves to improve their snap judgments through practice and experience (for instance, he argues that police officers should be trained in facial recognition). Nevertheless, his points about the locked door of the mind suggest that there is a limit to how greatly people can “tinker” with their own intuitions. Put another way, intuition can be developed and strengthened, but not always explained.

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Rationality vs. Intuition Quotes in Blink

Below you will find the important quotes in Blink related to the theme of Rationality vs. Intuition.
Introduction Quotes

We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

Gottman may seem to be an odd example in a book about the thoughts and decisions that bubble up from our unconscious. There's nothing instinctive about his approach. He's not making snap judgments. He's sitting down with his computer and painstakingly analyzing videotapes, second by second. His work is a classic example of conscious and deliberate thinking. But Gottman, it turns out, can teach us a great deal about a critical part of rapid cognition known as thin-slicing. "Thin-slicing" refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.

Related Characters: John Gottman
Page Number: 22
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Chapter 2 Quotes

We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that - sometimes - we're better off that way.

Page Number: 52
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Everyone in that room had not one mind but two, and all the while their conscious mind was blocked, their unconscious was scanning the room, sifting through possibilities, processing every conceivable clue. And the instant it found the answer, it guided them - silently and surely - to the solution.

Page Number: 71
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Chapter 4 Quotes

This is why, in many ways, the choice of Paul Van Riper to head the opposing Red Team was so inspired, because if Van Riper stood for anything, it was the antithesis of that position. Van Riper didn't believe you could lift the fog of war.

Related Characters: Paul Van Riper
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone first engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice - perfecting their shooting, dribbling, and passing and running plays over and over again - and agrees to play a carefully defined role on the court. This is the critical lesson of improv, too, and it is also a key to understanding the puzzle of Millennium Challenge: spontaneity isn’t random.

Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Suppose I were to ask you to take a pen and paper and write down in as much detail as you can what your person looks like. Describe her face. What color was her hair? What was she wearing? Was she wearing any jewelry? Believe it or not, you will now do a lot worse at picking that face out of a lineup. Chapter 4

Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

What Goldman's algorithm indicates, though, is that the role of those other factors is so small in determining what is happening to the man right now that an accurate diagnosis can be made without them. In fact - and this is a key point in explaining the breakdown of Blue Team that day in the Gulf - that extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the issues. What screws up doctors when they are trying to predict heart attacks is that they take too much information into account.

Page Number: 137
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Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.

Page Number: 141
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Chapter 5 Quotes

By making people think about jam, [the psychological researchers] turned them into jam idiots.

Page Number: 181
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Chapter 6 Quotes

The Diallo shooting, in other words, falls into a kind of gray area, the middle ground between deliberate and accidental.

Related Characters: Amadou Diallo
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

Look at how the officer’s experience and skill allowed him to stretch out that fraction of time, to slow the situation down, to keep gathering information until the last possible moment. He watches the gun come out. He sees the pearly grip. He tracks the direction of the muzzle. He waits for the kid to decide whether to pull the gun up or simply to drop it - and all the while, even as he tracks the progress of the gun, he is also watching the kid's face, to see whether he is dangerous or simply frightened. Is there a more beautiful example of a snap judgment?

Page Number: 241
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Conclusion Quotes

When the screen created a pure Blink moment, a small miracle happened, the kind of small miracle that is always possible when we take charge of the first two seconds: they saw her for who she truly was.

Related Characters: Julie Landsman
Page Number: 254
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