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Malcolm Gladwell is a great writer, in that he combines clear writing with emotional feeling, depth of background experience and, unusual for any writer, his own personal creative thinking about his subjects. There are many scientific-style experiments discussed in the book in such a way that you understand them and their significance. For example: what effect do the thoughts you are exposed to before being tested have on your ability to answer academic-style questions? Would thinking about the personal qualities of a professor of a particular subject for a minute give you more ability to answer questions on those subjects than thinking about the qualities of, say, a truck driver? These kinds of experiments have become known as priming experiments in psychology.

Blink is claimed to be one of the most influential books of the last decade. It says so right on the cover, but that is based on Gladwell making other people’s work more accessible to the public. His career wasn’t in doing science himself but in being a science reporter at the Washington Post. In this book, he is doing his own creative thinking, and exploring over the edge into speculation. Here he becomes less evidence-based and more into putting two and two together and getting twenty-two instead of the usual four. This kind of speculation I enjoy, and no doubt the reading public enjoys it too, but the premise of the book that quick decisions are sometimes better than thoughtful ones needs some guidelines.

What are the conditions under which a quick decision is better than a plodding one, where all aspects of a problem are considered, and not just one’s first quick impression? His opening and closing arguments concern artistic decisions, and those are probably more amenable to quick human decisions because they are founded on a totality of an individual’s learning and experience. A counterexample would be for astronomers to make quick blink-like statements from their first photographic views of Pluto last year. That would probably result in lots of backpedaling later. Understanding the whole planetary environment at super-cold temperatures with chemicals very different from those we humans use in our daily life experiences would require a lot of mental readjustments.

With that equivocation said, I did find the book useful in that it makes me more confident to say what I think when I think it. However, I do notice that most people already say what they think when they think it, and that often leaves something to be desired. Something called forethought, and that is the quality that makes human beings into the most formidable species ever.

The thoughtless decisions recommended in Blink revert us to being prehuman animals, unless we’ve developed a well-informed unconscious.