Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

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A few years ago I enjoyed Gladwell’s first offering, Tipping Point. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time standing in bookstores reading selected portions of his third book, Outliers. But although I knew the thesis of Blink and although it has been sitting on my home bookshelf for maybe a year or so, it took me awhile to get around to picking it up and having a go at it. Delay no more. I picked it up yesterday and finished it today. I’m not surprised I read it this quickly. Gladwell is a captivating writer, seeming to be able to mine some of the greatest stories that advance the theory underlying his book.

Blink fits the pattern of his first and third books: Start with a breakthrough idea (at least to the general population) and gather interesting anecdotal evidence to support the idea. The breakthrough insight in Blink is that the instant judgment we make upon first encountering a person, thing, event, or circumstance is far more powerful than we ever imagined.. This can be both good (in judging the authenticity of a piece of art) or bad (in prejudging the guilt of a suspect, based upon race or ethnicity). Gladwell admits this is quite mysterious and difficult, but not impossible, to harness. But he does clearly believe we should, in our decision-making process, factor in our initial “gut” feeling more than most of us probably do.

Reading from a Christian perspective, I tried to compare what Gladwell was suggesting with what Scripture teaches. Initially, my thoughts were that Gladwell’s position and Scripture were in direct opposition. But the more I read the more I realized how his thesis could be applied to the Christian life.

The unconscious part of our brain assimilates information at remarkable speeds, processes that information based upon previous data and experiences, and arrives at a judgment, all within two seconds. Gladwell calls it thinking without thinking. In fact, the subtitle of Blink is “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” Even though this all takes place in the subconscious, it is something that can be trained and harnessed through practice, analysis, and repetition. The initial example in the book is how the Getty museum in California scientifically studied a supposedly ancient piece of art for two years, concluded it was authentic, and paid millions for it. Within months some of the leading experts in that field of art were declaring it a fraud and soon evidence began mounting that it was indeed a fraud. The amazing thing about this was that when initially asked why these experts thought it was a fake, they couldn’t point to any one reason. The common refrain among these experts was that upon first seeing the piece, their immediate gut reaction was that it was inauthentic. Why? Gladwell suggests it is because their brains had filed away so many examples of authentic art over so many years, that their subconscious, in the first two seconds, drew upon those many years of memories of seeing real examples of similar art, that a fake was immediately recognized as a fake without any immediate reasons or proof.

It reminds me of the old, worn-out preacher illustration of how they train bank tellers how to recognize fake money. They handle the real stuff so much that when they see a fake bill they know it. Even though they may not consciously be able to point to physical evidence that it is fake, they just intuitively know it.

Application for the Christian life? I’ve found that the more I fill my mind with God’s Word, and the more I pray for wisdom to apply it, and the more I walk in the Spirit…the more I’m able to sense when something is not right, even though I may not be able to immediately pinpoint it. Some would call it a “check” in their spirit.

False teaching abound in American evangelicalism today. And frequently it is very subtle. In fact, most of the time the false teaching is “supported” by Bible verses. I know some Christians who are especially susceptible to whatever the latest doctrinal fad is that comes along. And like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind, they are tossed by the latest novel idea. I believe that the more they expose themselves to the Word and the more they expose themselves to solid teaching, they will begin to experience this intuitive reaction to false teaching. They may not immediately know why the false teaching they are hearing is wrong. In other words, they may not be able to immediately think of a Bible verse or passage that addresses the topic, but their subconscious will be throwing up a warning flag that will cause them to search further for answers, simply because it didn’t “feel” right. I’ve had this experience dozens of times through the years. I think this is a valid connection with what Gladwell is writing about.

If you’ve never read Gladwell and If you want to get a feel for what Gladwell is like, google these these three words: gladwell, spaghetti, and ted. Watch the 18 minute video. If you like it, you’ll enjoy reading his books. If you don’t, well I’ve saved you some time and perhaps some money. I suspect you will like it.

Heads Up: There is some language in the book and Gladwell assumes evolution as fact a few times.

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