Sunday, February 26, 2006

Gladwell gets blog

Malcolm Gladwell has got a new blog, a good time to review his book Blink.

Gladwell takes seriously the first litterary commandment: thou shalt not bore.

Taken as a scholarly thesis Gladwell's book does not score highly, but that is not the point. There are plenty of neuroscientists working on the problem of cognition, very few of them have the skill to explain their research in a form accessible to the ordinary reader and when they do have the skill the certitude with which the theories are presented suggest that they probably should not bother.

Gladwell's central thesis, that subconcious, split second thought can be as valuable, frequently more accurate than higher level concious reasoning is surely accurate at some level. We still know far less about how the mind works than we ought to, but few would dispute that learned skills become automatic, subconcious with practice. We recognise faces instantly, why not recognize the authenticity of a statue as in the opening chapter?

The capacity for learned skill might also bend the other way. Reading the book I had to wonder about Khune's structure of scientific revolutions: if your subconcious is making split second judgments according to the established view it is going to be hard to learn/accept a new conceptual framework which requires the established one to be abandonded. That would explain why the genuinely revolutionary theories tend to be conceived by people in their twenties and thirties. They know enough of the old view to critique it effectively but it is not so ingrained in them that it runs on autopilot.

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