Blinking at the price (30 Oct 2005)

Blink is really a collection of short stories (I've just finished it). They are well weaved together and they are all related - but I'm not sure that they really deserve to be in the same book.

Usually a work like this would be presented as a more old fashioned argument but Blink gets by without any real structure at all. And it's a good read which sells well so I can hardly say that that's a bad idea. Yet, by the end, I was left wondering what exactly I should be taking away from this. I made a list of all the stories, grouped them together and came up with titles for each of the groups:

  • Given a lot of training your subconscious is a great parallel processing system. (Kuros; Red card, blue card; Double fault)
  • The scientific method works. (Gottman; Doctors who get sued; Cook County)
  • Your subconscious can screw you up (IAT; Priming; Warren Harding)
  • Conscious interference will screw up subconscious decisions (Speed dating; Verbal overshadowing; Different jams)
  • Bad surveys give you bad results (New Cola; Aeron chair)
  • People react badly under stress (Police in the Bronx)

So it seems to me that the book is arguing six different things. Or, at least, it would be if it were arguing anything at all.

Most of them are actually pretty interesting results, even if the point is pretty bland (e.g. the second group). I've heard about the system about divorces before, but the doctors getting sued was new to me.

If I were forced to draw it all together I would have to say that it's a pretty damming attack on the notion of The Ration Being. That poor being has been under attack from lots of directions (esp neuroimaging) for years now and it does feel like the ideal of the rational, scientific mind is going the way of Newton's clockwork universe in the face of physiological quantum theory.

(Just to recap, that means that my rational mind is flagging the fact that I don't seem to have a rational basis in believing that I'm rational. The irony is eye-watering)

It's a fun read, but I couldn't help looking at the price on the inside cover and thinking that it's not that good a read.