Thin Slicing Essay

Submitted By jansen83
Words: 2767
Pages: 12

Thin Slicing; It Works Until It Doesn’t

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell introduces us to a concept which he named thin slicing. Put simply, it is a theory that human beings have evolved a subconscious portion of the brain that allows us to compact the amount of time our conscious reasoning requires to make decisions or come to conclusions. He surmises that this can apply to everything we do. This might explain why, in his example, we can react quickly and almost instinctively when a speeding truck is bearing down on us. In Blink he uses dozens of vignettes to illustrate examples ranging from the most basic, such as our seemingly instinctive reaction to the speeding truck, to painstakingly analyzed and scientifically researched neurological experiments that examine the human brains ability to come to conclusions in the blink of an eye. The weak point in Mr. Gladwell’s theory is that time and time again he gives us examples of how snap judgments are often, dare I say most often wrong and that it takes years and years of experience to be able to use this “intuition” effectively. With that being said, in this paper we will examine if thin slicing is truly a profound idea and how and when it becomes something we can use in our day to day lives or profession. While it is generally ill-advised to disagree with an author who spent years of his life researching a topic and writing hundreds of pages backing up his theories with experts who have done even more extensive research. But the author sets about explaining that thin slicing is a real thing and then spends the rest of the book explaining how it almost never leads to anything good! An example of this is in his first vignette. An ancient Greek statue’s authenticity is in doubt after 9 months of research seemed to prove that it was indeed real, and therefore worth millions of dollars. When it was shown to several people who had spent their lives digging statues out of the ground, it didn’t look right. Gladwell believes that this “gut instinct” they had was probably right, and thus, despite all the supposed evidence, these expert archeologists and art historians had managed to come to what later proved to be a correct conclusion in the blink of an eye. Here is where I believe the author is on to something. But is that “something” necessarily profound? When you’ve spent a lifetime examining and emerging yourself into a certain topic to the point where you obsess over it, dream about it, and think about it for most of your waking hours, it can seem to outsiders as though you have a sixth sense. What we have here is the accumulation of so much knowledge in a certain subject that the brain is beginning to deal with that particular subject on a subconscious level without using up parts of the brain used for cognitive reasoning. Examples of this don’t have to be complex but they absolutely can be. To illustrate an example of the less complex form of this, a boy is learning to ride a bike for the very first time. Everything has to be thought about and considered, even physically manipulated, and the result is disastrous for a number of hours or days. The handlebars are jammed left and right, forward and aft. The pedals are forward and backwards, slamming the breaks for now reason. The kid will fall left then fall right. Even when he manages to get all that together he will most likely gather all these motions together enough to get the bike moving in a relatively straight course that eventually arches its way into the curb or into the ditch on the side of the road in a spectacular crash. It’s only after the brain starts to tuck away some of these thoughts and their related physical movements that the child begins to “get the hang of it”. Where Gladwell is absolutely correct is that we, as humans, “have a story telling problem.” That is, Ted Williams and Andre Agassi, among the best in the world at their respective sports, aren’t able to accurately recount how they are