Author Topic: The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")  (Read 534 times)

23 Daves

  • Break a leg!
    • Left and to the Back
I’m currently reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell, which is essentially about the power of human instinct and how prejudice can often be misinterpreted as instinct.  Like many more populist books of its ilk, it’s neither as academic in its approach or as entertaining as it might be, meaning it falls unsatisfactorily between two stools – but nonetheless, it does flag up a lot of genuinely interesting points about the power of the human subconscious, and the case histories and studies that it gives are well worth reading.

It’s also a worthwhile read in that it’s changed my mind on one thing – I always thought people who said they “used their instinct” before making certain decisions were talking crap.  If someone says something “feels like the right thing to do”, I’m the kind of person who normally wants an explanation as to why, especially if I’m being roped in.  I often find such phrases a bit wishy-washy, a wee bit Geri Halliwell.  However, the book points out that people with a wealth of experience in certain fields have almost downloaded that data into their subconscious to the point where they often can’t justify why.  So an art dealer can often spot a fraud before being able to tell you why it’s a fraud (“It feels wrong”) or some businessmen are able to spot a good deal on gut instinct initially.

So then – do any of you lot consider yourselves to have a good instinct for any particular thing?  I personally believe mine to be fairly rubbish in most areas of my life, which is probably why I need critical verification a lot of the time.  The last time I can genuinely remember getting a gut instinct something was wrong – and being absolutely right about it – was when myself and the other half moved into our last flat in London.  It was a brand new build, with a sparkling new fitted kitchen, new fittings, and relatively cheap.  She was delighted with it, but as soon as I walked in through the door I felt incredibly miserable and knew the entire deal was an absolute mistake (I’d left the house hunting up to her whilst I worked and hadn’t really looked over the place).  That hunch turned out to be correct, as most of the other flats were Jerry built (collapsing ceilings, dodgy plumbing, shoddy roof tile work), there were vermin problems with mice, wasps and cockroaches, and noise pollution issues.  Somehow my subconscious must have picked up on one of these things, as there was no way I could justify my crestfallen face to my partner.  To be quite honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if my brain picked up on the fact that the whole building was on a slight slope (I don’t know this, but nothing would shock me at this stage).

Other than that, the only other occasions I can think of is when I’ve been out with a woman and liked her, but somehow known deep down, beneath all the warmth and friendliness, without being able to justify it, that they probably won’t be interested in seeing me again.  Again, subtle body language clues weren’t really apparent to me at the time, but they must have sunk in somehow, because there are very seldom any instances of this where I’ve been wrong.  It’s not about being insecure, because obviously there are also instances where I’ve been able to pick up on interest.

What about the rest of you?  Do you think you’re in tune, do you think these theories are nonsense, and can you cite any personal instances that might be interesting?

The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2006, 01:37:00 PM »
Great thread idea.
Mostly my instincts are deadened, but there are two situations in which they are very effective :
Spotting a thief - developed after years of working in shops, I can see from someone's face or the way they walk whether they will steal or not.
Knowing if somewhere is safe to walk at night - I like to walk around on my own at night and have been doing so for nearly twenty years. When my instincts decide that somewhere is not safe, it's as if the dials have turned up on my senses.
I agree with the theory you've said from the book. I've known people who make claims of telepathy (ie "Oh, I knew she was trouble, I could sense it), but really they are just picking up on subtle signals that they aren't conciously thinking of.
Can you give us more info from the book 23 Daves so that i don't have to read it?

23 Daves

  • Break a leg!
    • Left and to the Back
The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2006, 01:56:51 PM »
Quote from: "gnatt"
Can you give us more info from the book 23 Daves so that i don't have to read it?


Ha!  erm... later on maybe, when I'm not on lunch and have a bit more time.  I haven't completely finished reading it either, but there are some particularly interesting bits on how prejudice clouds instinct, including links to tests you can take online.

The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2006, 03:18:37 PM »
Haven't read it but it sounds like the kind of book I would enjoy reading.

Occasionally I meet a new person and as soon as I look at them I get a gut feeling that I am going to absolutely hate them. It's very strange when it happens because it's an instant judgement that I make, and yes, they do always turn out to be a twat. Is that because I somehow knew they were, just from looking, or after my initial impression, did I start giving off "I think you're a twat" vibes which made them act in a certain way towards me?

Just been reading the reviews on Amazon . Some polarised opinions on there. I wonder if it's because people don't like being told that they do make snap decisions? Most of us, I think, would prefer to think that we are fair and balanced and weigh everything up before making decisions.

The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2006, 05:02:18 PM »
I'm reading a great book at the moment - "One Minute Nonsense" by Anthony deMello. I'm sure I started a thread about him here once, I might have to revive it. Anyway you ask if the theory is just nonsense and it made me think of this quote from this book:

Quote
"The man talks nonsense," said a visitor after hearing the Master speak.

Said a disciple, "You would talk nonsense too if you were trying to express the Inexpressable".

When the visitor checked this out witht the Master himself, this is the reply he got: "No one is exempt from talking nonsense. The great misfortune is to do it solemnly."


Now, I promise not to turn this into a religious thread, but on gnatt's query about how to spot a thief, there's this other bit...

Quote
the Master told the story of the burgular who found the sign on the door of the safe he was about to blow: "Please do not use dynamite. The safe is not locked. Just turn the knob."

the instant he turned the knob a sand bag fell on him, the premises were flood-lit and sirens woke the entire neighbourhood.

When the Master visited the man in prison he found him bitter: "How am I ever going to trust another human being again?"


Sorry, maybe none of this helps, but it's my fave book today, it is for me what "Blink" is to you, 23Daves.

I think instinct does hit the spot from time to time, I think it's worth listening to gut instincts definitely. Poet's often say that, I think I heard Loenard Cohen say something like that once. That usually the first word he thinks of is better than the synonyms he comes up with afterwards. But yes, it's hard to distinguish this from prejudice.

23 Daves

  • Break a leg!
    • Left and to the Back
The powers of human instinct (and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink")
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2006, 05:48:02 PM »
Quote from: "BagJob"
Occasionally I meet a new person and as soon as I look at them I get a gut feeling that I am going to absolutely hate them. It's very strange when it happens because it's an instant judgement that I make, and yes, they do always turn out to be a twat. Is that because I somehow knew they were, just from looking, or after my initial impression, did I start giving off "I think you're a twat" vibes which made them act in a certain way towards me?


The theory put forward in the book is that it's more likely to be the former than the latter - you, after all, have been on the planet for some time, met a lot of people, and have obviously in that time manage to pick up on body language and mannerisms that are typical of people you're not going to get along with.

On the other hand, if you've been ripped off by three different thin men with beards at some point in your life, then meet another thin man with a beard and take a dislike to him, it could just be learned prejudice, which is another matter altogether.  I think differentiating between the two is supposed to be the key, and the thing that trips people up the most (along with desire).