Blink
Malcolm Gladwell
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Introduction
Summary

The Getty Museum of California acquired a sculpture in 1963. The dealer who provided the sculpture claimed that the art was a rare ancient marble — a Greek kouros. But the fact that the statue was in good condition alerted the officials at the Museum to the fact that it could be a fake. To prove the originality of the statue, the dealer produced all legal documentation, showing how he had acquired the statue. In addition, historians found that the sculpture had calcite, which normally takes many years to form; therefore, it was very likely that it was not a fake. The officials proceeded to buy it at ten million dollars in 1986. However, the Getty statue continued to not look right. One historian who saw it for the very first time, immediately claimed that it was fake. Another specialist looked at it for several seconds and told the Board of Trustees at Getty not to purchase it. She claimed to have an intuitive sense that the statue was not right. After a few years, the Museum found that the dealer who sold them the statue was indeed a liar. The documentation he provided to prove the legitimacy of the statue were forgeries. Moreover, the statue was a pastiche of other Greek sculptures. The officials later discovered that creating calcite layers on a statue in just a few years was possible. It took many years for specialists to notice that the art dealer sold them a fake statue, the same decision that historians made in a few seconds. Gladwell informs his audience that the book, Blink is all about span judgment and what usually goes on in the mind — in those few seconds of decision-making.

Next, Gladwell talks about a psychological research study that required the participants to play a complex game of cards. The participants were required to bet their money on the suit and number of blue and red cards. However, they were not informed about the penalties for any failed bet; they were to find out on their own while playing. Slowly, they learned that in order to avoid the penalties, they had to bet on the blue cards, instead of the red ones. The blue ones offered the best payouts. It took all participants nearly eighty bets to figure out that the best strategy was to pick the blue cards. However, the most intriguing part of the study is that participants understood what was going on, even before it became obvious to them. This study measured the participants’ heart and sweat rates, and determined that these participants had instinctively gravitated toward the blue cards after a few betting rounds.

The author postulates that there are essentially two ways of thinking: consciously and unconsciously. In this experiment, participants took nearly eighty rounds of weighing all the information they gathered while betting before they could consciously decide which strategy was the best. The participants also utilized the second way of thinking: rather than carefully weighing the evidence, they made snap judgements based on small amounts of information they had gathered during the experiment.

Analysis

Gladwell starts with a fascinating anecdote about the history of Getty's prized statue, which symbolizes how much data people can gather about things in the world in just a few seconds. The Getty Museum bought the statue because it appeared legitimate and a worthy piece of art from ancient Greece. The dealer supposedly had all the documentation to prove the statue’s legitimacy. In other words, the evidence showing the value of the statue seemed incontrovertible. The author contrasts this evidence with the instinctive hunches of an art historian, mentioning that the statue simply appeared fundamentally fake. Finally, the hunches were proven to be more perceptive and insightful than months of expert-based research. In other words, intuition can sometimes be more powerful than rational evidence.

The author’s second argument on the value of intuition appears more scientific and systematic than the previous. Here, the author presents a psychological study that measured the degree to which instincts guide behavior. Again, this example indicates that intuition is more advantageous than rationality because it is decisive and quick. At the same time, intuition is both a physical and mental phenomenon, where an individual’s vitals (e.g. heart rate and perspiration level) can appear to be informative of their actions.

In this introductory section of the book, Gladwell differentiates between the conscious and rational mind, which is often characterized by methodical thought, logic, as well as weighing evidence. The unconscious human mind is characterized by snap judgements, instinct, as well as impulsivity.

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