“Blink”, by Malcolm Gladwell

Via Wikipedia 

“The results from these experiments are, obviously quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as freewill is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.” (Gladwell, 58)

I finally found the time to finish Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and I’m glad I did. It’s an immensely helpful book to read, particularly if you’re the kind of person who has a hard time following their instinct. In essence, Blink shows you where your instincts come from, and it’s not from the sky above. Rather, they come from your subconscious, which operates without your awareness. This is why many times we have “a feeling” that “something’s just not right”, but we fail to give a rational reason for why we feel the way we do. Quite an interesting phenomenon, especially because it appears as though our minds are divided into two parts, that don’t do a good job communicating with one another.

Gladwell tries to show through this book, that sometimes we’re better off following the subconscious, because it is somehow trained to make lightning fast decisions. He doesn’t attempt to give his readers a glimpse of how this process takes place, because the truth is, no one really knows. What he does explain is that it appears that the subconscious has evolved to take into consideration many factors, and come up with an output, which is what gives us a certain feeling.

He also points out, quite justly, that this fast decision making can get us into trouble. Since our conscious (of which we also know very little), makes mistakes all the time, why wouldn’t our subconscious be liable to the same issue?

But let’s turn to the lessons Blink can teach its readers:

1)      Snap Judgments Aren’t All that Bad

As I said in the intro, Blink concentrates on defending the judgements that come from our subconscious. Yes, they’re hidden from our awareness, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Perhaps in our desire to control everything, we have forgotten that some things simply cannot be controlled. But Gladwell reminds us of this fact, and points out just how wonderful snap judgements can actually be.

2)      Tests Aren’t Always the Best Indicator of Knowledge

This issue is highly debated in the education system, for good reasons. Many claim that tests (exams, quizzes, and whatever else they might be called) only show the ability of a student to memorize information, which is quite different from knowing. Plus, there’s always the problem of too much pressure on one particular occasion. Many things can go wrong in one day, and so it is unfair to judge a student’s knowledge on his or her performance on one particular occasion. What if s/he was sick, or stressed that day?

Now, Malcolm Gladwell adds one more worry to the mixture (which, to be fair, is not a new one at all). Mainly, that we seem to be quite easily fooled into thinking we’re less smart than we are. For example, research has suggested that simply reminding girls of the fact that they’re girls causes them to perform worse on math tests than boys do. In this case, the general stereotype that girls are worse at math than boys are comes into play, sabotaging the females’ performance.

3)      The Subconscious Can Lead Us Astray

But so can our conscious. So where exactly is the problem? Well, the thing about our conscious is that we’re aware of its workings. This means that when it go wrong, we can rewind, analyze the process, and understand where we went wrong. With the subconscious, however, we cannot do that. Because the processes are hidden from us, this means that we can’t correct our thinking. Essentially, we could be making the same mistake over and over again without even realizing.

This is not to say that we should not listen to the subconscious at all. However, we do need to pay particular attention to when it goes wrong, and perhaps avoid allowing it to influence us in those circumstances. Prejudices are one great example of when the subconscious should not be listened to.

4)      We’re Remarkably Bad at Knowing What Drives Us

Once again, since the subconscious operates outside of conscious awareness, by definition it means that we are not aware of what factors it takes into calculating a certain outcome. This means that often times, we are extremely bad at trying to understand why we feel the way we feel. We can, of course, try to come up with explanations that fit our behaviours. We’re quite good at that. But having those explanations match the actual reasons for what we did…now that’s a different thing entirely.

5)      Without the “Subconscious”, We’d Be Unable to Make Decisions

Particularly, we’re talking here about emotions, which can easily be classified as part of the subconscious. This seems rather hard to believe at first, especially if you’re someone who thinks of themselves as highly rational. We often think that when we take important decisions, we are logical about them. This may be the case partially. However, emotions are the ones that have the last say in the matter, as they act as the final “push” towards a certain direction.

So, you may be asking yourself “When should I go with what the subconscious tells me to do?”. I’m asking myself the same question, and Blink hasn’t answered it. However, I don’t think that this is blameworthy. As I mentioned earlier, scientists don’t yet understand the conscious, which is quite open to us. Discussing the workings of the subconscious seems quite farfetched in this context.

Regardless, I would still recommend this book if you’re interested in scratching the surface of an amazing topic. It’s easy to follow, and it gives some fascinating insight.

/Larisa

 

The Results Are In: Has Memory Month Improved My Memory?

In the beginning of the memory month challenge, I took three tests to see how my memory was doing at the time. If you want to see my initial results, click here.

I wanted to keep everything as similar to the last time I took the tests as possible. So, I took it on a Saturday, at around the same time, and with the same music playing in the background. Anyway, let’s have a look:

MM

So, I’ve improved by one. In fact, I might not have even improved, because the first time I took the test, I scored an 8, like last time. Then, I did it again, and I got a 9. Then again, and it was still a 9. This isn’t such a great result, but I’m OK with it, because I wasn’t even expecting an improvement in my ability to remember numbers. That’s because I didn’t work very often with them this month.

Thankfully, I only took the remaining two tests once.

On to the next:

Letters

Now this I’m happy about! I improved by 4, which is quite exciting. My score at the beginning of the challenge was below average, and I was disappointed with it. At the time, I guessed that my low score was due to the fact that I don’t have to remember strings of random letters as much as I have to remember strings of random numbers (like in a phone number). However, this month I’ve worked quite a bit with letters, especially in the first week, when acronyms took center stage.

Now, on to the final test:

Words

I’ve improved by five, which is pretty sweet. There isn’t much to say about it other than that 😀

So, a possible stagnation, or a minor improvement when it comes to numbers, and quite significant once when it comes to letters and words. I’ll happily take that result!

 

/Larisa

  • Want to do take the memory tests I took? Click here!

Memory Lessons: 5 Things Memory Month Taught Me

Now that what I termed “Memory Month” is officially over, I wanted to let you guys know what I’ve learnt from it.

Via Wikipedia

1) Memorizing Can Be Fun

…if you do it correctly, that is. I think this was the most surprising thing I learnt this month. If you make memorizing/ remembering things fun, you don’t have to feel miserable every time you have to recall something. Visualizing, and the method of the Memory Palace are the ones that bring in the most creativity in the whole process. As I’ve shown on day 18, memorizing a poem can be nearly effortless if you picture it in your mind. Also, remembering lists doesn’t have to be a pain! Simply employ your Memory Palace, and you’re good to go. It’s like having your agenda imprinted in your mind!

2) Remembering Something, Despite Forgetting It: It’s All about Preparation

As you’ve seen from this month’s journey, I’ve had days when things didn’t go as they were supposed to. We all have those kinds of days. For me, it was mostly the stress that made me be all over the place, but there were also a few weird days where I was feeling a little off. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything about it. As I’ve shown in my day 5, and in my day 13‘s post, a little preparation can go a long way. When you’re feeling good,try your best to prepare for whatever task you have to accomplish in the future. That way, stress and being a little off won’t stop you from being successful and organized.

3)Stress Can Be Good for You

I’ve had quite a few days this month in which I was pretty stressed out. However, I soon realized that stress isn’t all that bad, as long as you can get the hang of it. In fact, it might just help you be more motivated, and even have more energy when you most need it. My post on day 14 was especially demonstrative of the fact that stress is not all bad.

4) Turning Music Off from Time to Time is a Good Idea. But It Depends on What Kind of Music It is

As I’ve discussed at length on the third day of the challenge, sometimes it’s a good idea to turn off the music and enjoy a few moments of silence. If you have thoughts that are running wild in your mind, let them! At some point, they’re going to settle down, and you’re going to be left with a clear mind. This clear mind is going to be a lot better at absorbing new information and at paying attention, which is exactly what you need in order to have a good memory.

That being said, it depends on what type of music we’re talking about. Generally speaking, songs that come with lyrics are big distractions. On the other hand, music with no lyrics, such as classical music, increases attentiveness, and hence, the likelihood of you remembering something.

5) Sometimes We Forget…And That’s OK

In the last post of this challenge, I talked about people who remember nearly everything from their lives, and I pointed out why that’s not as good as it sounds. We all forget things, and sometimes, it happens that we know we’re forgetting something, but we don’t know what. On those frustrating occasions, the best we can do is learn to stay calm, and wait. Eventually, we’re probably going to remember that thing. Even if we don’t, staying calm is better than freaking out.

I’ll try my best to keep all these things in mind, and I believe my experience with remembering things will be a much more pleasant one.

Memory Month Day 28: Remembering Everything

The final day of the Memory Challenge is here. Part of me wants to say “Finally!”, and then proceed to do a victory dance. However, the other part can’t help but feel a little sad that it’s all over.

Via Wikipedia

Being the final day, I wanted to honor it, and speak about something truly extraordinary: the ability to remember everything. Is that possible? In short, yes. If you want a more detailed account, then you’d have to pay close attention at how you define that “everything”.

The condition that refers to the capacity of an extremely detailed autobiographical memory is called Hyperthymesia. It is extremely rare, but it does exist. At first glance, it might be surprising that it’s called a “condition”. I think “superpower” might be closer to how people would normally identify it. They teach us in Psychology classes that memory isn’t like a recording device, registering everything that happens, and then storing it away. Instead, it is an extremely sensitive and selective process, in which some information is kept, and most is discarded. Well, guess what! Hyperthymesia is like being able to record everything, or at least nearly everything.

The problem with this, and the reason why it’s called a “condition”, is that it does come with complications. Sometimes, there are things that are better forgotten than being remembered. Even when we have an ordinary memory, there are still things that stick to out minds, but we wish they’d just fade away. Imagine what it would be like if we could remember every single one of all the mistakes we’ve ever made.

Plus, we’d run into the problem of having a reduced capacity to actually form new thoughts. When out minds are soaked in past events, replaying their memory over and over again, other mental tasks tend to decrease. Well, of course they do! The brain is already pretty amazing at multitasking, but there’s only so much it can do.

At the end of the day, I could make an argument for having Hyperthymesia or I could make one in favor of not having it. The truth is, both of these…”conditions” come with their set of benefits, but also with a set of drawbacks. Now, since I don’t happen to have the greatest memory that ever existed, I’ll stick to outlining a few benefits of not having it. Informative and self-serving…what a great combination!

1)Your brain retains meaningful information and gets rid of the rest

Isn’t this great? It’s like you have your own, personal cleaning lady of the mind. Of course, sometimes, this cleaning lady screws things up, and decides to throw away things that are actually important. For those times, however, there’s benefit number two.

2) You’re in control

If you’ve happened to forget something, don’t fret! You can still put it back where it belongs. Using one of the mnemonic devices I’ve used throughout this month might come in handy!

In the end, it’s all about appreciation. I’ve talked about this in yesterday’s post, but repeating this concept doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. Regardless of how strong your memory is, you can improve it. But even if you couldn’t, there’s still good things about forgetting.

Happy End of February! 🙂

/Larisa

  • Confused about what’s going on? Click here!
  • For the post that started this challenge, click here.
  • For yesterday’s entry, click here.