I’m back! I’ve just read a perspective over at Science that made me think of Blink. I have mentioned Blink before. It’s even linked over in the sidebar. It’s a book I like to think about. Some have denigrated it as anti-intellectualism, but I disagree. In fact, I think the mistake is revealing.
I will explain. The subject of Blink is intuition and unconscious thought. It turns out we have a lot of unconscious processing going on all of the time. The world we ‘see’ is a necessarily greatly filtered. If you had to deal consciously with facts like the number of spokes in every bicycle wheel that passed you or the color of the shoelaces on each stranger’s feet, or the smell of every room you entered, it is doubtful you could stay sane.
Our brains have mechanisms for dealing with these stimuli (‘inconsequential’ sights, sounds and smells). The filter is very effective, but not perfect. That is to say, sometimes it ignores things that are consequential, and other times it flags trivial things as important.
The point of Blink is that we can train these parts of our brain (the parts of which we are not consciously aware) to make them more effective. People do it all of the time. Sports coaches often can read subtle cues about an athlete’s movement that the average person couldn’t notice. And they may not even be able to express consciously exactly what it was that they noticed. But by being ale to see, they can help the athlete refine their skill anyway.
Intellectuals think that this is counter to rational thought. It’s a cop-out, they say, to rely on unconscious parts of your brain. People who see Blink as anti-intellectual have the notion that reasonable, intelligent people don’t have to resort to such mystical clap-trap to solve problems. Thinkers, they suppose, will rely on their conscious rhetoric and careful analysis just like they always have. But this misses the point. It only reveals that these intellectuals see a false division between their rational selves and their more intuitive unconscious faculties.
The truth is that nobody can avoid relying on these parts of their brain. We rely on unconscious parts of our brain whether we like it or not. The part of us that is our ‘self’ is not just the part that is narrating the internal monologue. It is an indefensible claim that the whole of our body including these lower parts of our consciousness is only present to get our higher cognitive faculties to meetings. The unconscious is as much a part of the whole as the conscious.
The part of me that is ‘me’ is more than the narrator of my internal monologue. Buddhists, who (arguably) have made the longest running investigation of consciousness, have known this for a long time. Science is finding it, too: “Studies such as that by Galdi et al. are documenting how the adaptive unconscious works and people’s limited introspective access to it. As these studies become more widely known, people might realize that … their conscious thoughts and feelings are but a small part of the workings of their minds.”