Blink is well-written with a fluent, enjoyable style, and is full of amusing vignettes to catch your interest. By the end, though, I was a little confused as to when it's okay to 'thin-slice', and when the author thinks we shouldn't. Gladwell introduces us to experts who can marshal their knowledge and experience of their subject to make reliable snap judgements in the blink of an eye. Then we meet other experts whose immense knowledge actually becomes clutter that gets in the way of reliable quick decision-making. And then we have anti-experts whose disdain for academic and theoretical knowledge enables them to come out tops in the thin-slicing stakes. And then we have the complete know-nothings of our world who, not surprisingly, guess wrongly about more or less everything.
And so the roundabout turns, all through the book. If you're seeing a pattern in all of it, then you're doing better than me.
I was particularly irritated by a section in chapter six where Gladwell toys with a concept he calls "temporary autism." He is examining the question of why, in extreme life-threatening situations, sometimes 'thin-slicing' works and sometimes it has disastrous consequences. Sometimes a police officer fires a gun at an armed criminal and saves the lives of innocent people; other times they shoot an innocent person and end up in court on a murder charge. In such fight-or-flight situations, an increase in heart-rate sends our bodies into a kind of survival mode -- that is, our nervous systems basically close down anything that isn't essential to dealing with the immediate crisis. Our perception of time slows down; we become prone to tunnel-vision; and our interpretation of other people's behaviour becomes more than usually reliant on stereotyping, rather than an emotionally-nuanced reading of the other person's mental state. The disastrous cases are the ones in which this process has gone too far and heightened arousal has given way to panic. Gladwell compares the 'mind blindness', as he calls it, of people in this situation with the indifference to social stimuli that is characteristic of autism -- autistic people typically have an inability to 'read' the emotions of others, and in fact look upon other people much as they would a chair or a table, as objects with no inner life. Gladwell argues that people in extreme stress, who have temporarily lost their ability to reason and read emotional signals, are "effectively autistic" at that particular time; their state of 'mind blindness' is, he thinks, a state of "temporary autism."
But you don't need to be a psychologist to see how weak that comparison is. The author has simply picked out one characteristic of autism, noted that a similar characteristic appears to be present when a person is in fight-or-flight mode, and then announced that the two conditions are "effectively" the same. And that, unfortunately, is characteristic of the slipshod thinking that permeates this book.
Overall, this is an entertaining read, and a useful jumping-off point perhaps for more serious investigations. But the book doesn't really add up to a coherent whole -- it's more like a collection of amusing shaggy-dog stories without a punchline.