More thoughts on thin-slicing

I sent off a note to Malcolm Gladwell through his website with the nitpicks I mentioned in my review of Blink, in particular the height study and the Ted Williams story. Much to my surprise, Gladwell wrote me back thanking me for the observations and loving the Ted Williams story. Cool!

While thinking about it some more, I realized that the prejudice favoring tall people may actually be a form of thin-slicing in action. As the New Yorker article suggests, “In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health-care coverage. In our height lies our history.” If that’s the case, then favoring tall people makes perfect sense. Tall people would tend to be healthier and stronger than short people in a world of scarcity. These days, when all of our needs are satisfied, at least in most of the industrialized world, the remaining variation is primarily due to genetics, but it would be understandable if some vestige of a bias towards height remains. So I took that idea and sent it off to Gladwell. We’ll see what he thinks of it.

I also wanted to pick up on one of Beemer’s comments where he points out that cognitive subroutines and thin-slicing are both ways to “optimize away mental processing”. He lists a few examples such as peer pressure and deference to authority, where the answer you get will be right most of the time and is extremely energy efficient. Given that the situations where such strategies arise are not often situations where the wrong answer means immediate death, it’s not surprising that our brains are optimized for efficiency rather than 100% accuracy. Man. I think I had another observation, but I’ve totally blanked.

One last thought on the subject for the night. At some point, I’m going to have to reconcile my thoughts on cognitive subroutines with the ideas of The Global Brain, which I quite liked. I don’t see any obvious correlations between them, but since I currently find value in both of them, I feel like there should be a way to bring them together. More food for thought. But it’s Friday night and I’m tired, so I’m going to drop it for now.

One thought on “More thoughts on thin-slicing

Comments are closed.