things to see when you’re ‘blinking’

Hi – Chris McColl here. I’m the guy Emily and Yoni asked to write the script for their film. I’ve just finished reading a book called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which inadvertently offers an intriguing interpretation of Borges and I.

Gladwell explores what he calls “thin-slicing,” which is the human ability to see, in the blink of an eye, all the relevant information one needs to size up a situation or to judge the quality of an object. The author recognizes that this flies in the face of conventional thought, which tells us that the more information we have, the better any analysis will be. In his very compelling book, Gladwell offers up example after example of real-life scenarios where a surfeit of information at best paralyzes us, and at worst pushes us toward very bad decisions.

The chapter that most speaks to Borges and I, in my opinion, deals with University of Washington psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman. Gottman spends his days videotaping married couples as they discuss, well, “challenging” aspects of their relationships. The conversations tend to last fifteen minutes or so, after which Gottman and his staff review the tapes looking for specific expressions, body language, verbal tones and other cues which reveal the truth about the couples’ marriages. He and his team have developed a coding system for these cues, and with them, they predict the success or failure of the marriages.

After watching 15 minutes of video, Gottman’s team can predict the future of a marriage with 90% accuracy. After watching 3 minutes of video, their accuracy only slips to about 75%. But Gottman himself has more impressive statistics. Indeed, he finds that merely sitting next to a couple in a restaurant and listening to their conversation for 30 seconds or so gives him a very clear picture of that couple’s fate!

All this would suggest that Tim’s video exercise in the film is a good idea: he studies people to learn their ticks, quirks and reactions to things Tim does. Armed with this knowledge, he heads into his audition.

Where Tim falls down, I think, is covered in Chapter 4 of Gladwell’s book. Here, Gladwell tells the fascinating story of an extensive (and expensive) 2002 war simulation game played by the Pentagon. In it, highly decorated Marine officer Paul Van Riper was asked to play the part of a rogue military commander, based in the Middle East with a wealth of terrorist cells at his disposal (this seems understandable until one considers that the game was planned from 1999 – well before the 9/11 attacks and the deposing of Saddam Hussein). The Pentagon forces, or Blue Team, had at their disposal hundreds of military analysts and specialists and all the latest evaluative software. By contrast, the rogue commander led Red Team, which had dozens of Van Riper’s former colleagues and decades of actual battleground experience under their collective belt.

In the first round of the war game, Red Team summarily routed Blue Team’s forces. Why? Because Van Riper realized that any face-to-face encounter that one expects to win requires thin-slicing – that split-second mental summary of the guy on the other side that allows decision-making as informed as it is instinctive and immediate. Blue Team had fallen victim to their own information machinery – once hooked up to the IV data-drip, they were addicted and couldn’t make a decision without pumping themselves full of it.

Clearly Tim didn’t read this book.

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One Response to “things to see when you’re ‘blinking’”

  1. Actually, I did. I just choose to interpret that information as I need… And also: I know that I am stronger, harder, faster, better than… well, everyone else. You see, the difference is: I am watching others watching MYSELF. I am looking at what they see: Me.

    No erudite professor or experienced general can top the intuitions of an actor! Ha!

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