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I finally finished Blink by Malcom Gladwell today after my chemistry midterm. Two things achieved in one day, however taking the chemistry midterm proved to be much more bland than the book. The midterm was a piece of cake, a walk in the park, a give away, but I slaughtered it to some extent. I got an eighty-five on the midterm when I should have gotten a hundred. I did not study for the midterm aggressively because I was over confident in many ways and justifiably so, because I had aced all the quizzes and I knew the material. Nonetheless, as soon as I sat for the test my stomach began to churn and extreme hunger took over my body. I ate a burrito and some dried fruits before the test, but then I was starving in the lecture hall. I do not know how much my hunger, anxiety, or my over confidence had to do with the results, but I will live with it. No time to sulk or cry about spilled milk, as my father sometimes puts it. Now that I am over that rant, back to the book.

Malcom Gladwell makes the case that subconscious gut instincts play a major part in life. At times, we need to trust our instincts instead of an increased amount of information that may make us feel safe or comfortable. The “locked room” or the unconscious which controls the many subtle stimuli entering our brains holds a lot of powerful information that is untapped. It shapes the way we see someone, what we buy, how we react, our emotions, and our outlook in many involuntary ways. In the blink of an eye we make millions of associations, assumptions, and inferences in order to react to the stimuli presented by the environment. If we were conscious of every single thought associated with the mind, we would never be able to sit and focus. The unconscious takes care of the bulk of stimuli.

It was very interesting reading about the accounts of cops who have come into contact with deadly suspects and have had to use force. In the blink of an eye, the mind reverts to tunnel vision, shuts off sound, spikes the heart rate, and transfers a lot of blood to contract the core muscles. This creates a human shield ready for impact but leaves the person weak and clumsy. How amazing is that. Try to remember some event in your life that made you really frightened or angry and you just could not think, speak, or move. The point of this may seem counterproductive in a deadly situation, but it is the body’s last resort for survival. The final blow must be survived, and the body does everything to increase the core strength while zoning out all the extra stimuli which is distracting. Time seems to stop and everything happens in slow motion. Hence, it is important to rehearse such events as a robbery or mugging because when the heart rate reaches a certain point the mind begins to go blank and parts of the brain begin switching off. Basic motor skills and memory begin to fade in excessive anger or fear as a result many people cannot even dial 911 in scary incidents. The body becomes unresponsive and numb.

An unfortunate story of a man named Diallo unfolded many years ago resulting with 41 bullets piercing his body in the Bronx of New York. Ironically, he was black and innocent. A police unit was on the way to a crime in a nearby neighborhood when they saw Diallo, a recent black immigrant, on the porch of a home at twelve in the morning. They concluded that a man standing alone on a porch in the Bronx at night must be up to something and most definitely armed with a weapon. They preceded to get out of the car to question him. In reality, he was taking a breathe of fresh air and had just witnessed a robbery so he was scared to death. Intimidated and scared he ran toward the home. When the cops began yelling out loud for him to stop, he tried to reassure them of his innocence by pulling out his ID from his wallet. The cops perceived it to be a gun and began shooting. He was dead on the spot with forty one bullets sprayed in less than three seconds.

The police made many errors in reading the suspect’s face and potential danger, because in the blink of an eye they had created a whole story based on assumption, stereotype, and perceived danger. Their perception became their reality, and Diallo ended up a dead innocent man. When they saw the wallet, one officer fell to his knees after saying, ” Where’s the F’in gun” and cried. They were not bad men or racists looking for a fight, but they just read the situation wrong because time was against them. The body was sensing eminent danger, and when the suspect reached in his wallet, the mind saw a gun and it reacted quickly for protection. The heart was beating, the vision narrowed, the surrounding quite, and all the focus was on his hands and nervous face. Bam, bam, bam… he was gone.

The conscious human mind is always trying to look for patterns, rational logic, and numbers. The more research we do and the more facts we gather, the better we feel about our decisions. There is no pressure when we have time, so we take our time and plan. However, when time runs out and we must act on instinct many people crumble.

Malcom Gladwell gives a great example of the Chancellorsville Civil War battle between Union general, Hooke and Confederate general, Lee. Hooke was confident because he had two air balloons in the sky gathering information on Lee’s position. He had many spies in Lee’s base, and his army was twice the size of Lee’s Confederate army. Hooke was an intelligent general who had created a genius plan for the battle that would ensure Lee’s defeat; he was very confident. He was going to surround Lee with an army coming in from behind while preoccupying him from the front. In turn Lee would have to retreat to Richmond where he would be forced to surrender by a huge force of might. Everything was going as plan, but then in the moment Lee did the unpredictable. General Lee charged toward Hooke after being cornered with a ferocious valor. Against his perfect plan, Hooke was forced to withdraw although he had many men. That night as the Union army under Hooke set up camp, they were attacked by Lee during supper and subsequently defeated. The plan was immaculate on paper. Hooke had all the information he needed but Lee had gut and instinct. General Lee knew how to handle himself under pressure and sense the inherent weakness of a over confident Hooke. It was the greatest defeat of the Union during the Civil War.

This story has a direct correlation to the war in Iraq. The numbers, statistics, and planning may seem immaculate on paper but real wars unfold on the ground. Each gun battle and suicide attack is unpredictable and demoralizing to stability. The billions in funding, the thousands of troops, and the best military missed the point that gut instinct and power of the moment is much more telling than sheer facts. Valor, courage, and anger can be strong in men who fight with their hearts. Underestimating the human will to survive and fight forever will be a big blunder of military. Under intense pressure even the greatest men crumble just as Hooke did with such a great advantage. The advantage exists in every battle to the man who can control his judgement under the pressure emitted by a lack of time and fear.

Mr. Malcom also went into great detail about the nature of facial expressions and how revealing they are. It is truly amazing to imagine how much can be told my the contours of the fascial muscles. There are over three thousand meaningful muscle arrangements in the face that stand for a specific emotion, and the emotions they represent transcend cultures and boundaries of the world. They are truly universal doors to another’s emotions unhidden and revealed. The genuine nature of people is written all over their faces. Have you ever confronted someone about something that they were hiding and all of a sudden there face goes white. As if they were struck by a train, they stare back speechless. Sometimes these facial expressions last only a few milliseconds but they are always there. Tomkins had studied the facial expressions to the point of totally reading lies, emotions, behaviors, and internal conflicts. He could unravel the depths of man by simply looking at the facial expressions and remnants of wrinkles and lines. He was probably one of the best in the world. I found it to be truly fascinating how much emphasis our minds give to both the words and fascial expressions that carry them. Both are so intrinsic to understand and communicate. A lot is picked up by the subconscious flittering our true feelings on the template of the face.

Overall the book was good, but it was not great. I am glad I read it and it has opened up the door to studying more into the subconscious mind in the future. It is a nice stepping stone to learn more about those snap judgements that we make every second in the Blink of an eye.

I have a Spanish midterm tomorrow so I better get studying.

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