The Tipping Point

Butterfly On Fire

This is the kind of post that I view as being little fragments of thought. Sometimes when there is so much on my mind that I feel a bit overwhelmed I break things up into chunks and try to figure out what is bothering me. Hence you have these fragments I am sharing with you. If you choose to follow you may find a string connecting them all together or alternatively you may fear getting lost in the black hole that has just opened up at your feet. Tread with caution there are no golden parachutes.

I wasn’t yet a father when I read The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, at least I don’t think that I was. Truth is that I might be wrong about that. It wouldn’t be the first time nor will it be the last. People like to think that we make decisions based upon logic and reason but more often than not they are based upon arbitrary emotion/feelings that we aren’t always conscious of.

The book caught my eye because it talked about change and that is something that I wrestle with. Change is my best friend and arch nemesis. If I were a superhero change would vex me by alternately helping and hindering me. There would be moments where I would express my undying appreciation  for it and then follow up by trying to savage it so severely death would be welcome.

I followed up on The Tipping Point by reading Blink. While I can’t point to one thing in Blink that I liked better than others it really held my attention. Gladwell describes it like this:

You could also say that it’s a book about intuition, except that I don’t like that word. In fact it never appears in “Blink.” Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with “thinking.” In “Blink” I’m trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

Those who know me best will tell you that it is not unusual for me to make decisions based upon my gut. While I can’t claim to have conducted a scientific study my gut feeling regarding its use as prognosticator of the future is that it is usually pretty accurate. I am usually happier when I listen to it than when I do not.

“On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear
And in which hand he held his fate was never clear”
Cautious Man- Bruce Springsteen

My son and I have had many discussions about life and how we make decisions. I have told him that there are no guarantees nor promises that life will go as we plan. I told him that we do our best to take control of what we can and then roll with the punches. I believe all that to be true but I haven’t told him that I often wonder if some of my decisions matter or not. There are times where I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do because I am going to end up in the same place.

You can label that as the free will discussion. I have been told by some that there are limitations to free will and that some things will happen regardless of what we do.  I can’t say that I buy that argument or that everything happens for a reason. You won’t convince me that there is a reason for murder or for terminal illnesses to take children. Don’t tell me that I don’t understand G-d’s plan because unless G-d offers a personal explanation I won’t listen.

But I will admit that sometimes there are strange coincidences and weird experiences that don’t make sense. There is a lot more to say on this but not a whole lot of time right now. What do you think?

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9 Comments

  1. TheJackB July 6, 2011 at 12:04 am

    @Caramelo I don’t doubt that we often think prior to action but the question I ask is how much time do we truly spend evaluating our thoughts and ideas against what we want to do.

  2. TheJackB July 6, 2011 at 12:03 am

    @marianne.worley I agree with you regarding background processes- that is sort of what Gladwell was discussing in Blink. We process information faster than we realize and then act upon it.

    I do wonder about the background material- what we collect and how we process it.

  3. Caramelo July 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    You know when you are doing an exam and you have to choose between option A, B and C and when you first read the question you instantly choose option B but then you wonder around an end up changing to option C, then you see the correction and it was option B after all? Well I have been there a couple times and I even searched a bit about it, for what I understood, even when we work with our guts, when we believe in things without any rational reason most times we had some kind of rational process behind it, even if it were as short as a second. I believe we always think before we do something even if we can’t feel it.

  4. marianne.worley July 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    I’ve read Gladwell’s books, and many others in the “social economics” genre. What it all comes down to is that human beings make both rational and irrational choices. We defy the rules of economics by allowing emotions to sway our decisions. I’m currently reading an interesting book called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, which discusses the difference between our conscious thoughts and the “background processes” our brains are running. Though we don’t realize it, our brains are constantly picking up pieces of information–that’s what I think gives us our “intuition.”

  5. TheJackB July 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    @bdorman264 That sounds pretty reasonable to me. Life happens and we have the ability to influence how we live our lives. I can’t get behind not having free will. It takes away too many choices and relieves people of the responsibility to live decent lives.

    And decency is something that I look for without fear of consequences from angry deities, but that is a different topic.

  6. TheJackB July 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    @columbiarose Hmm, all sorts of material to look at. That Scientific American post sounds interesting. I have heard about The Gift of Fear, but I don’t remember where. It sounds quite familiar.

  7. bdorman264 July 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I think we live in a parallel universe 2 seconds different from the other which allow the strange occurrences or coincidences to happen.

    I tend to think things happen and it’s called life; some good, some bad but I don’t know if I buy into it being predestined. I think we are given the ability to live the best life we can but there are still no guarantees.

    That’s probably as deep as I’ll go on that one………

  8. columbiarose July 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    See also the term anosognosia.

  9. columbiarose July 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Fragments? Seems linear to me.

    I used to think of this topic as the process of decision-making. A phrase I like better is gaining insight, or honing insight. Clients are not so offended at the idea of working to seek insight as they can be at the idea that they need help in how they go about decision-making.

    A great interview with a research psychologist touching on all the concepts you raise—much more concise and thorough than Tipping Point or Blink:

    edge.org/conversation/insight

    The practical question that follows from a discussion of free will is am I responsible for my behavior and choices and their consequences? I say yes, we each have free will, and yes, we each are responsible (until proven delusional, insane, incapacitated, etc—that’s a whole ‘nuther can of worms).

    Two thoughts regarding free will, expanded upon well in a post in today’s Scientific American: free will exists but is not a superpower that exempts us from other influences in the world, and it isn’t static—it evolves as each of us learns and matures and has both objective and subjective aspects.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=in-defense-of-wishful-thinking-2011-07-05

    A interesting book on the practical side of how and why we ignore our gut, sometimes at our own extreme cost, is The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. He focuses on why women especially will choose to ignore their gut and make themselves vulnerable, how others exploit this tendency, and how to evaluate threats.

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