Sunday, February 06, 2011

Thin Slicing

'Blink' is the title of a book by Malcolm Gladwell in which he explains how sometimes initial intuitions or 'gut feelings' can be a better way of dealing with information than careful analysis in some situations. 'Thin slicing' refers to our ability to find patterns based on very narrow slices of experience without being consciously aware of how we have done it.

One example given was that of the purchase of a statue (a kouros) by the J. Paul Getty museum. Despite it being subjected to careful analysis and testing and being declared genuine, it turned out to be a fake. Several experts spotted that something was amiss using thin slicing. One had the word 'fresh' pop into their head, another immediately found themselves looking at the fingernails and thinking that they didn't look right but not able to articulate quite why. One expert reported an 'intuitive repulsion' when he first saw it.

I think many people are aware that sometimes hunches give better results than careful analysis, particularly under time pressure, or when deluged with information, or when information is limited. I wonder whether religious believers who have a hunch that the universe is a 'put up job' have the feeling that they are like the intuitive experts who spotted what was going on, whereas atheists have carried out a careful, but flawed, analysis.