Monday, April 25, 2005

Women's Intuition Gets A Thumbs Up By the Boys

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I've just read Sue Halpern's review of Malcolm Gladwell's much-touted new book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

I haven't read Gladwell's book, and I will, but I was terribly interested in Halpern's characterization of the book as having an evangelical tone, ("in a got-religion kind of way"), with much worshipful praise of rapid cognition as a form of higher consciousness.

In Blink, Gladwell wonders what would happen if we took our instincts seriously.

And in his book, he offers a compelling series of anecdotes to prove why we should ( some more quirky than truly persuasive):

(1) LBJ asked Lady Bird to marry him the first time they met.

(2) Curators at the Getty Museum, who spent fourteen months carefully ascertaining the authenticity of a 6th century sculpture, were hugely embarrassed when three art experts, Frederico Zeri, Evelyn Harrison and Thomas Hoving, eye-balled the ostensible antiquity and immediately simply felt it was fake, and were correct.

(3) Tennis coach Vic Braden just knows when a player will commit a double-fault. His instincts are unerring.

And so on.

At this point, both hemispheres of my brain are starting to ache. Because not once in this lengthy review does Sue Halpern ever mention the historically feminist claim that women have always excelled at rapid cognition ("women's intuition," anyone?). Am I to assume that Malcolm Gladwell also ignores this massively important fact in is book? And that, by providing countless details of men who successful employ intuitive cognition, this male author finally proves to a popular audience the legitimacy of a form of "knowing" that feminists have been affirming from the ghetto of Wombyn's Studies Departments as legitimate for decades (if not centuries)?

In his latest book, The Wisdom Paradox (reviewed in the same NY Review of Books article by Sue Halpern), neuropsychologist Elkhanon Goldberg covers some similar territory to Gladwell. Although Goldberg also winds up affirming the value of rapid cognition, let's note his use of language to differentiate the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, (quoted by Halpern):

"The right hemisphere is the novelty hemisphere, the daring hemisphere, the explorer of the unknown and the uncharted. The left hemisphere is the repository of compressed knowledge, of stable pattern-recognition devices that enable the organism to deal efficiently and effectively with familiar situations."

Gosh, given that explanation, who would you rather have running the world, right-brainers or left-brainers? One sounds positively sexy, thrilling, the Lewis and Clarke of the brain, the brain leading the parade you really want to join ... while the left brain sounds as dowdy as grandma's gingham apron, just meant for staying home on the farm.

I don't have to tell you where women and men are believed to be typically located on the continuum of neurological inclination.

Goldberg's conviction is that what is commonly called intuition is not really a snappy kind of thinking at all, but is the result of a condensation of long years of "vast prior analytic experience." In other words, what seems to be instant and intuitive thinking is not really that at all, but the result of extensive prior knowledge and experience. I wonder if that's another way of reassuring the right-brain dominated world that lefty-brainies aren't as threatening or flaky as they may seem. They're building, you see, on vast prior analytical experience.

Like the police officers who put forty-one bullets into the innocent body of Amidou Diallo were building on vast prior analytical experience.

This stuff is very tricky and, I believe, almost inextricably biased.

Both Gladwell and Goldberg obviously have a contribution to make, and Gladwell's book is flying off the shelves. Good on him. But the vast silence in this review (and, I am guessing, in both books) regarding the long gender studies component to left-brain-right-brain research seems more than merely curious. It seems disturbing.

But that could just be women's intuition.

You can read Halpern's review here:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Peacebang!

You're writing some of your best stuff ever. I had to suffer through a long meeting where a presenter offered up Blink as though it were the font of illumination itself. Needless to say, I was made progressively ill by it.

Anonymous Jeff Wilson said...

Dear Peacebang,

Something you said over on Paul Wilczynsk's blog troubled me, and I've written about it over at my own blog. It seemed rude to do so without letting you know that I had done so. Please feel encouraged to come by and offer any comments/replies/angry rebuttals you feel like. I apologise for blogging about a comment you made on someone else's blog.

Blogger T-man-Sam_former Visigoth and musical Goddess said...

I will read this one... and I read Gladwells previous!

and I am proud to say the lad is Canadian!

Along with Macluhan-known (and others lesser known--Like John Ralston Saul) we Canucks seem to be leaders in modern progressive philsophy.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Hi Anonymous, Thanks for the ups! Who are ye?

Jeff Wilson, thanks for letting me know that you posted a thoughtful and lengthy riposte to one of my comments to Paul W's blog! I commented on your comments on my comment over at your very fine blog!! Air kisses!

T-Man, I'm telling ya, get the guest room ready! We're all moving up to Canadaland!

Blogger T-man-Sam_former Visigoth and musical Goddess said...

I thought of another fascinating designer/philosopher big brain.

Canuck Bruce Mau.

I believe there is a NYC retrospective on him now.

On his book Massive Change (from amazon)
"Utopianism is not dead; it has migrated from politics to materialism. This book, says Canadian industrial designer Mau (who founded Toronto City College's Institute Without Borders), is "not about the world of design; it's about the design of the world."

Anonymous Kim said...

You are quite right that Gladwell never once mentions "women's intuition" in Blink. As I understand it, the left brain is more logical and linear and the right brain is more wholistic and embedded in context. All of us use both halves, but women tend to have more connections between the two halves. I would think that would give more accurate intuition.


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