Just finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, which was first recommended on Slashdot and then not-so-recommended by Gary Cornell, the founder of APress. I bought a set of 7 CDs and listened to it in the car while commuting to work. You get a bit more of the experience when listening to a book read by the author, as the main points are better accentuated than if you were to read a book somewhere in public transport or on the exercise bike.
The book is interesting to listen to, but somehow did not get me excited to want to read it the second time. He points out some interesting things – like the test where people were asked to construct sentences with words ‘wrinkle’, ‘Florida’, ‘old’, etc. Most of the test takers walked out of the test slower than they walked in – their brain subconsciously started picturing old life, which brought up retirement worries and what not, influencing the body and mind to feel a bit older and think slower.
There’s that theory of thin-slicing that the author talks about throughout the book. Thin-slicing is an ability of your brain to make quick decisions without rationalizing them. The famous gut feeling. Or horse sense. The more trained your brain is, of course, the quicker those decisions are. An amateur would not distinguish a genuine Greek statue from a fake, but a history professor who has seen thousands of Greek statues will probably spend less than a second recognizing the fake. Most of the time those people can’t tell you why they feel certain way, they will just say “I just know it”.
Basically, at a certain level the software part of the brain tends to grow through heavy machine-level-language optimization and becomes more or less firmware, wired to act quickly, sometimes quicker than our brain can rationalize. The lesson? Practice makes it perfect. If you want to know C++ or impressionist art by gut, just dedicate more time to practicing it. Also surroundings play greater role than we imagine. If you want to get fit, read some motivational literature, place some athletic posters on the wall and watch videos of people getting fit. The brain’s subconscious part will pick up on those messages, just like it did on that test, after which people felt older.