Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Blink: Objectivism and The Subconscious Mind

Posted by Jerry on April 20, 2007

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) is a book that explores the “power of thinking without thinking.” The main thrust of his argument is that often, in many situations, most people make quick judgments without engaging in a conscious, logical, process of thought, and indeed, Gladwell argues, this is an effective and efficient mode of thinking.

 

His book lays out three tasks that need to be achieved: Blink attempts to make the case that “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately” and that “snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled”; finally, it seeks to understand when our instincts can be trusted and when we should be wary of them.

 

Now, if you simply dig a little under the words Gladwell uses, such as “instincts,” “snap judgments,” and “thinking without thinking,” what you will realize is that Gladwell’s thesis is not novel in any significant sense, at least not to someone who is well-versed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

 

In the context of fiction writing, Ayn Rand had decades ago stated that one must “trust your subconscious” (The Art of Fiction). However, like much else of what Rand said, this little instruction to trust one’s own subconscious mind can be extended beyond the context of fiction writing and applied to practically every realm or action in life.

 

According to Rand, the subconscious is similar to a man’s sense of life; the subconscious mind “sums up [man’s] psychological activities, integrating his conscious conclusions, reactions, or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him” (Romantic Manifesto). Rand described the subconscious as a kind of computer which is programmed by the conscious mind. The conscious mind sends material that is integrated and stored in the subconscious.

 

At any given moment, the conscious mind can only be aware or cognizant of a limited set of concretes and abstractions. To a large extent, man relies on his subconsciously integrated storehouse of pre-existing knowledge to guide him and help him make his conscious decisions. Rand said, “Man, by his nature, cannot refrain from generalizing; he cannot live moment by moment, without context, without past or future; he cannot eliminate his integrating capacity and confine his consciousness to an animal’s perceptual range” (RM).

 

Man’s consciousness is an “enormously powerful integrating mechanism” (RM). We are constantly making connections between things, entities, concretes, events, etc. All of these connections and relationships–these integrations–are stored in our subconscious minds, to be summoned in lightning speed by our emotional evaluations or cognitive consciousness.

 

In times of crises, for example, the quick actions, evaluations, or emotional responses are products of our subconscious integration of the perceptual data being fed by the conscious mind. Thus, man often has to resort to the immense integrative power of his subconscious mind, but has to ensure that the outputs of the subconscious mind are congruent with his conscious perceptions and reasoning–it is a continuous and reciprocal loop of information being exchanged between the conscious and the subconscious. However, one should never leave the reigns of control entirely within the domain of the subconscious, especially when it has not been consciously shaped by a rational philosophy.

 

It is for this reason that Ayn Rand stressed the importance of being careful and aware of the kind of material that is being fed into the subconscious; rubbish in, rubbish out is the principle by which our subconscious minds work. This is particularly evident in the process of child-rearing, wherein the kinds of material presented to a child by his parents during childhood can remain with him in his subconscious mind until adulthood unless he consciously and volitionally reprograms his mind with the correct premises.

 

“To the extent to which a man is mentally active, his mind works as the programmer of his emotional computer. To the extent to which a man evades, the programming of his emotional computer is done by chance influences” (RM).

 

If our conscious minds are a mess of evasion, irrationalism, and unknown fears, our subconscious responses–our intuitive first impressions, snap judgments, emotional evaluations–will also reflect the same mess of blankness, purposelessness, and inexplicable and unknown fears.

 

Malcolm Gladwell notes in the first chapter of his book that “Just as we can teach ourselves to think logically and deliberately, we can also teach ourselves to make better snap judgments.”

 

In my opinion, Ayn Rand indicated more fundamentally that it is only when we teach ourselves to think logically and deliberately that we can also teach ourselves to make better snap judgments.

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2 Responses to “Blink: Objectivism and The Subconscious Mind”

  1. Aron said

    Interesting!

  2. Derick said

    I’m yet to read this entirely to don’t consider this a total endorsement, but I was thinking along the same lines when I read Blink and I’m glad to see the consistency between Blink and Objectivism written out like this.

    Our subconscious is faster, but it needs to be *programmed* rationally by our conscious mind to work properly. So when time is short, the subconscious is better, if we’ve given ourselves good standards and keep our conscious mind there to veto if necessary.

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