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Blind Spot

Blind Spot Kenneth Burke Writer

As I covered in my last post, I've a new goal to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I don't necessarily intend to read a book a week or to write a new post a week during this time, but I do intend to share my readings and meanderings along the way. The first book I finished is Gordon Rugg's Blind Spot. A professor of mine received it as a complementary gift, and added it to the Free Pile on the table outside his office. Off to a good start! Years after picking it up, I finally decided to crack it open.

Apparently, you really can judge a book by its cover. In essence, Blind Spot is about experts making mistakes because they're caught up in a particular paradigm and are blind to the solution for the particular problem at hand. What's interesting is that in these instances, it is far easier for a non-expert to come up with the answer. It sounds insulting, but it really does happen all the time, and Rugg uses decades of research to back it up.

Parallel to experts' mistakes is the tale of experts being unable to thoroughly explain why they do exactly what they do in given situations. We've all been there. Try explaining how and why you do math the way you do. We usually can't. It's just what we do and how we view things.

Among others, Rugg uses examples from interviews with a geologist. When different stones were presented to him, he'd give their appropriate names and a few characteristics. What's interesting, though, is that several of the stones had like characteristics (e.g. rough, colorful), but the geologist couldn't articulate why he could tell the difference between stones.

Our brains work by association for labeling. We become accustomed to seeing things in a certain setting or form, so when we see x, y, and z characteristics come together in q form, we know we've got marble. This inability to explain our processes, and the tendency to live within certain paradigms goes for nearly all professionals - physicians to electricians to magicians. It's really fascinating how much we take for granite...(ba dum tss)

I do financial planning for a living. For me, this book is relevant because there are situations when I want to recommend standard implementations for families in textbook situations. But I have to be careful that I'm not caught up in regularities so much that I miss what's unique about their particular situation, which could change the optimum financial strategy. On the flip side, I know how certain strategies will look over the short and long-term, and thus what should be done when and where, but I can't always articulate the minute differences and emotional effects they have along the way.

Is there much to take away from this book? Not really. It's mostly a series of social science research experiments written for the general public. However, it is a very easy read, and Rugg does well not to get caught up in scientific mumbo-jumbo. It also was a great subject change for me between Tolkien's LOTR and studying for the Series 6. If you enjoy psychology or coding you might like this book. Otherwise you might read the first two chapters and leave it to collect dust.

It was interesting to think through how these seemingly small concepts play into other areas of life such as politics, cancer research, teaching, business, etc., and strongly reminded me of the good folks at the Chalmers Center who created a beneficial paradigm shift in the way the world treats the poor by looking at the situation differently than the poverty alleviation experts of the world at the time.

Two books I'm reading now are Paul Miller's A Praying Life and Tim Ferris' The 4-Hour Work Week. I plan to throw in a few more serious and thought-provoking articles, as well as some humorous ones, along the way. If there's any topic you'd like me to give a shot at, comment below and I'll get it done! I look forward to challenges that help me grow and develop my skills.