The face is like the penis

Do I have your attention? I know that phrase caught mine today when I read it. I almost spit coffee; and laughed for about 10 minutes.

A friend of mine loaned me Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. I read it in one sitting. I was utterly mesmerized. I plan to read it again, pausing to digest the more important and insightful passages. I need to add it to my library. The only real question is whether to get the printed book or finally invest in the new and improved Kindle 2: Amazon's New Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation) and get the electronic version of the book. The future is certain; a loaned copy is not enough.

“The face is like the penis!” (page 210 of the hard cover). In context, and this is very important, I used to feel badly that I did not have a poker face. Now I see this is good, for me and those around me: “Whenever we experience a basic emotion, that emotion is automatically expressed by the muscles of the face. That response may linger on the face for just a fraction of second or be detectable only if electric sensors are attached to the face. But it’s always there. Silvan Tomkins once began a lecture by bellowing, “The face is like the penis!” What he meant was the face has, to a large extent, a mind of its own. …. our involuntary expressive system is in many ways even more important: it is the way we have been equipped by evolution to signal our authentic feelings.” Since being authentic and real is important to me, I really cannot be dismayed anymore that all that feel is written on my face at all times.

My friend had shared a gem from this book with me a few months back. Relationship failure can almost entirely be predicted by evidence of contempt. It may be the single most important sign that a marriage (or any relationship really) is in trouble (or doomed). I’ve pondered this for months and cannot find a single exception in my past. Indeed, looking back, I remember a conversation I had at age 13 or 14 with a friend about love where I wondered whether it could exist for me without respect (the antithesis of contempt). It’s amazing how you can lose these simple insights over time. The four horsemen of relationship doom are: contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling and criticism. I personally have to add disgust, which was listed as an elevated form of contempt. If you’ve hit disgust, really, it’s done. C’est fini. Cut your losses.

There is an entire chapter in Blink dedicated to information overload. The scientist in me cringes at this but more data is not always good or helpful; it can confound your analysis and ruin your interpretations. Actually this is not so surprising to me. I was building my scientific career as all of the –omics became household names: genomics, proteomics, pharmacogenomics, metabolomics, etc. All of us wanted to identify biomarkers for a disease or specific therapeutic group. But more data was not always better, indeed it was almost impossible to analyze in a timely or statistically meaningful fashion. Therefore, I loved the passage in Blink on updating the Cook County ER to effectively triage for myocardial infarction using only a handful of symptoms. More information is not always more helpful. As scientists we call this confounding data, and it can truly muck things up.

Enough writing about Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. I'm going to go read it again. It's that good.