Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes – review

Nonsense: The Power of Not KnowingNonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had this on my List because I requested it for an advanced read a couple of years ago – wasn’t selected – and decided to jump off a couple of other parallel tracks now to check it out.

It’s been my experience that lot of books like this could be reduced to a three page tract. Not so this one, but it could have been cut at least in half. I found the connection of too many of the stories – and there are a lot of stories – to the purported points rather tenuous. State a conclusion, stretch something to seemingly fit, conclude that it fits!

The short of it is that I don’t buy his premise and he didn’t convince me. People need closure (right now) to resolve ambiguity because…humans can’t handle ambiguity, so they cope? The Branch Davidian debacle happened because the FBI agents in charge couldn’t resolve David Koresh’s change in mind? Please.

From my notes, one part apparently irritated more than the rest. In recounting a study done in the 1980s and 1990s, Holmes said researchers asked people to simulate how juries work, half without explicit direction on a case study, and half with detailed legal analysis. The players were asked after expressing their views to reach a shared verdict with a study stooge who was to disagree with them. The kicker was for some people there was a distracting noisy printer in the background…:

For participants who received no expert advice, the irritating printer made them more likely to change their relatively uncertain minds and agree with the confederate. It also significantly sped up that process. When the participants who didn’t read the legal analysis were arguing in a quiet room, the average time it took for the pairs to agree was 5 minutes and 40 seconds. With the printer going, the time fell to about 3 minutes 50 seconds. Subjects resolved ambiguity faster.

As Mona Lisa Vito would say, “That’s a bull **** question.” Any irritation is going to induce people to hurry up a decision, ambiguous or not, to get out of there.

As to the need for closure (right now) bit, by my self scoring on a set of 15 questions devised by psychologists Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel, I am way below average. That means I don’t smooth over anomalies or get all worked up over discrepancies. Depends, but more true than not.

By the way, comparisons to Malcolm Gladwell are not a good thing. In my opinion, of course.

View all my reviews


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