What do free will, determinism, and Malcolm Gladwell have in common? Let’s find out, shall we?
Malcolm Gladwell has become wildly popular these days for writing books like The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. My interpretation of his line of thinking runs something like this. One, there seems to be some underlying order to how things unfold. Momentum or pressure builds up to a certain “tipping point.” Then boom! Things progress quickly to its conclusion, like a landslide. Two, our brains are pretty amazing and can learn a lot about this underlying order from very limited experiences. This information is stored subconsciously, and if we can learn to tap into it, we can intuitively make better snap decisions. Three, understanding the first two things won’t make you successful…well, unless you’re just that lucky. Mere mortals like everyone else must build up their skills through persistent hard work. If you keep at it for long enough (10,000 hours or so), then you’ll be ready to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. I’m being reductionist, of course. You should read his books if this kind of stuff interests you.
I think we all know what determinism is. It has many other names: destiny, predetermination, fate, etc. It means that our lives are already scripted by some outside agency. It doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll end up acting according to the script in the end.
The Free Will vs. Determinism debate has been raging forever, but I’ve always suspected that the reality was somewhere in the middle. As Gladwell points out, in order to be successful, you need to be both aware of the underlying rules and tendencies (determinism) and choose to persistently work hard (free will). It’s not one or the other; it’s both! Hallelujah, problem solved! Now smart people on both sides can stop wasting time on this silly debate and focus on something more productive like curing cancer or something.
So thank you, Malcolm Gladwell for unwinding this Gordian Knot. You were not the first one to do so, and you certainly won’t be the last. People are fond of saying, “we must learn the lessons of the past,” and then they promptly forget them…until someone reminds them, and the cycle begins anew. History repeats itself. Is this fate? Or free will?? 😛