Stop! Don't think! You already know what this book is about. That is the power of Blank: the power of not actually thinking at all. Using what scientific researchers call 'Extra–Lean Deli Slicing' (or would, if they actually bothered to research it), your brain has already decided whether you're going to like Blank, whether its cover goes with your shirt, and whether it will make you look smart if somebody sees you reading it on the train.
Chances are you and your shirt are both liking it a lot, you're going to buy several copies, and you don't even know why! That's why you've absolutely got to read Blank: to find out why your brain keeps doing these wacky things without your permission. In Blank, a hilarious parody of the No. 1 bestseller it looks eerily like (and sort of rhymes with) and that your brain wisely advised you to just read a review or magazine excerpt about while avoiding the actual book itself, the brilliantly impulsive and slightly irresponsible Noah Tall explains how people as diverse as General Custer, Roy Rogers, a semi–famous rock star, and the entire New York City Police Department either won big or lost miserably as a result of their minds going completely blank.
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BlankThe Power of Not Actually Thinking at All (A Mindless Parody)
By Noah Tall
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Noah Tall
All right reserved.
The Theory of Extra Lean Deli
Slicing: How Knowledge Is Not
Unlike a Fine Pastrami Sandwich
In 1997, Merv and Mona, a married couple from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, arrived at an awfully clean laboratory at Vanderbilt University to visit a leading psychologist, Dr. John Godsense, the man who discovered that guinea pigs feel pain when you kick them. Merv and Mona were placed in a spare light celery-colored room (some thought it looked more like fennel) and were seated on two uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs. Electrodes were attached to the couple's ears, noses, toes, and genitalia. Eight video cameras were stationed around the room to record their conversation and actions.
Merv and Mona, who had been together since the second Back to the Future movie or possibly the third (they can't quite recall since those two films came out within months of each other), were instructed to talk about any topic that came to mind except the books of Ann Coulter. They were then left alone with the videotape rolling. After a few minutes of conversation, they began to discuss what they were going to have for dinner later.
Merv: How about Chinese tonight?
Mona: Ucch, I'm so sick of Chinese, we eat it every Sunday.
Merv: I know, but I was really in the mood for some moo shu chicken.
Mona: I'm sorry, I just don't want spicy food tonight.
Merv: How about if you get some wonton soup?
Mona: How about I've been sleeping with Richard from your office since July?
Merv: Don't change the subject. Do you want the wonton soup or not?
This rancor continued to escalate for some time until they started calling each other terrible names and began strangling each other. Eventually, Mona hit Merv in the head with a fire extinguisher and four lab assistants immediately rushed in to separate them. Two assistants were injured in the fray. Moreover, one of the plastic chairs was upended, leaving the remaining assistants really annoyed because Dr. Godsense had always claimed it was an original Eames when in fact it was only from Ikea.
1. The Fat-Lip Lab
How much do you think one can learn about the state of Merv and Mona's marriage by watching the fifteen-minute videotape of their dispute? Can we tell if their relationship is healthy or unhealthy? I suspect that most of us would feel we need to know a lot more than just the fact that Mona kicked Merv in the groin or that Merv bit Mona's arm very hard at least six times. But, no, Dr. John Godsense has all he needs to know just by watching that little snippet of tape. He feels their marriage is in serious trouble and that one of them will soon be dead.
Dr. Godsense ought to know. Since 1978, more than three couples like Mona and Merv have passed through his clinic (which some have nicknamed the "Fat-Lip Lab" since they only accept people who have had too many collagen injections).
Based on his observations of these couples, Dr. Godsense has devised a sophisticated color-coding system (which he calls Irving, after his paternal grandfather) to define the range of twenty-eight emotions he has observed couples express. Rage, for instance, is puce, because nobody really knows what color puce is anyway and those who do, don't really like it. (Also, say it out loud; it just kind of sounds gross.) Anger is mauve, disappointment is chartreuse, crankiness is teal (because that's what Dr. Godsense's wife painted their guest bathroom three summers ago and he really didn't like it), mild irritability is safety orange, and feeling neutral is what is known in the home decorating field as greige, because, well, it's pretty neutral. Interestingly, no one has ever expressed a positive emotion in Dr. Godsense's office so he has not chosen colors for those emotions.
Over the years, Dr. Godsense has trained his assistants to detect these various emotions in his patients' eye movements, sweat volume, and, most important, hairstyles. As the videotaped version of the fifteen-minute conversation plays back, an assistant then writes down the various emotions observed every second until there are 513, because that sounds like a lot and any more would probably take a long time to analyze. So, for instance, the notation "puce, puce, mauve, teal, puce" would signify that in one five-second span, the couple was either having a very intense argument or that one of them was having a bad hair day due to awful humidity. Face it, humidity sucks.
The data is then ignored until the assistants stop laughing at the couple's misfortune and can compose themselves enough to act professionally. Eventually the results are given to Dr. Godsense, who is color-blind. Over the course of his experiments, a remarkable pattern has emerged: all of the couples who have been to the Fat-Lip Lab have either gotten divorced, filed restraining orders against each other, or sued Dr. Godsense for irreparably damaging their relationship. But not before Dr. Godsense has predicted, with a 58 percent accuracy, that each relationship would end.
How can he make such accurate predictions about a marriage after witnessing only fifteen minutes of interaction? Simple. He flips a coin and it usually comes up heads, which he says signifies, "Boy, are these two in trouble." The rest of the time he guesses. And that is where the most intriguing results lie. Despite the fact that Dr. Godsense and his team have a second-by-second analysis of a couple's marital DNA, he chooses to ignore the data and just wing it. This is what is known in advanced noncognitive study as "Extra Lean Deli Slicing." And as Dr. Godsense often tells his students, if you can't Deli Slice, you'll never cut the mustard in the psychology racket.
Excerpted from Blank by Noah Tall Copyright © 2006 by Noah Tall. Excerpted by permission.
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