The Real Paul Jones

Accept no substitutes

Wit or Nit or Twit?

Reading along in Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert‘s great popular book on the psychology of perception and its consequences, when I hit the “Hound of Silence” chapter. This one is about how difficult it is to notice what isn’t there, the absence rather then the presence of something. The chapter begins with a famous selection from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” in which Sherlock Holmes notices “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” What was curious? The dog didn’t bark when he probably should have. By noticing what wasn’t there, Holmes cracked the case.

The section after the intro is titled “The Sailors Not.” There are no sailors mentioned in the section. What is mentioned is an experiment on how absence works against perception as it did on all the subjects in the experiment. No Holmes among them.

Okay I said, “No sailors” and read on to the next section “Absence in the Present.” Wait! This is all about sailors! And about sailors who were absent in a story that Sir Francis Bacon borrowed from Cicero.

Now, am I a nit-picker who noticed that the copyeditor fell down on the job and let pass that the two section heads had been switched?

Or am I a wit who picked up and some sly psychological tricks being played by Gilbert on less wily readers?

Or am I a twit who spends far too much time trying to tease something significant out of a simple printing and layout error?

Am I more of a twit to say that telling you this makes me happy. Almost as happy as when I solve a Friday New York Times Crossword?

Whilst still in my twit mode, let me note that I am reading the 2006 first edition Knopf hardback.


  1. Did you like the book?

  2. Paul

    6/9/2007 at 11:35 am

    Yes, I do (still) like the book. It’s a great collection of science on perception — physical and psychological — despite the nearly self-help title. Very smart, very funny and good science. Like a long seminar, the kind that you look forward to being at every meeting with drinks afters.

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