The trouble with blind-spots is that we don’t see them.
Our eyes have blind-spots where the optic nerve meets the retina. Without them our eyes would not see anything at all. Our perception, outside of a few limited cases, heals over this wound in our visual field. Two wounds, one for each eye.
If you close one eye and look around the dot above you will find that at one point, looking just a few inches to the side and maybe just a little high, that the dot disappears. Do it with the other eye and you’ll find it disappears at a point symmetrically opposed to where the first eye’s blind-spot resides. Now you know where your optic nerves enter your eyes.
This is not that easy to do. There are much better optimized versions of this test out there on the web. Feel free…. Even so, especially for someone to whom this seems a far-fetched concept that flies in the face of a lifetime of experience with an apparently uninterrupted visual field; it is hard to make the test work.
At this point we are introduced to the psychology of blind-spots. We don’t want to see that we don’t see everything. And so, we cheat. Try the test, if you haven’t already. Notice how as the dot starts to fade away it is hard not to move our focus away from that point. Our eye either goes straight for the dot. Or, if we’ve gotten wise to that trick, it will move just far enough away from the blind-spot to bring the dot back into view.
Perception has to be experienced as a phenomenon for us to notice that it is happening and to have any chance of learning how it operates.
It has to be experienced. It is true that we don’t see what we don’t have a word for. But it is also true that we don’t see what we have done without seeing in the past.
We each have built a world view and a sense of self based on our experiences of what we have perceived up to now.
Anything that challenges this – We can call it a history, a collection of memories and habits. – we resist. This is the psychological weight behind that little twitch of our eye muscles attempting to make the blind-spot disappear. This is what we must deal with any time we face the possibility of change.
The meme of the little cartoon dog, sitting in a burning room, muttering to himself, “It’s fine.” represents this dynamic in action. There are many terms for it, cognitive dissonance, denial….
This post is an attempt at a more complex version of the blind-spot test. In this case it’s the blind-spot we have about blind-spots. We don’t want to stay with the question. There’s always anger or displacement or just a sense of urgency, “Oh! I get it! Let’s get on with it!” And so, we slip back into feeling at home in our worldview. We return to feeling that we are the aggregation of habits and memories that we take for a sense of self.
The blind-spots don’t just go away.
Neither does our impatience and discomfort with the question.
This leaves us at an impasse. This is what has gotten us to this day. This is how our moment has been shaped and also why we feel so trapped in it.
This doesn’t just apply to the “Big Picture!” What’s on the news: War, Tyranny, and Climate Instability. It’s also at work in every little habit we wish we could change. Our sense of powerlessness even when it comes to things, like whether we fly off into a rage over something we think someone is doing to, “Make me mad!” Or when we feel a perverse satisfaction on discovering some other little symptom of our physical or mental decline that we can then chalk up to, “I’m getting old.”
Every time we find ourselves finding solace in having a name for something that disturbs our equilibrium – even when that imagined equilibrium is our habit of constantly pushing ourselves off balance, “Oh yes, he’s talking about learned helplessness.” Or “Yes, I’ve read about that somewhere.” And then, having safely put a name on what’s been introduced we can push it back out of sight.
This is the same impulse we can see at work as our vision does whatever it can to maintain our belief in its wholeness. Its lack of holes.
The Illusion of Complete Sight
Whenever the totality of our habitual view is threatened we do what we can to ignore the threat. When that breaks down because our unease does not recede; we often rush towards the illusion that with some further effort we can – not simply restore our belief that we see everything that needs to be seen. We can set-off on a quest to achieve Complete Sight. Whole Sight. A God’s Eye View. It comes with many names.
This is just an elaboration on our original misapprehension concerning vision and blind-spots. We slip right past the fact that the only reason we can see is because there is a spot where the excitation of light on the retina passes out of the eye and into our perception. Blind-spots are not optional. We cannot have infinite perception and we certainly cannot create Total Understanding for ourselves by “processing” this illusion of Complete Sight. All we’ve done is find a more elaborate home for our illusions.
The interesting question here is, Why do we insist that we either already see, and therefore know, everything or that we can, through an effort of Will gain a position of seeing/knowing all?
Levels of Uncertainty
We’re talking about how to navigate varying levels of uncertainty and why it is that we find any acceptance of uncertainty dangerous. Why it is that we hold this particular threat above all others. Why we insist that we can give up anything: quality of life, a working polity, a livable planet; so long as we don’t have to notice that we have blind-spots.
Put this starkly the bargain appears ridiculous. And so, we do all we can to avoid seeing it this way. Justifications and rationalizations rush in with irrefutable momentum to return us to our ignorance.
One step forward, two steps back…
This dynamic keeps us stuck. It also rebuilds our stuck-ness whenever we begin to find a way past it. So long as we ignore or underestimate the inertia within our worldviews and sense-of-self we remain prey to this powerful dynamic.
What drives it is our unease. We draw back. We could say, instinctively; if this were not an over-generalization that keeps us from a fuller understanding. Every living thing has a sense of self preservation working in it, through it. There would not be life without this, instinct. But in our case, we have countless examples of the ways in which we discount self-preservation every day and we do so because this instinct can be led astray.
Disassociation leads us to a false sense of self-preservation. We are compelled to ignore actual threats to our existence because we feel that certain habits resulting from a thwarted socialization are more important to maintain. Put simply, we put the preservation of our worldview/sense-of-self above actual self-preservation. And, we put all of the power of the instinct for self-preservation into maintaining this misapprehension.
We cannot exist without blind-spots. Without them we have no perception. No capacity to build a view from which to act.
We do not have to remain disassociated. We find ourselves in this condition but we can work to lessen its hold and its effects on us.
Disassociation is a breakdown of our sense of self-preservation and therefore a breakdown in our imagination. This appears in our incapacity to image our actual threats in ways that would lead us to act on them and also in our inability to imagine how our existence may not be dependent on our worldview/sense-of-self. We could take these as the content obscured by our two blind-pots, left and right. These are the dots we fail to see. Caught in a particular situation where our current view/self keeps these two questions out of our active visual field.
And, visual fields acting as they do, even when we’re talking about an extended metaphoric field of vision like the imagination, we don’t see what we don’t see.
How can we move our heads?
The dots reappear when we move our head or eye so as to bring them back into our active field. What is the equivalent action in the case of our blinded imaginations?
Familiarity with a dynamic does lessen our fear of the situation we find it and ourselves in. This is true of any behavior we find risky. It feeds our increasing disassociation every time we text while driving and get away with it, for example. But this power of familiarity did/does have valuable uses. As we get used to water splashing us in the face it becomes easier to concentrate on what it takes to stay afloat, to begin to swim, to orient ourselves towards the shore.
We can do this with the situation we find ourselves in regarding these blind-spots of the imagination. We can recognize what is frightening us and why our reactions are fixed, the result of compulsion and not based on the facts of the situation. We can begin to re-associate ourselves with a true sense of self-preservation and we can begin to see that the only thing kept alive – at everyone and everything’s expense today – by our delusions are our worldviews and our misplaced sense-of-self. We recognize that we don’t owe these phantoms anything and that we only gain by letting them fall away.
This brings us into another dynamic, one I’ve called Joyful Disillusionment. Once we begin to see what we gain by losing our delusions we no longer feel the compulsion to maintain an illusion of control. We begin to feel the way this dynamic brings us into contact with all the energies that have been spent before this point keeping us stuck. We gain in abilities and we gain in capacities and we begin to come into relationship with Quality as it exists in our authentic self, whatever that might turn out to be, and in the world our authentic selves participate in co-creating. We erode the Edifice of Thought and begin to feed the Web of Life again.
What we cannot continue to do is to keep looking for assurance, for reassurance that all will be well, that we can go back into the fatal slumber of our blind-sided selves. Feeling that, “Now that I’ve heard a story about how it can be made right I can go back to insisting on control and expecting to find it while maintaining my illusions.”