Against replacing the ‘blind spot’ metaphor


“[U]nless a person identifies a problem, that person will not progress beyond the ‘blind spot’ area. They are not engaging in the process of creativity. I do not believe the ‘blind spot’ metaphor can be replaced with a Restricted Searchlight metaphor. … A blind spot has to recognized as such before one can proceed to the next stage. That next stage would be the Searchlight stage.”
– Nel


From the archives: Posted on 17th July 1997

This discussion began with a few interesting conjectures offered by Stephen [10th July 1997]:

“My increasing understanding of epistemology has led me to the very tentative conjecture that creativity is the ability to find useful conjectures by, for one, not mistakenly limiting the scope of one’s blindly varying conjectures. This leads me to conjecture that this process is somehow faulty when coercion causes thinking difficulties. People eliminate large categories of possible solutions. This would make ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘a restricted searchlight’ more appropriate terms for creative blocks, than ‘blind spot.’”

I wanted to return to these initial conjectures to review my thinking about it after our discussion adventure. I agree with your conjecture—Creativity is the ability to find useful conjectures by not limiting the scope of one’s varying conjectures. I also agree with the conjecture that coercion causes thinking difficulties. Where I disagree is with the idea that the metaphor ‘Restricted Searchlight’ should replace the term ‘Blind Spot’. Returning to your comments on on Sun, 13 Jul 1997 —

Stephen had written:

“‘Blind spot’ implies one cannot see something in the direction one is looking, as though something is blocking one’s vision and if only one could see through the spot, or see around it, or get someone else to tell what is behind it one would have the solution. It suggests one should more fiercely direct one’s efforts toward figuring out what is behind the spot.”


Stephen wrote:

“This is entirely wrongheaded. Creativity does not lack because one can not see what one is looking at, creativity lacks because one is looking in the wrong direction! Creativity lacks because one has mistakenly thought large categories of solutions to be refuted when they have not. One needs to expand the scope of their explorations. Widen the search.”

I replied:

“No and yes. It is not entirely wrong-headed. Creativity may be lacking because one is not looking at all. Why? Because there is a decision that a solution is adequate.”

Stephen replied:

“You are proposing a new usage for the term. None of us have used the term when we are not searching for a solution, have we? We use it when we are searching for a solution but can not find one. We don’t also use it when we don’t know we have a problem, we sometimes use it when we can’t understand the problem.”

Well—actually, yes, I have described a blind spot as the situation where one is not searching for a solution. I wrote on Sat., July 12, that –

“Blind spots are not the same, Stephen. Blind spots are when there are no conjectures as one believes the held theory is adequate (either implicitly or explicitly), and there is No Search for alternative theories.
           The searchlight is never turned on. The searchlight is not used.
           Epistemologically, a blind spot is when the creative process has shut down. [snip] There are no conjectures. There may not even be a defined problem or question.”

Returning to our more recent comments, I wrote –

“Before one will turn on the searchlight to expand the scope of a search, one must determine that it is time to reject a former solution/conclusion. If one does not make that transition, there is no creativity in that particular realm of thought.”

Stephen replied:

“This situation you describe fits my model as I have described in today’s threads with Rane, making the blind spot term superfluous for this new usage.”

I went back and re-read your comments to Rane. You suggest that creative blocks are caused by fear, and that the solution is to use a searchlight. I do not disagree, however the point remains that unless a person identifies a problem, that person will not progress beyond the ‘blind spot’ area. They are not engaging in the process of creativity.

I do not believe the ‘blind spot’ metaphor can be replaced with a Restricted Searchlight metaphor.

I would not call blind spots ‘superfluous’. I think they pose a tremendous obstacle to non-coercive parenting.

Stephen had written:

“Struggling to see through a ‘blind spot’ will only make the situation worse.”

I replied:

“No. One must identify a blind spot before one can proceed. Understanding the nature of the blind spot—why it exists; why it might now be rejected—those processes have to occur before one can engage in the process of the growth of knowledge.”

Stephen replied:

“You are talking about understanding a problem. This too is the search for conjectures and refutations. You will not find someone with this type of problem who has not arrived there via conjectures and refutations. It is not that they never have conjectured. It is that they have given up because they think they cannot find any good criticisms of their entrenched theory. This is because they need to widen their search for conjectures, not focus on the area of criticisms they are stuck in.”

I think the point I was trying to make was missed. A blind spot has to recognized as such before one can proceed to the next stage. That next stage would be the Searchlight stage.

(I also did not suggest that a person has never conjectured.)

And while yes, I agree that a person should widen their search for conjectures and seek criticisms, the point again is that a blind spot is not usually amenable to that process because a)one does not want to discard the entrenched theory, and/or b)one does not recognize they have an entrenched theory. I am not saying a blind spot should never be examined, reconsidered, or eradicated with the use of a searchlight, restricted or otherwise.

Stephen wrote:

“One needs to focus on the problem. One needs to ultimately focus in on new conjectures and new refutations. But one must be willing to always remain open to other criticisms from other areas. We must weed out other areas in our conjecturing, but we must realize we may have weeded out incorrectly and need to back up, look at the wider picture, and try to focus in again. It is the disinclination to do this, perhaps for the reasons I have stated in other posts, that hinders creativity.”

Again, I agree with all this. I like your Restricted Searchlight model. I think it describes what happens when one recognizes that there has been a complete shut-down in a particular area of thought, or that theories which once seemed adequate no longer suffice. It is that I disagree that you are describing a blind spot. I think you have described a procedural solution that arises after a blind spot has been discovered.

I thought this discussion was about whether the Restricted Searchlight metaphor could replace the phrase ‘blind spots’. Maybe that phrase means different things to different people. I use it to describe those areas of thoughts and behaviors that are viewed as suitable, or that go completely unexamined by an individual. I do not consider blind spots as representing even a minimal creation of knowledge.

David tossed out another word that perhaps could be used to substitute for the phrase ‘blind spots’—meme—although I am not sure that the two are perfectly equal. ‘Meme’ suggests an idea or behavior passed on through generations. Maybe religions or political party affiliations could be considered memes … ??? I’m not sure.

‘Blind spots’ may be uniquely individual ideas or behaviors. They may or may not be the result of memes.

See also:

Nel, 1997, ‘Against replacing the ‘blind spot’ metaphor’,

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