April 4th: Blind spots – We do not see that we do not see.

Yesterday Kaie, Noora, Jennifer and me had a videochat via Adobe Connect. Despite some minor technical problems it went quite well, and turned up some basic directions this course may take.

Probably a good starting point to approach the interdependece of medium, media, culture and education would be the concept of the “Blind Spot”, as a metaphor and scaffold to understand and tackle more complex medio-cultural problems.

The “Blind Spot”

A blind spot is, neurophysiologically, a small area on our retina where there are no photoreceptors, where we cannot “see”. The amazing thing is, we do not see a black spot in our field of vision, because the brain “stitches” this stimulus-empty hole shut: We do not see that we do not see here!
Experience this phenomenon first hand:“Hold book screen with right hand, close left eye, and fixate star of Figure 1 with right eye. Move book slowly back and forth along line of vision until at an appropriate distance (from about 12 to 14 inches) round black spot disap- pears. With star well focused, spot should remain invisible even if book screen is slowly moved parallel to itself in any direction.”
– Heinz von Foerster (2003), “Understanding Understanding”, p.213, adress from 1973, p.212; book-screen-exchange by Tan

A cognitive blind spot is similar to this neurophysiological one: Something we cannot culturally or individually perceive, maybe even as concept. As an example I already tasked you to see this BBC-clip about color-perception of westerners and Himbas [XXX]:

A Himba has difficulty to discern between green and cyan (left photo), while it’s easy for him to  to figure out the one different shade of green in the circle (right screenshot). Can you?

You may conclude from this phenomenon that “the absence of a sign is the sign of an absence” – If we are not aware of something, it could mean that we are lacking something to achieve an awareness.
As long as Himbas are among Himbas, or westerners among westerners; or as long as no one is talking about colors, this two cultural blind spots won’t be noticed.

Other cultural or individual blind spots may have more dire repercussions.
Please read Paul Watzlawick’s examples on Englishman, French and Americans in the short excerpt from Brian Van der Horst, “Edward T. Hall – A Great-Grandfather of NLP” [XXX] (in the Dropbox).

So, pointing to blind spots, or turning blind spots visible somehow – for example by art, education or therapy – will allow to see and act differently than before, even if we cannot see more than before:

“If I don’t see I am blind, I am blind; but if I see I am blind, I see.”
– Heinz von Foerster (2003), “Understanding Understanding”, p.213, adress from 1973

There are three remarks to blind spots I’d like to discuss with you:

  1. Blind spots aren’t something that can be avoided, they are constitutive for our cognition. For example using language automatically generates blind spots by the necessity to categorize before we denotate.
    The longing for objectivity, i.e. for truths that everyone on the world can agree with, is a longing for living without individual or cultural blind spots.
    Without blind spots we would be totally free to perceive and name; Kaie already mentioned that we would be mere shadows by then; and Noora also remarked that life is already complex enough, without venturing into blind-spot-areas. What would be ethical for us to do? As Kaie stated, it may also be a matter of trust to get confronted with information that requires us to rethink (“don’t trust anybody. Anybody=information overload.”)
  2. Blind spots come in a broad variety, from something which is easily spottable from the outside (like with the Himbas’ color perception), to something seemingly natural like binary differentiations (“good”-“bad”, “dark”-“light”, “chaos”-“order”) or big cultural narratives like “money”, “property” etc. Therapeutical interventions aim for individual blind spots that are often supported by cultural customs and narratives and are hard to see from the ‘inside’; we often encounter visual metaphors here, e.g. in Carl Roger’s humanistic ‘reflective’ approach (Noora mentioned him, if I remember right). Gregory Bateson’s “Logic Categories of Learning and Communications” (dropbox) deal extensively with cultural/individual blind spots as target for a specific kind of learning/education.
  3. Blind spots simplify our view, they reduce complexity. So trying to hint on someone’s blind spot may be countered with anger, fear or denial.
    Von Foerster explains it this way:

    “Every discovery has a painful and a joyful side: painful, while struggling with a new insight; joyful, when this insight is gained. I see the sole purpose of my presentation to minimize the pain and maximize the joy for those who have not yet made this discovery; and for those who have made it, to let them know they are not alone.”

    – Heinz von Foerster (2003), “Understanding Understanding”, p.213, adress from 1973, p.211-212

So, you cannot avoid blind spots, they simplify your life, and they may hinder you to see problems (not to talk of how to solve them) that nonetheless affect you.
Technical and conceptual media bring their own blind spots (see Christina Schwalbe’s and Torsten Meyer’s text).

Here are some tasks from April 1st, but also fitting to Noora’s input at the videochat:

Warm up excercise:
Invent some expressions you think that your language is lacking, invent words to describe events, emotions, persons, things etc. you think would enrich your culture (and/or your personal life) and would make it easier to talk about specific areas.
Douglas Adams did this in the lexicon “The Meaning of Liff” in quite a funny way, Peter Bichsel/Remo Rauscher in a story/video “A table is a table” in quite a sad way.

A question to begin with is: How can we show a Himba that there are colors he has no concept of – and does he even need to know? Do we need to know how a Himba sees the world?
The main question is: How can we do this for ourselves, from being within our culture?
Do you know of any “blind spots” of our culture, that are so deeply ingrained as to be (nearly?) invisible, but deeply shape our behavior for the better or the the worse?
How does, how did our culture handle blind spots? Are there (aesthetic) traditions to point into directions not pointable by ourselves?
Maybe Jennifer can tell us something about the Ayahuasca-ceremony

Please blog your ideas and findings…!

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About Wey

My name's Wey-Han Tan, I graduated 2007 as Diplompädagoge (educational scientist) in Hamburg, and 2009 as M.A. in ePedagogy Design. Currently I work at the project "Universitätskolleg" as scientific assistant at the Faculty for Educational Sciences, Psychology and Human Movement at the University of Hamburg. My research interests are game based learning, second order gaming, media theory and (radical) constructivist approaches. I like pen-and-paper-roleplaying, especially in contemporary horror settings like "KULT" or "Call of Cthulhu".
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One Response to April 4th: Blind spots – We do not see that we do not see.

  1. Pingback: Opening the Belief Window – The Process and Templates – Part 2 | THOUGHTstream Tools

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