Blind Spots

4 02 2009

You’re driving down the road at cruising speed, with something nice in the CD player.  You’re in your happy place, thinking about what’s for dinner when you get home.  Then, suddenly, the idiot in the lane next to you tries to change lanes right into you, forcing you to slam on the brakes to get out of his way.  He didn’t look.  He didn’t signal.  He just went for it.

Mr. Idiot, as we know him, did not deliberately try to run into another vehicle.  In fact, he did not know that there was anyone next to him.  He did a quick glance in the mirror, and when he didn’t see anyone he concluded that no one was there.  What he failed to account for was the area near his rear fender where his mirrors did not reveal.  He failed to account for his blind spot.  It’s a weakness that all of humanity falls for, every single day.  It would be one thing if we were aware of our own ignorance, but we’re often blind to it.  Unconsciously, we assume that everything before us is visible to us.  Yet, there are many things that we can not see, and we can not even see that we have a blind spot.

In fact, everyone has a literal blind spot.  In each eye, just outside the center of vision, just to the right of it in the right eye, and just to the left of it in the left eye, there is a small spot that can not see anything.  No one notices it, because the brain has grown used to not seeing anything there.  It isn’t very easy to find, even if you look for it.  If you hold your finger about a foot from your face, the blind spot is about as wide as your finger.  If you held it in just the right place, your finger would disappear.  In reality, this visual gap should seem like an enormous loss, but we fail even to see the blind spot.  We have an area of blindness, and we are blind even to the blindness, itself.

You’re driving down the road, with a large pair of fuzzy dice dangling from the rearview mirror.  You don’t notice the dice, because your attention is on your driving.  Nevertheless, you can not see a large field of view that is blocked by the dice.  You have a blindness, and you can not even see the blindness, much less the dog on a leash that the blindness prevents you from seeing.  You begin to make a turn.  You notice the dice and smile at the clever decoration.  You feel a hard thud and hear the yelp of a dog and the wild screams of an old man.  Now you begin to seriously look for what it was that you could not see.  Let’s look a little more closely at what happened:

Stage Three: Your blindness was created by the dice, but you were unaware of it.  You were mostly unconscious of the obstruction, and you largely assumed that anything worth seeing was already in your view.  You were blind to the blindness.

Stage Two: You saw the dice and became aware of them.  You are now conscious of the obstruction, but you still fail to make any guess at what might be hiding behind them.

Stage One: You realize that your life has been impacted by something unforeseen.  Your vision is still obscured, but you begin to make a serious effort to learn of what it was that you could not see.

Blind spots can be found in every aspect of life, really.  They are the assumptions we make against our own ignorance.  It is these blind spots that make two people with the same information come to two different conclusions and fight with each other about it.  Take Christianity, for example.  One religion has so many different denominations, with differing tenets, yet they all originate from the same Bible, and they’re all based on the same Messiah.  What happens is, simply, that people come to the most natural conclusions based on what they’ve heard and read.  Granted, there are questions left ambiguous at first, but with time, these fade away.  They get used to the conclusions they’ve made, but they forget about how they arrived at those conclusions, or the possibility that they might be wrong.  Great vacuous gaps in understanding get bridged by a house of cards, one premise based upon another, until we’ve built an impressive little theology upon the foundation of what we do know, forgetting how much we do not know.  The areas of ignorance are forgotten, obscured by the things we know.  We are unaware of our own ignorance, and we are unprepared for anything that might arise from it.  Is speaking in tongues still valid for our time?  Some say yes.  Others say no.  Some speak unintelligibly to only God, while others say that speaking in tongues only is for witnessing to people of other languages.  People quote their favorite proof text to make their point, and the division is driven home.

Humans are extreme, to be sure.  We often say that we know something, and we sometimes say that we do not know something, but we seldom say that we are forty-five percent certain of something.

Stage Three: I feel confident that I can see everything that is relevant to me.

Stage Two: I am aware that there is an area that I know nothing about, but I have not begun to cope with it.

Stage One: I am aware of my limitations, and I am making decisions that take my shortfall into account.


In this image, we first see the black rays.  Then, we see the big white box that seems to be hovering over the center.  In one sense, the big white box does not even really exist.  There are two ways of looking at it: either there is no white box and I see the whole picture, or I am not really seeing the whole picture, because the box is in the way.  In this case, progressing to stage two is easy.  We see the obstruction.  Stage three, however, involves wondering about what is behind that box.  Most people would not get that far.

So, what is behind that box?  If we take what we do know and follow the trend, then we conclude that those rays continue inward and terminate at a point, like this:


Now the box is gone.  Our sense of understanding feels complete.  This is what we think the whole picture looks like, because this is what we infer from what we know.

Geologists look at the natural processes of the Earth and extrapolate back to a time millions of years ago.  They follow the lines.  They assume that the processes currently at work are as constant now as they’ve always been.  They assume an endpoint.  They never consider the effect of a global catastrophe.  They do not anticipate the unknown.  They only deal with what they see.

Atheists look at the physical world around them.  They make conclusions based on what they see, and they believe only in answers that are as physical as the world they know.  They do not anticipate the unknown.  They do not deal with the possibility of a spiritual realm or a God.

See, there’s a problem with basing one’s worldview only on the known.  Besides the fact that the known things are often wrong, when we overlook the things that we do not know, then we make sweeping generalizations.  There might be a dog behind those fuzzy dice.  There might be another car in that blind spot.  My theology might not be exactly correct, and even the appearance of a self-contradiction might not really be a contradiction at all.  Somewhere in that gap of understanding, things may actually come together in ways that we did not expect:


Always remember that the first step to true wisdom is understanding the limits of one’s own ignorance.  Until you know your limits, you never really can be sure of anything.  What you don’t know can hurt you.





One response

13 02 2009

This was great! Thank you for posting the link on my blog. As far as the different denominations that I spoke about on my blog, God’s revelation to the world was not meant to be interpreted in hundreds of different ways. Yet, because we are finite beings and bring to the table our own understandings such as the way we were brought up, what we were taught, etc., we believe what we are taught and try and make the bible fit our understanding instead of allowing the bible to form our beliefs. What we bring to the table (so to speak) is the blind spot that we are not even aware.

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