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March 11, 2008

Blind Spot Creativity

On Creativity Central blog, there is an interesting post .  Here's an excerpt from that blog:

Like an earthquake, every eureka moment has a series of aftershocks.  One of the most fascinating of these after sights is discovering your blind spots.  Typically, you'll hear lines like "The answer was right in front of me and I couldn't see it."  "I was solving the wrong problem."  "I never challenged the conventional thinking."

Isn't fallibility great?

Years ago, Russell Ackoff, a teacher at the Wharton School wrote a great article called "Infallibility."  I am paraphrasing some of the highlights because it sheds some more light on our blind spots.  In an experiment conducted by Alex Bavelas at MIT, subjects were taken into a room where slides were projected.  The slides were produced by waving a flashlight in dark room over unexposed film.

The subjects sat at desks in front of two buttons.  They were told to press one of the buttons after each slide. Here's the twist.  If they pressed the "right" one they would be paid, if they pressed the wrong one, they would get nothing. 

There was nothing said about what parameters determined the "right" choice. After a few slides, most subjects began to formulate theories to explain the rewards they received and soon they were quite sure that their theory was correct.

When the experiment was completed the subjects were asked to reveal their theories.  Then Bavelas told them that they were rewarded at random. There was absolutely no relationship between the buttons pushed and the rewards.   Most of the subjects were surprised, but insisted that they theories were correct.  They would not abandon their theories.

The blog post continues with more details on the blind spot creativity, and additional footnotes.  Continue reading this content at  Blind Spot Creativity.

Posted by ACASA on March 11, 2008 at 09:19 PM in blog post | Permalink


Both Nietzsche and Poincare had something interesting to say, inversely, about 'blind spots'. Nietzsche objected to ‘force points’ (point-source-directed-causal-force) and said that ‘attraction’ and ‘repulsion’ were a ‘total fiction’. The notion of cause in a point-force-directed sense “collapses with the notion of ‘purpose’ (telos). There can be no cause without intention, thus ‘cause’ and ‘intention’ are a mutually cancelling tautology. choose your pairs! e.g. a scientist has the ‘intention’ of making a new lubricant that outperforms other lubricants at high temperature. If he succeeds, we say that he ‘caused’ this result, the development of a new lubricant. But that is just the mutually collapsing cause-intention pair that we picked. The janitor (janitors are always useful to catch ‘blindspots’) meanwhile notices in his sweeping up that the cockroaches have come out of hiding and are lying dead on the floor. The new chemical, while a marginal improvement as a lubricant, is a marvellous pesticide. Had the scientist had the intention to develop a new pesticide for roaches, we would have said that he had ‘caused’ this result; i.e. that he had causally achieved his ‘end goal’ or ‘fulfilled his purpose’.

That is, the effects of what we do always go well beyond our intentions (as McLuhan observed, it makes little difference if our intention causes the production of Cadillacs or if our intention causes the production of cornflakes, what matters most is how the operations that collapse these mutually supporting tautological pairings , transform our relations with one another and the collective dynamic we are included in.. So the ‘causality’ is not ‘out there in nature’ but involves matching ‘causation’ with ‘intention’ (intended result).in a mutually collapsing pairing.

Poincare made a similar point in ‘Science and Hypothesis’. That is, he noted that we reduce and simplify our own experiences and observations to make our explanations easier (as Kepler also said; “we choose not that which is most true but that which is most easy” ). One of the most common ways we do this is to assume that, in dynamical phenomena, the conditions in the present moment depend only on the conditions in the immediate past, so that we don’t have to consider the whole spatial-relation (nonlocally influencing) flow of things. This leads to another (really the same) tautological mutually collapsing pairing. In this case, we say that ‘causality’ is the ‘operator’ that must be applied to the immediate past to create the present moment. David Bohm commented on the mickey-mouse nature of the ‘causality’ in this arrangement; i.e. in the moment that we discover that Lincoln has been shot dead, we go back to the immediate past and discover John Wilkes Booth aiming a gun at Lincoln’s head. So we say that Booth ‘caused’ Lincoln’s death, as per the ‘cause’ and ‘result’ (end-of-purpose) mutually collapsing pairing. Meanwhile this is just a little tidbit within a far bigger swirling phenomena that includes the developments of fire-arms, the slave trade, the blending of many things leading to the unfolding/emergence of political factions and Booth etc, so there are a lot of ways we could hook up ‘causation’ and ‘end-of-purpose’ (telos). But, making Lincoln’s death a ‘stake-in-the-ground’ sets up one side of the tautological pairing that gives rise to the notion of ‘cause’ as associates with the fictional ‘point-force’ (Booth caused it) interpretation.

The real 'blind spots', as our troubled world social/environmental dynamic gives testimony to, are not those associated with 'causally' producing desired future conditions from the immediate past, they associate, instead, with our ignoring Mach's Principle that 'our local system dynamics condition the dynamics of the space we are included in at the same time as the dynamics of space condition the behaviours of the included local systems (e.g. 'us')', as is the essence of McLuhan's above-cited message.

Russell Ackoff came close to making the same point as Nietzsche in his argument for the reconciling of 'out-and-back-in-again' (synthetical) inquiry with 'in-and-back-out-again' (analytical) inquiry. After the fact of the emergence of 'the university' we may be inclined to attribute 'causal responsibility' to the community/suprasystem as with the 'point-force' interpretion, or, we could see the birth of the university in analogous terms to the birth of a hurricane (storm cell or convection cell) in the flow of the atmosphere suprasystem. Ackoff left this 'particle' versus 'wave' dynamics choice of interpretation an open question.

Posted by: ted lumley at Jul 23, 2008 12:12:57 AM

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