John Cleese has given some very witty talks on creativity in which he comes off as a de facto Taoist, or as I like to say, a small ‘t’ taoist. Well, I suppose anyone with contrarian views is potentially a de facto ‘t’aoist.
To get the most from this post, google this short video [youtube john cleese blindspot]on the blind spot. The most striking part comes toward the end when he describes the Blind Spot, which I feel parallels the Peter Principle. (For more, google [John Cleese on Creativity (video from a training)].)
The Dunning–Kruger effect
Actually, a blind spot, scotoma, is an obscuration of the visual field. John Cleese borrows the term to describe a kind of cognitive bias. Wikipedia has an academic entry that parallels this somewhat. Here is a short excerpt.
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.
The Blind Spot
John Cleese’s idea of backing off in order to move forward, and the humorous way he talks about the “blind spot”, parallels core Taoist principles.
For example, his comments about the “blind spot” are another way of addressing chapter 71’s, Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. His take on this also parallels chapter 70’s My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet no one in the world can understand them or put them into practice.
What causes this “blind spot”, and why does “sleeping on it” work, are questions that crop up. The word agenda comes immediately to mind. An agenda blinds me to the big picture. The whole point of an agenda is to narrow the focus of life to a linear plan safely inside-the-box. To sleep on it, I naturally must relax the urgent aspect of my agenda. That distance often allows me to wake up seeing a broader outside-the-box way around the current problem. Sleep makes it easier to see the forest through the trees.
The next question that comes to mind is what initiates my agenda in the first place? Clearly, fear and need play a central role. These primal emotions fuel any agenda arising from my desires and ideals — the thinking side of need(1). Next, ensuing thoughts tend to block out or otherwise skew perception to favor these emotions – and voila! I end up in an ‘emotion fuels thought -> thought fuels emotion’ vicious circle with its inherent blind spots.
How do I know I have a blind spot? Any stimuli that directly affects my agenda, hidden or not, will produce symptoms. One of the most evident symptoms is anger, or its counterpart escape, i.e., fight or flight. Any sign of either ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ is a symptom of a probable blind spot and helps reveal my agenda. This is where the courage of self-honesty can come to my rescue. Fortunately, as chapter 63 notes, Difficult things in the world must have their beginnings in the easy. The easy beginning, in this case, is simply accepting that anger is a symptom of my blind spot, and therefore important, if I actually value being true to myself.
Seeing beyond my blind spot is only half the journey. I also have what I’d call a “crippled spot”. How do I now practice what I preach, as it were? Emotion creates the blind spot, yet ironically, I draw on emotion to propel me past it. This parallels Buddha’s Eight Fold Path: First comes seeing my possible blind spot (Right Comprehension). Next comes remembering my possible blind spot (Right Resolution, Right Thought), and finally comes the emotional will to live in accord with what I know (Right Effort, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living).
Emotion is what veers my life into blind spots, yet emotion is what pushes me to strive diligently to follow the way. As chapter 59 says, Following the way from the start he may be said to accumulate an abundance of virtue. Just to be clear however, chapter 38 cautions me, A man of the highest virtue does not keep to virtue and that is why he has virtue. Thus, making emotion (desire, need, fear, worry) the villain is as shortsighted as turning a blind eye to their negative influence on my life. The “good” and “bad” always go hand in hand.
(1) Viewed more closely, desire seems to be an amalgamation of instinctive emotion — gut need — and thinking. Without that thinking side, spontaneous need would move us just as it does for all other animals. Need, and its source spring fear, is a primal driving force in life. Without it, we’re dead — literally. Any misgivings we have need to focus on the thinking side of desire. Thinking beats the drum of emotion, easily making mountains out of the molehills of need and fear.