John Cleese has given some very clever talks on creativity in which he comes off as a ‘de facto taoist’, so to speak. I suppose anyone with a contrarian point of view is a potential ‘de facto taoist’.
To get the most from this post, please listen to the brief audio clip on the blind spot at http://www.centertao.org/media/BlindSpot.mp3. 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’. When I “sleep on it”, I am backing away from the urgency of my agenda for a while. That distance allows me to see more broadly ‘outside the box’ and find a way around the current problem. That distance allows me to see more of the forest rather than just trees.
The next question that comes to mind is what gives birth to my agenda in the first place? Clearly, fear and need play a central role. These primal emotions fuel an agenda born from my desires and ideals — the thinking side of need (1). What I think blocks out or otherwise skews perception to favor these emotions – and voila! I’ve created my personal agenda along with its inherent blind spots.
How do I know when I have a blind spot? Any stimuli out in the world that directly affects my agenda, hidden or not, will produce symptoms. One of the most evident symptoms is anger, or its counterpart flight, i.e., fight or flight. Beneath that lie my primal fears and needs. Using any sign of anger as a symptom of a likely blind spot can speak volumes about me. Here is where the courage of self-honesty comes in, and where the difficulty lies. 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 past 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, so to speak? Emotion creates the blind spot, yet ironically, I’ll draw on emotion to drive me passed 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 drives 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.