Certainty as blindness

How long before it dawns on us that the world we see no longer reflects the world we inhabit, that we are blind?

Blindsight, by Peter Watts

This quote is about the rare cases of people who are blind but insist they can see. And it is about all of us sometimes.

There was a model of the world, and we didn’t look outward at all; our conscious selves saw only the simulation in our heads, an interpretation of reality, endlessly refreshed by the senses.

painting by Cyndi Taylor

Until it isn’t refreshed anymore, until we retreat deep into our model and no longer perceive the differences in the physical world, or perceive them only as wrongness.

After decades in a waterfall world, where information officially passed through tangible documents, can a person see the casual flows of information in a product team working closely with a customer? Can they see the tests that happen in pairing with the developers? Can they see the frustrations cut short by pairing together?

They see wrongness, they see wasted time, they see information lost when it is not stored in a file cabinet. It takes releasing an old model to see what new things are happening.

Our model of how the world works is precious to us. It is precious because we have a place in it: we belong in that world, the world we grew into, the world that needs us.

Loosening that model hurts, it is disconnection, it pulls us away from what we know and love. But that world is gone. We can grow into the new one, if we can see it. To see it, we have to loosen our current model. It helps to seek being wrong.

Whether we want to change the world or find our place in it, it helps to see it. To see it as it is, right now, not as it was or as it ought to be.

That’s hard; by adulthood, we each have a model of the world that has worked for us. It is normal to go deeper into that model rather than shake out of it. Seeking out the places where our model is wrong can push us back into uncertainty, into vulnerability, into a breadth of possibility we haven’t owned since childhood.

We don’t grow up blind. We grow into blindness. We can grow out of it.