Punctum caecum is a medical term. It means the blind spot in each eye that results where the optic nerve passes through the retina. There are no receptors at that point so no image forms there.
Since there is a blind spot in each eye, you would think that there should be a blank space roughly in the middle of anything we look at, but there is not. Why?
Because we see with our brain, the eyes merely collect the information to be processed. Our brain is quite capable of filling in the missing material.
If the punctum caecum were to be our only blind spot, all would be well. The sad reality is that we have many other blind spots and the brain, as it is easily capable of doing, fills them.
Most of our other blind spots are not physical. They are areas of knowledge where we lack either training or experience. Areas where we hold an intuitive answer that turns out to be wrong. Possibly areas where we have the experience, but have misinterpreted its meaning.
It is as important to learn what you do not know as it is to learn other facts and skills. Remember that your brain fills in the missing pieces and it won’t even tell you that it did that.
Maybe more commonly we notice an opinion from someone who is either very animated about it, or is seen to be an expert. This cannot count as knowledge.
There two thoughts here:
- It is an argument fault to rely solely on experts. “Argument from authority.” Experts have been wrong in the past and will be wrong in the future. Experts are persuasive not conclusive.
- Passion is not a substitute for rational thought. Tests done at Duke University point to the idea that people who hold a passionate position suffer from “solution aversion,” the inability to accept an answer that conflicts with their cherished belief.
There have been expert opinions that now seem very wrong.
- “What use could this company make of an electrical toy? ” Western Union rejecting the telephone.
- “Babe Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching.” Tris Speaker, Hall of Fame Baseball player
- “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” Business school professor commenting on the concept that became FEDEX
Biases, prejudices, and often intuition are shortcuts to decisions. Little good can come from owning intuitively wrong answers. It is like a 4-year-old who “knows” that he does not like strawberries.
Question assumptions until you know they are meaningful. It is best if you understand how you came to hold them so that you may seek their meaning before paying the price of implementing and failure.
You cannot overcome a blind spot until you know it is there. The brain is just too good at filling in the missing parts.
Every plan of any kind has a blind spot.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.