The Optic Blind Spot: Two Metaphors
Updated: Mar 20
There is a space where your optic nerve connects to your retina. There aren't any cells that are sensitive to light in this space, and as a result, there is a blind spot there. I first saw my optic blind spot around 2018 and was surprised that I had never seen it before. It's a strange feeling having been so close to something for so long yet only seeing it for the first time; possibly akin to noticing a birthmark later in life. I got excited and started showing it to other people as if I had made a scientific discovery or stumbled upon a buried treasure. It was so wild to me that, right here, as close as can possibly be, is a space of no vision. It piqued my curiosity as to what else might be here (or there). I don't mean additional blind spots but rather - possibilities. For example, I've always had this narrative about who I am ie shy, anxious, risk-averse, etc. I began questioning these ideas. Are they really true? All of time? Are they me? Do they define me? Are they just "who I am?" What if there is something else, something more useful, right here, that's been here the whole time but I just couldn't see it? This inquiry let me take off my blinders and allowed things to become possible. Not possible in the scary-OCD-anxiety-worst-case-catastrophic-scenario sense (that's always been there :/), but possible in the sense of "What am I capable of that I never thought I was?"
If you've never seen your optic blind spot before, I invite you to do so below.
Use the Smiley Face and X below (if you're on a phone or tablet you may need to create your own version on sheet a paper).
Position your head about 12 inches away from your screen.
Close your right eye
Stare at the X with your left eye
Move your head away from your screen until the smiley face disappears
This is your optic blind spot!
Feel free to switch eyes.
What's really fascinating is that the brain "fills in" the blind spot with what fits, in this case, the color of the background. You can even try this with a different color background and smiley face/X - the same thing will happen. It's not like we are actually seeing a black spot or white spot where the blind spot is, but rather seeing what fits in the space and makes sense at the moment.
This leads me to the second metaphor of the optic blind spot. We, humans, need coherence; that is, for things to make sense. The downside of this is our minds will use this to our own detriment just so long as it makes enough sense. For example, I made a mistake and that's just what I do because I've never been good at anything. Remember that time you failed the big test? This is just who you are, someone who makes mistakes. This narrative, albeit hurtful, makes enough sense that I may not go on to question it, notice it, or be curious about it. In a similar way, when I press the power button on my computer, it turns on. It makes sense, that's what power buttons are supposed to do - power things on. I don't analyze to make sure that was the proper sequence of events. When I press the power button and my computer doesn't turn on, I think "That's strange, did I not depress the button fully? Did my computer break? Etc." This line of reasoning was triggered by incoherence; something not adding up or making sense, so my brain is trying to figure it out. I could have also gone with "This brand of computer is Sh%&, of course, it doesn't turn on," and stopped there - makes enough sense, right?
We often see this in people with OCD - Why do I have these thoughts? Would I do something like that? Could that happen to me? Why am I fearful of this? I'm such a worry wort. Oftentimes, we have trouble making sense of our OCD and that leads to a lot of distress (remember, we humans need coherence) so we might try to resolve the conflict by figuring it out or allowing it to make sense - EVEN IF IT'S TO OUR OWN DETRIMENT!
We can try to be curious about this question "Is the sense-making here useful to me? Is it moving my life in the direction I want it to go? Does it seem helpful?" If it doesn't, let's get curious :) Or maybe, and here's the paradox, letting things not make sense sometimes, makes the most sense.
*One caveat. Sense-making can easily become ruminative and therefore, at least I'd say, unhelpful.