The Blindspot that has Plagued Humanity for Eons
One reason you don't know what to do is that your brain won't let you see the right choice for everyone.
December 5, 2015
Jeffery J. Smith

We Fail to See

There are some things people can’t see, even when those things are right in front of people’s noses.

Humans can’t hear a dog whistle; the frequency is too high. And we couldn’t hear a whale whistle, if one existed; the frequency is too low. Those limits are not failings. We merely don’t have the equipment to detect those sounds. But we do have the equipment that let’s us make certain distinctions, but not others, even when the evidence is right before us.

Imagine if you could not tell the difference between a gift and a theft. Actually, under the right conditions, you can’t. What is it about the brain that it has such blindspots?

Similar to Blindspots

Are our brains not evolved enough? Part of our brain is the “lizard brain”. And that fellow animal has one huge blindspot. In Chile on the rocky Pacific Coast, lizards fight each other for the best locations to build a nest on the steep cliffs. But when a seagull comes to eat their eggs, the mother lizards stand idly by, blinking their dimwitted eyes! They’re programmed to compete with their own species for land but lack the instinct to defend their newborn from other species.

Humans are like those lizards. People compete with fellow humans below them or at their level but give a pass to the wrongdoing of people they put above them. It’s the instinctual behavior of all hierarchical species.

While our brains do have more room to evolve—and hopefully soon will—the present stage of evolution of our brains should suffice, but doesn’t.

Misdirection Misses the Mark

Could you see a gorilla in your midst? A psychologist had a group of people bounce a basketball to each other and count the number of bounces. While they were playing, a guy in a gorilla suit walked right through their play circle. After the game, the psychologist asked the group if they had seen the gorilla. Half had not.

The second time, everybody was ready and saw the gorilla—but missed another guy who was dressed up as a different animal!

That’s misdirection, the trick that magicians employ. It’s brief, episodic, and not species-wide. There must be some other mental habit of the brain that explains the blindspots that are enduring and imprinted upon nearly everyone.

Denial Comes Closer

How people deny unpleasant truths comes close to blindspots but are not exactly the same. To soften the cold, hard truth, we employ euphemisms, like “pass away”. We put our mortality out of our minds. We tell ourselves all sorts of pleasant wishes—“things will be better tomorrow.” “Oh, he’s not such a bad guy” (when actually he’s a cretin). But to deny, first we must be conscious of what we put into denial, so it’s not the same process.

Under the pressure to conform, we deny all the time—we pointedly ignore the “elephant in the room”: the scientific Book of Anomalies and The Secret Life of Plants, and the Bates’ vision method. If the mainstream experts won’t go along with these fringe findings, then it’d feel uncomfortably embarrassing for most people to agree with a minority position.

It takes a certain sort of personality (childlike) to be able to say “the emperor wears no clothes.” And that candid character is rare. Hence, the growth of knowledge is pretty spectacular in some directions—e.g., computer miniaturization—but pretty stunted in others.

Real Blindspots

Blindspots are not how we choose to ignore some truths but how the brain simply can not grasp certain phenomenon. It’s the opposite of believing something patently false—like a superstition or prejudice. Rather, it’s being unable to know something that is true.

When Columbus first landed at Cuba, the Indians could not see his ships. They did not ignore the ships. Their brains could not see them, so some psychologists conclude.The Europeans used a plow that needed only one more obvious development to become efficient and less backbreaking but farmers there could never see it, yet the Chinese easily saw how to make the improvement and made the leap, saving themselves much toil.In another experiment, given a problem in numbers, subjects could not solve it; given the same problem in people’s names, everyone could easily solve it.

In these examples, the blindspot were filled in. Sometimes, however, an understanding gets lost and a blindspot takes over. The most crucial one of the last half millennium is how the perspective of gathers / hunters—that land can not be bought and sold (it was in the Bible, too)—was forgotten.

Now, due to that blindspot, the difference between things of value that are gifts of nature and things of value that are products of labor and capital carries no weight in our consciousness. That we pay an absentee owner for land feels fine while the notion of compensating those whom we exclude from our land feels strange. Most people can not see the difference between paying for human-made goods such as cars, clothes, and computers, and paying for oil or locations. It comes as a surprise to most that the latter sort of payment is the single largest stream in the GDP and that it drives the business cycle. And most importantly, it comprises our commonwealth.

What’s Went Wrong & How do We Right it?

Why can’t the brain see some things that should be obvious? Is the brain missing a vital part? Just like broken genes cause birth defects in certain individuals, does missing DNA hobble everyone? Like when you buy a bed-in-a-box from Ikea and get it home and start to assemble it and find a major part is missing even though all parts are listed on the packing slip; you’re stymied (and angry). Did God, Mother Nature, or the Cosmos accidentally leave a particular part out of our brain box?

Maybe the old metaphor got it backwards. Eve and Adam did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge but more likely smoked a Weed of Ignorance.

Maybe the old metaphor got it backwards. Eve and Adam did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge but more likely smoked a Weed of Ignorance. So now our entire species has such a broad blindspot about economic justice that the vast majority of us needlessly suffer deprivation of goods or of time away from this madhouse economy.

What’s the cure for a blindspot? Empathy. What generates empathy? Community. What weaves community? Relationships. So engage your neighbors. Make them feel good about paying land dues and receiving rent shares. Then that blindspot will be replaced with clear vision forever.

While our brains do have more room to evolve—and hopefully soon will—the present stage of evolution of our brains should suffice, but doesn’t.
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Jeffery J. Smith

JEFFERY J. SMITH published The Geonomist, which won a California GreenLight Award, has appeared in both the popular press (e.g.,TruthOut) and academic journals (e.g., USC's “Planning and Markets”), been interviewed on radio and TV, lobbied officials, testified before the Russian Duma, conducted research (e.g., for Portland's mass transit agency), and recruited activists and academics to A member of the International Society for Ecological Economics and of Mensa, he lives in Mexico. Jeffery formerly was Chief Editor at