Veering on the Verge

The analogy of the blind person orienting herself in space can have a bearing on the many ways our cognitive mapping works: by bumps and starts. I invite readers to make the leap to via this excerpt from Alexandra Horowitz On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.

So here I committed a cardinal walking-with-the-blind sin: I tried to guide her. I reached out, about to grab Gordon's arm to prevent this inevitable progress into the wall. Barely restraining myself, I managed to plainly offer, "Um, you're swerving to your left quite a bit. You've about a quarter of the sidewalk left before..."

Gordon was unfazed. "If I go too far, I'll hit the building. But I know where I am."

I couldn't be convinced. "... And now you're pretty close to hitting the side of the building..."

She stopped and seemed to look at me steadily, then resumed walking. True to her word, she went ahead and banged right into the building with her cane. Gordon's cane tapped a quick pattern on the wall and sidewalk, a perfunctory petting of an unbeloved animal. Then she smoothly righted herself, turning just enough to take a path parallel to the building's line.

Gordon had deliberately veered, I realized, in order to get a reference point. Out of the sea of the middle of the sidewalk, she headed for something tangible that could give her her bearings.

I was at least in good company in my overweening desire to help her avoid bodily injury. People grab her all the time as she approaches buildings, Gordon said. But they, and I, were simply not seeing how she was seeing the space. She was aiming to run into the building, not trying to avoid it.

"It's not an obstacle at all, is it?" I asked. "It's something you're using to navigate the space."

"Exactly." Gordon smiled, continuing on a perefectly parallel course.
I am careful not to suggest that each and every member of a group or collective adopt the blind pose. I want to point here that Horowitz's recounting has two people which serves as a reminder that as a collective enterprise research needs its blind (expert) and its naive guides: it's how the group can orient and reorient itself — different ways of embracing obstacles.

And so for day 1169