Sunday, November 14, 2010

Denial of blindness and mind blindness (or denial states)

A correspondent has asked me whether there is any visual equivalent to the state I described in yesterday's post about peri-personal space.

Well, not exactly but there is something similar known as anosognosia. This is a condition in which humans blinded by lesions to their primary visual cortex (V1) become completely blind and yet deny being blind. The denial is, as I understand it, persistent. In other words, when they bump into objects and cannot identify them visually, they still deny that they are blind.

This raises interesting and important questions about brain mechanisms that determine perceptual states and the extent to which such mechanisms are under the control of further brain mechanisms which dictate and determine knowledge.

There is yet another syndrome, which has more general applicability. It is a term no longer in use, because advances in our understanding of how the visual brain works have made the term inappropriate. But in the early stages of neurology it described states when, following lesions in the brain, patients could see but could not understand what they had seen. The neurologist Hermann Munk called this syndrome Seelenblindheit, and was usually referred to in English as mind blindness.

I think that the term should be re-introduced to describe certain groups of humans, amongst whom I include politicians but also a good number of academics (economists do not fit into this category for they seem incapable of either seeing or understanding the economic picture).

Blithely those suffering from mind blindness persevere even in spite of the knowledge that their senses and intellect gives them. They are mind blind, or in states of denial. When they are cured of their mind blindness by some mysterious cortical mechanims, it is often too late.

By re-introducing the term, we might be able to take the syndrome more seriously and study it neurobiologically. It may yet give us important insights about the knowledge-acquiring system of the brain.


Anonymous said...

In light of the eruption of natural gas drilling in North Eastern PA, I have found another group of people who are "mind blind": the leaders of the natural gas companies who over and over refute that the fracturing techniques employed to exert natural gas are the cause of water pollution, essentially the presence of methane gas, in areas surrounding the natural gas wells. The denial that natural gas drilling has any negative impact on the environment is a major issue. The documentaries Split Estate, and Gas Land provide examples of such blatant mind blindness by the CEO's of these major corporations. I have made it my personal goal to spread awareness of this issue to other areas of the country, as I have witnessed first hand the destruction natural gas companies are creating, while leaders deny the drilling techniques are causing any of the subsequent problems in communities.

Anonymous said...

Mind-blindness is a widely used term in the field of psychology. It refers, more or less, to an inability to experience empathy. Many folks with autism, or disorders such as schizophrenia or personality disorders, are said to have mind-blindness. So unfortunately, it's a little too late to bring this term back into vogue in the way that you want.

S.Z. said...

Oh, what a pity! It is such a good term for describing those I mention. Perhaps the term is elastic enough to encompass both groups!!