Blindsight and the page

I read about a man who suffered a stroke in his visual cortex, rendering him “cortically blind.” His eyes functioned perfectly well–he wasn’t retinally blind. But the signals going from eyeballs to the visual processing center in the back of the brain hit the stroke wall, like so many misfired paintballs.

However, and this is the cool thing, the man couldn’t see a damned thing, but he was still able to navigate a maze full of obstacles. He couldn’t “see,” and yet he passed through it perfectly! This means his eyes saw the maze and sent the retinal information through more primitive, survival parts of the brain–motor cortex for avoiding danger, amygdala for emotional processing.

Shows that our conscious only gets a small part of what we know, what’s directing us. And this, I thought, is exactly what creative writing is like. Whenever I freak about some part of the writing process, it’s because I’m “cortically blind”–that’s all writers’ block is–the inability or refusal to let that other mysterious part of the mind, its creative surges, do the job of creating. The best stuff pops up, like a quark, and it’s not open to conscious forcing or control, or not much, anyway. I don’t really have writers’ block, I’m just lazy or too tired.

Who was it who said the hardest part of writing is appyling the seat of your pants to the chair? That’s all it is, just a matter of sitting down and letting the “retinal” muses take off. Information is coming in, it’s getting blended and frappéd in the mind, it’s coming out our fingers, whether we are conscious or can see it or not.

Control freaks do not make good creative writers. Unless they harness the control part of the controlling part of the brain. I wish we could point to the creative modules of the mind/brain as easily as the visual modules. But that wouldn’t be much fun, in the end. Better to ride the rollercoaster in the dark. Where going off the edge is a total surprise.

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