To take the example of risk management one more time, let’s look at the situation of making judgments for the most favorable outcomes to avoid failure in the face of historical evidence. Indeed, history has many lessons to teach. Yet, today we find ourselves in a business landscape of shifting possibilities and many unknowns in rapid swing.
In facing probabilities and the predictions at stake, we seek to calculate results. We may map out a strategy for a terrain calculated in a rigid structure while still knowing there are unknowns. We cannot see everything. Somehow we must think about that which stands for tangible verification and that unknown, which is like a blind spot.
Daniel Borge writes in The Book of Risk that risk management is an art of combining art and science, volatility and correlation. He explains the art and science of neurosurgery. A doctor must have the most up to date knowledge and tools but cannot succeed at their job without a control over the hand no different than the artist exercises skill with the drawing instrument or brush. They must also make intuitive judgments under the conditions of uncertainty and the unknown circumstances that arise in the moment. The doctor’s knowledge base is the intellectual capital they bring into their profession whereas the skill is something of incomparable intangible worth.
The way we map out a logical framework of universal value compares to the format of a grid. The other element, which we may call art, is those invariables of repeatable substitution. The concept occurred to the 18th century philosopher René Descartes one day in a waking dream state when he noticed a fly crawling around on the ceiling. He realized he could devise a system for describing where the fly is located by its distance from the walls. Then, setting it to a point, he invented the coordinate plane. For a man who believed humans are enshrouded in illusory subjectivity, he dreamed up a way to define an indeterminate and also (to him) unverifiable object within a logical framework.
In this instance of locating the elusive fly, we are faced with a problem. The situation requires of us agility, a concept known to many businesses today seeking fitness in something like an obstacle course. The volatility of risk management today also compares to accounting for that agility required of also a neurosurgeon performing fast in the instant of a moment facing what we can only grasp by a certain intuition. In all such cases, defining the invariables narrows down to movement within a static framework.
Art critics see their work actually as an art fashioned into a science. They have explored the same underpinnings of defining the terms of an artwork based on an analysis of two relational components. These are based on the sequencing of words, or the contiguity of meaning, versus the way you can substitute terms based on similarities. The ideas stem from the Russian linguist and literary theorist Roman Jacobson. We can imagine these two elements as intersecting horizontal and vertical lines.
The two intersecting lines of Jacobson’s structural analysis conform to similar another theory of Jacques Levi-Strauss, who claimed the same principles of language may be applied to myth. Myth is the history risk management experts account for and is also be our mindset of living in the present. Even while it seems so irrational this way of creating myths is similar to building mental models for which we only see relational elements, such as the illusion of a pattern. The relationships we see are the ones we look for.
Now, when businesses are faced with volatility, this situation is no different than when Descartes struggled to locate the fly on the wall. The fly is like the blind spot in the very center of the eye we all have. Somehow we are blind to see to the center of things we look at. When vision does truly fail us, we actually see distortions of reality. Descartes’ planar grid is that science we speak of as myth, and the fly is the invariable that may have the potential of disrupting a totalizing domain of equivalence..
We can compare the fly on Descartes’ grid to the function of the Amsler Grid for a person suffering from macular degeneration. These distortions are like the waves on the Amsler Grid people see around a spot demarcating a big blur. The way the lines become so distorted destroying the grid are what Levi-Strauss calls the destruction of a myth. It may either exhaust itself with time spreading infinitely in time. Or, the grid may implode like a crater. As the eye is in movement, it attempts to locate what is hidden behind the dead center. It is something we try to retrieve. This is an amendment to time and circumstances. This is a circumstance which affects any person in any knowledge based profession.
The literary critic Jacques Derrida wrote about this potential failure in Memoirs of the Blind. The book points toward the insight our perceptions of the world are like a self-portrait. He takes examples from drawing, the most personal and telling of all possible arts. An artist never sees directly into their own eye from a mirror (things are different today when students use cell phone pictures, a very bad idea for art teachers) and therefore their struggle projects onto the outside world. Everything is like a lacunae of the world and the self to overcome. The emptiness the blind spots opens up into is still there, and it is their job to articulate it.
The science of art or the art of science, whichever way you want to think of the task, narrows down to this very task of agility like the movement of the eye to search for the center. The true art of perception is finding that place and which actually goes to the very heart of us.