Centipede’s Dilemma: The WordY FrYdaY NerdY!

Many of us have experienced it in our lives . Often we see things ‘as a whole‘ but find it difficult to explain it in parts. You may come up with the right answer but you might not know how you reached at that and you have to work backwards to find steps of it. Well, Centipede’s dilemma suggests that you should not bother much with the details at first otherwise, you will not be able to get those flashes of your genius. In his book The Einstein Factor, Win Wenger tells us about Einstein’s creative thinking process. Albert Einstein was a very highly intuitive thinker. He called his thought process a ‘combinatory play’ of many sensations, images, kinesthetic impressions etc. Roughly you can summarize his ‘Centipede’s Dilemma’ regarding ‘Relativity’ by following:

Einstein, at an age of sixteen, fascinated by the problems of ‘time and space’, used to daydream a lot. He dreamed that he was riding on a light beam and there was a mirror in front of the light beam. He intuitively got the impression that if he saw in the mirror, he would see his face, for his intuition did not suggest him that he would not see a thing while looking into a mirror. Newtonian mechanics details were strictly against his notion and it was his ‘Centipede’s Dilemma’ to work back on details. He played with this question, for about ten years and came up with ‘Relativity’ which revolutionized the science and life in general.

Einstein used to think in images. In his correspondence with Freud, he told him that he rarely thought with words. “Invention is not the outcome of logical thinking, even though final result is expressed using a logical structure” he told. Likewise, there are many gifted ‘visual spatial learners’ ,extremely capable of reaching at solutions very quickly,but find themselves in ‘Centepede’s Dilemma’ when it comes to explain how they do it. They see ‘as a whole’ and it is very difficult for them to explain parts. While ‘auditory sequential processors’ are great in working at the parts. Visual spatial learners are good at complex tasks, though they find it difficult to accomplish even very easy diurnal tasks.Β 

The Centipede’s Dilemma is a concept related to cognitive behavior theory that describes a way of confusing someone who was self-taught. It involves forcing an individual to think about the steps involved in performing a task that he or she does intuitively, rendering the individual incapable of performing the task in question. The mental block that the Centipede’s Dilemma creates is usually temporary. If a task or action can be taught, then it can be understood, and thus a process one has previously performed intuitively can be learned consciously, removing the mental block.

Origin Of The Phrase:
The phrase seems to have two sources: The first is from a story where a centipede was about to consume a spider when the spider asked for a final question.

The centipede said, “Sure, but then I will eat you.”
“How do you keep all those legs coordinated?” the spider asked.
The centipede replied, “I don’t know. I’d never thought about it before.”
At this point, the spider ran off, and the centipede tried to give chase, but was unable to because he couldn’t make his legs walk properly, and he could never move again.

The second is a poem: “The Centipede’s Dilemma”

A centipede was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg comes after which?”
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch
Considering how to run.


What are your views on ‘visual spatial learners?’

What are your views about ‘Centipede’s Dilemma?’ Has it been there in your life?


27 thoughts on “Centipede’s Dilemma: The WordY FrYdaY NerdY!

  1. I wonder if “centipede’s dilemma” also explains “beginner’s luck”? That occurs when we try doing something new without expecting great success, but then do it surprisingly well. The next time we try, although more confident, we’re often not as good as we were the first time. Maybe that’s because we’re too busy thinking about how we did it before, rather than just doing it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is a very nice suggestion and I think that those two might be the same things πŸ™‚ Though the second one has to do with a particular skill we have acquired without learning the basics and how-to-dos and it’s not just beginning–but we consistently do it well–like the centipede in the story but only when we start analyzing and dissecting the steps do we fail miserably to carry out what we so nicely did before!

      Thanks for the discussion.

      Love and light ❀

      Anand πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting post!!! πŸ™‚ Loved hearing about the centipede’s dilemma and Einstein. I actually recognised myself a little bit – I feel like in the work place today people like to invent fancy names for normal, daily little things which can make you overwhelmed if you’ve never heard those terms before -and then later you find out what they mant and all the while you’ve been doing the exact things they were talking about, but just calling it something simpler. (I’m not a fan of fancy, empty words, it just seems a bit pompous) Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening, but not the term centipede’s dilemma. I think this is what happened to my golf game! I was hitting the ball in the way that felt instinctive to me and then when I had a lesson, I couldn’t hit the ball as well! I hope it’s only temporary! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, everything is original and unoriginal. I wrote about originality too. I feel there is no need to aspire for originality–though if you do it is good play. I have been planning on visiting your blog for some time–my internet connection has been too bad. Now I will head over.

      Love and light ❀

      Anand πŸ™‚

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Well, on similar lines, I have a story to share, when a self-taught was confused and he couldn’t perform the task.

    An orthopaedician (doctor) friend did his FRCS from Edinburgh, and came back to outskirts of a city called Bhagalpur. But, his practice was not booming since a bone-setter quack in the area was the leading practitioner and people trusted him more for fractures. Though, he noticed most fractured are malunited or getting infected later. He was utterly frustrated since his UK education was technically useless, and bone-setter with no degree was dominating. He went to the quack, greeted him and said, “Sir! I think I will go back to London. I just wish to gift you my ortho book, which may help you in future.”
    A bone-setter who never read a book, and never knew of complications and risks, suddenly got aware of many such things. Next time, his hands began shaking while bone-setting and his confidence was shattered. The storm of knowledge blinded him.
    The orthopaedician now is one of the top practitioners πŸ™‚

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh that is a very interesting story and I guess you can share it on your blog too. Might be very enjoyable for your readers too. Thanks a lot for making this discussion even more spicy. Such things do happen in our lives. We can perform many things without thinking much about them and then if we start playing by the book and following codes and rituals we might not be able to do those things!

      Thanks for sharing this. Are you also orthopaedician?

      Love and light ❀

      Anand πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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