The point of optical illusions like “Duck-Rabbit” and “Young Woman or Old Woman” isn’t that one of the options is correct. Instead, the point is that both are right even if you have to toggle back and forth, taking turns, to see each separately.
I have yet to find a good term to describe this phenomenon where the thing we’re talking about is actually two things that orbit each other and never occupy the same space at the same time. It’s neither satire nor parody because one isn’t making fun of the other. It’s not interpretation because both comment on each other; with interpretation one interprets while the other gets interpreted. The Russian thinker Mikhail Bakhtin talked about dialogic ideas, which is close, but it misses the invisible extraness of what I’m talking about. You can live your life without penalty if you only see Bugs or Daffy. Toni Morrison’s short story “Recitatif” (no spoilers; go read it) is a powerful version of this phenomenon: once you see the extra context, your head explodes, and you can never unsee it, but it’s still a terrific story if you never notice the extra layer.
If I can’t say precisely what this phenomenon is, I can at least identify that it’s related to the bigger issue of overfocusing where we exclude context in order to make thinking easier, but in the process we miss a bigger picture. This can have implications in business where an organization focuses too much on a direct competitor and misses a threat from a blind spot (see Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma”), but it’s hardly limited to business.
For example: If somebody mentions the song, “Fly me to the Moon,” then like me you’ll immediately think of the iconic 1964 Frank Sinatra version that he recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra. Quincy Jones was the arranger. NASA adopted this song around the Moon landing, and the astronauts played it during the Apollo 10 mission. This is the version that other artists have covered ever since in a variety of beautiful ways. (Here’s one well-curated sample.)
Since the Sinatra version is so famous and pervasive, when I first heard a very different version sung by Tony Bennett in 1965 my thought was, “huh, Tony Bennett is covering Sinatra… who would have thought it? And he added a prologue…”
Poets often use many words
To say a simple thing
It takes thought and time and rhyme
To make a poem sing
With music and words I’ve been playing
For you I have written a song
To make sure you know what I’m saying