The Usefulness of Mirrors and of the Observer

It seems that the best way to know something is to experience it ourselves directly. Can a knowledge that remains bookish or through videos, to mention just two examples of intermediaries, indeed achieve the same completeness? Can we know the sculpture without sculpting ourselves, an emotion without feeling it ourselves, the sea while staying on the beach, an ideology or a religion without connecting to it, another person without going to see him or her …? Oh! of course, we can always criticize them from the outside. “Criticism is easy, but art is difficult.” If we do not experience what one is talking about, that remains external and superficial. This is especially good for generating conflict. And we often end up criticizing the people themselves instead of trying to know or to understand who they are, what they say, what they do and what motivates them … Of course, criticizing is also part of the human experience. But, in doing so, it is often well afterwards that one realizes the real object of criticism: self-knowledge!

If the best way to know something is to experience it, how can we know ourselves? For to “experiment” us, we must somehow split ourselves. The experimenter not only acts on the object of the experiment, but also observes it. And he sees his reactions to different stimuli. How to be the experimenter of ourselves as an object of experience or study? Unless we have the gift of ubiquity and can be in two different places simultaneously, there are few ways to split. One of them is the use of a mirror which then returns from us a rather faithful image, with symmetry. Another is to appeal to what in a human is the observer (at least if this actually exists). And we can understand that those who do not live in themselves the presence of this observer may doubt it. There is also the solution to rely on the perceptions of another individual (with all the risks that this may include).

What kind of mirror can allow the observation of our personality, not only on the visible physical plane, but also on the character, the emotions and the way we manage the universe of thoughts? For thousands of years, humans have discovered that other humans or other beings can play this role. And modern human psychology now translates this in terms of “projection” mechanisms. As human beings, we naturally tend to project on the other what we fail to recognize about ourselves. The other person serves us as a mirror. The straw that we see in the neighbor’s eye can represent the beam that is in ours. It is often a deforming mirror, but a mirror anyway.

A typical situation in which happens this defense mechanism is when our fundamental beliefs (ideological, religious or existential, scientific, etc.) are put into question. Our personality or our brain (or our mind) implements the projection. Instead of arguing about the ideas or concepts around belief, we tend to attack or judge or even condemn the opposing personality. Whether we allow this mechanism to be exercised or not, whether or not we use another person as a mirror, and whatever our actions, our attitudes, our emotions and even the thoughts that pass through us, the observer in ourselves perceive this without judgment. However, we can only benefit from him if we open the door. It’s a bit like someone watching us through a closed door or through the walls (the barriers we erect, for example), but that we could only learn from him by opening ourselves the door that separates us from him. He may have received several names: Self, Superego, Spirit, Presence …

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