[L]ooking in the mirror is [...] one of the most important philosophical acts we perform on ourselves daily.
Antonio De Nicholas, Four-Dimensional Man: Mediations Through Rg Veda
Water was the original mirror. But being dynamic water had no surface regularity to offer a consistent reflection. Let’s learn from that.
Get a large skillet or a cookie sheet and fill it with water. Place it on the kitchen counter and wait for the water to settle. Now look down into this liquid mirror to see the reflection of your face. Get real close to the surface of this mirror. Face to face with your reflection. Notice: your breathing affects the reflecting surface. Or maybe, a strand of your hair falls right into the plane of reflection. Maybe, as you position your hands on each side of the counter to stabilize yourself, you will send a shiver of ripples through the water’s surface.
Ponder what is going on here. Your very presence – dynamically – affects the mirror’s ability to provide an accurate reflection. You have a direct, moment-to-moment influence on the mirror’s accuracy. Get too close and this liquid mirror warps. But as you get farther away, the reflection looses resolution. Indeed, from a distance you don’t see all the details. But when you get close enough to see your eye lashes, the mirror warps and distorts.
The liquid mirror teaches us about the dynamics of feedback. When you search for feedback from somebody you know, from somebody you are close with, you are looking into a warped mirror. The very dynamics between the two of you have an effect on the accuracy of reflection. By being too close to this human mirror, you affect the very surface that you are looking into for feedback.
Say, you ask your friend for feedback. You want to look into the mirror of their mind to learn about yourself. But your very request immediately threatens the status quo of your relationship. Your friend understandably wonders about how his/her feedback about you will affect the relationship between the two of you. They too are looking into the mirror of your mind to see how what they say will reflect on them. As a result, they pull their punches, they sugar-coat, they say too little… or they say too much. And here you are, in a feedback loop of two reflections, exchanging distortions not feedback.
When, however, you look for feedback from somebody you barely know, you end up with a reflection of very low resolution. It’s like looking at a mirror from too great a distance. You see something but it’s not clear what. The reflection is just not detailed enough. It’s too generic. From far enough distances, a reflection could be anyone’s. Step far back enough from the mirror and all you see is an indeterminate shadowy figure.
It’s a Catch-22. If you want to see more details, you have to get closer but getting closer reduces the objectivity of the reflection. If you want objectivity, you have to move away from the mirror but then you lose out on the resolution of details. And so it is.
Conclude: I cannot be adequately mirrored.
Reiterate: I am not the inevitably subjective reflection in the mirror of somebody’s mind (even if this somebody “knows” me).
Reiterate: I am not the uninformative, low grade/low resolution reflection in the mind of somebody who doesn’t know me.
“Limitations of Mirroring” is “Dynamics of Subjectivity and Resolution;” adapted from Lotus Effect
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Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011