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Mirrors & Scales

The Amazing Silence



 
Through Two Looking-glasses-Simultaneously
It was much easier for Victorian mathematician Lewis Carroll to send Alice 'Through the Looking-glass and she survived her trip much better than a 21st Century General Systems psychologist. Mathematics was a lot simpler, faith in mathematics a lot greater; and Carroll didn't seem to worry much about globalization or integration. He got a tragicomic joy, however, making fun of our attitudes about personal empowerment. Mathematical psychologists also create mirrors, but globalization and integration increase the depth of the tragicomedy.
 
If you are a physicist, a biologist or confine your interests to a specialty, mirrors are mirrors, reflections are reflections and the mathematics hasn't changed much since Newton developed his concepts of optics. But, to General Systems psychologists, women do not see or look for the same things as men and the Chinese do not see the same thing as their Western counterparts. The differences have little, if anything, to do with the image that a digital camera might produce. It has everything to do with the psychology of what people are experiencing while looking in mirrors, and on how individuals reflect on their reflections.
 
Creating mirrors would be a lot easier If women simply saw the reverse of what men saw, and the Chinese the reverse of Americans. Understanding the differences would be rather simple. But faced with reversed images, people have a tendency to complicate things by adding judgments like "right" and "wrong". This makes problems when people experience going through a looking-glass, some serious, some very serious. The laughing at the "curious" world on the other side stops abruptly when the problems are understood.
 
For example, most Chinese simply have to be warned to accept the fact that compared to multidimensional images Chinese experience; American images will appear like two dimensional comic book drawings. Intuitively there is a feeling that the simplicity of the images should make understanding American priorities and decisions rather simple. Laughter stops when they discover the reality. Crowding complex things into simple yes and no categories can complicate things beyond comprehension.
 
Americans present another problem. Even if many might be persuaded to accept that things on the other side of the mirror are reversed, getting most Americans to accept three different kinds of reversal as both "right" and "usual" requires not only that they be warned. Americans tend to react to the Chinese experience as if it were a Picasso painting where four images appear distorted by being forced onto a two dimensional canvass. Laughter stops when they learn that they have to consider all four images simultaneously. Most Europeans tend to respond pretty much like most Americans.
 
All seem to need a guide during their experience going through the looking-glass. Add differences in gender to the images and the complex problems accompanying globalization, integration and personal empowerment are framed neatly by Lewis Carroll's 'Through the looking-glass allegory.
 
Realities, Metaphors, Scales, Tokens and Multiple perspectives
Adding one more allegory to what has already become a great chain of metaphors dramatizes without underestimating the complexity of the problem that the psychology of mirrors exemplifies-the problem of multiple perspectives. Psychology's fundamental role has always been to help individuals operate in the twilight zone between fantasy and reality. Things become complicated because the fantasies of creative individuals can be transformed into realities. And what appear to be today's confirmed realities can, often instantly, become mere memories. Multiply the above complexity by the number of possible perspectives, and then multiply both by the number of observing individuals. The ironies of the greatly simplified "truths" that daily confront us through our mirrors begin to resemble Carroll's quasi uncomfortable children's journeys through the looking-glass.
 
Too, the mirror image in itself is a metaphor that, even at its best, often lures us into subtle distortions of our relationships to multiple realities. We need scales by which to measure things if we are not to be fooled completely. Measures of time-space are fundamental for coming to grips with the past and predicting things to prepare for in the future. Yet weights, statistics, rates and trends all seem real, but they too are images susceptible to distortion. Like mirror images, the numbers from scales can be, and are, evaluated from many perspectives of varying reliability, with no guarantees as to their relationships to reality.
 
Finally there are tokens. Tokens are psychologically and sociologically more complicated, more abstract, but they too are metaphors. Money, titles, stocks, bonds and medals are all tokens that separate advanced technological societies from others. They all seem real enough, but they all require support from sources in reality. What happens when the support is either removed or temporarily suspended?
 
The Amazing *Silence
Millennia before language, mirrors, tokens and numbers humans experienced a reality. Language and numbers changed our relationships to reality and empowered us by aiding our manipulation of events and environments. They have become tools that are used by some to help shape reality. They have become tricks that are used by others as magic with which fool our perception of reality. Still, language, mirrors, tokens and numbers are not, and may never be reality, but they are experienced as real.
 
Though the images they produce may never be accurate, they are, nevertheless, only part of our perception of reality, and not inextricably so. It is dangerous not to be aware that the emotions induced by language, mirrors, tokens and numbers are sometimes more powerful and more motivating than reality. We can easily become vulnerable when they disturb critical relationships with ecology, because ecology and reality are actually inextricable. Death may be the only warning we receive when our metaphors and our ecology are in conflict.
 
There are people who live and die by metaphors; cultures that are ruled by metaphors. This has always been true. Not even our awareness of these facts is new. Consciously understanding their personal significance is "the new reality". What this all means to you personally can be experienced by temporarily isolating yourself from all metaphors. Out of reach of language, mirrors, tokens and numbers do not change the reality they are created to portray. Theysimply mark reality's independence of them. The experience is an amazing silence, because the words have never been invented to express what feels like the eye of a psychological hurricane. The first experience during the silence is that verbalization is not necessary for understanding. The last experience is that you are defined by your priorities. Between these two experiences is a broad spectrum, a spectrum that varies from person to person.
 
After the silence, your relationships to yourself, other people, the metaphors, the rules, the laws, the numbers, the games and the reality all become clear as your own, personal, psychohistory.
 

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