Mirror science

Following my two earlier posts about mirrors (here and here), I read with much interest this article from the New York Times discussing the scientific basis of perception distortions generated by mirrors. Here are some extracts:

To scientists, the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of mirrors make them powerful tools for exploring questions about perception and cognition in humans and other neuronally gifted species, and how the brain interprets and acts upon the great tides of sensory information from the external world. They are using mirrors to study how the brain decides what is self and what is other, how it judges distances and trajectories of objects, and how it reconstructs the richly three-dimensional quality of the outside world from what is essentially a two-dimensional snapshot taken by the retina’s flat sheet of receptor cells. They are applying mirrors in medicine, to create reflected images of patients’ limbs or other body parts and thus trick the brain into healing itself. Mirror therapy has been successful in treating disorders like phantom limb syndrome, chronic pain and post-stroke paralysis.

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Mirror-image twins

One fishI had lunch with a friend today and discovered for the first time that she is one half of a mirror-image twin. I’d never heard of the phenomenon before. She says that they are basically mirror images of each other.

Apparently it occurs when the embryo splits really late in the cycle and produces two individuals who are genetically identical but mirror images of each other. In my friend’s case, she’s right-handed while her sister is left-handed; they part their hair on opposite sides; the hair on their crowns are swirled in opposite directions; and their fingerprints are mirror images, too… I don’t know if this is true but she says a mirror-image twin sometimes has their organs on the ‘wrong’ side of the body as well!

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Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

I finally bought a mirror yesterday after three months of moving into my new flat. I remarked to a friend that living without a mirror has been a good exercise in ego reflection, and although I’d meant it as a joke, it made me think about mirrors, and ego reflections.

Mirrors are funny things, both as functional objects, and metaphors. Do they let us see ourselves as we are? Or do they let us see through to another reality through which a version of ourselves exist? In our age of precision engineering, we presume that mirrors reflect perfectly the object being reflected. However, the idea of perfect reflections is a fairly recent one. Ancient mirrors were made of polished metal. Their more modern incarnations of glass coated with a thin sheet of reflective metal originated in Venice in the 16th century, though other sources indicate that it may have originated in Roman times. And even so, image distortions were not unexpected.

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Mindful awareness and the Bard

And since you know you cannot see yourself,
so well as by reflection, I, your glass,
will modestly discover to yourself,
that of yourself which you yet know not of.
– Cassius to Brutus in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I.ii

Although the ides of March are not for another two weeks, it seems wholly apt to begin a mindfulness blog with this quotation from Shakespeare. This is what I hope the blog will be – a mirror for my own self-discovery.

That the subject is Brutus must be irony worthy of the Bard himself.

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