Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sat May 15 2004 - 06:27:32 PDT

I like this point Andy makes below about the subject-object problem:

Andy said:
"If a number of different people say "We are all pursuing the same ideal
..." what is it that they are pursuing? A phantom? A state of brain matter?
Obviously what they are pursuing is something which exists independently of
"the mind" (in Lenin's sense, ontologically), but not of course
independently of objective, willful, needy, human practice.

"The whole issue is the posing of the issue as a mind-matter problem, when
it can be understood only as a subject-object problem."

As for Vygotsky's mirror image quote, I am with Andy on this, too.

Andy said:
"I really didn't like the way Vygotsky used the "mirror" metaphor so
beloved by Lenin."

Andy's quote is from Chapter 13 of The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in
Psychology: A Methodological Investigation (1927). It is part of several
paragraphs where Vygotsky rambles around, trying to liken a mirror image to
consciousness. I believe he fails. He even comments on this series of
paragraphs as being a "protracted argumentation" and seems relieved to end
it. I believe these paragraphs about an object "A" and its mirror image
"a" can be happily skipped over with no loss in an otherwise brilliant work.

The problem with Vygotsky's analogy is that light beams bouncing off a
mirror do not form an image unless a reasonably intelligent being (perhaps
a bird, a dog, a human) is seeing it and interpreting it. This is the
fatal flaw in LSV's line of reasoning in creating this mirror analogy for
consciousness. Without a conscious being involved, mirrors cannot produce
"images." They can just reflect light beams. A mirror is not a form of
consciousness just because it reflects light. It has no mind or brain or
nervous system or other organic system that responds to stimuli. Mirrors
cannot be a successful analogy for how organisms "reflect" in Marx's or
Lenin's sense because mirrors have no consciousness. Mirrors do not
**process** images - only organisms do. It does not help when Vygotsky
begins to talk of the reflections in mirrors as phantoms - for mirrors
cannot reflect phantoms at all - because the light beams they can reflect
are certainly never phantoms because they do not exist. Anthropomorphizing
mirrors in order to explain consciousness could only work if we imagine the
mirror as a living being with its own agenda. But then, if we performed
such a thought experiment, a mirror's capacity to "reflect" in the way we
want to understand would be due to its being a living entity, and not due
to its ability to reflect light beams. It would "reflect" because it was
responsive. Leontiev as a comparative psychologist (comparing the
psychologies of different animals) considerably developed this idea by
analyzing the different levels of responsiveness among different kinds of
animals, and how these levels evolved. Mirrors were not likely among the
objects of his investigation, but spiders were.

Some of the other points LSV makes in that chapter 13 about ontology and
epistemology - and about the object/subject relationship - are, however,
very useful to the materiality/ideality discussion we have been
having. Perhaps we can return to LSV's thinking on these issues.

- Steve

At 02:24 PM 5/15/2004 +1000, you wrote:
>Sorry, I accidentally omitted the first line of that quote. I've added it
>in below.
>>At 08:32 PM 14/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>>>Andy, can you give the full citation to LSV's use of the mirrror metaphor?
>>>This goes to the question of the use of the term, reflection, in this
>>Mike, this is copied from an article Dot Robbins showed me. The source is
>>Let us compare consciousness, as is often done, with a mirror image. Let
>>the object A be reflected in the mirror as a. Naturally, it would be
>>false to say that a in itself is as real as A. It is real in another way.
>>A table and its reflection in the mirror are not equally real, but real
>>in a different way. The reflection as reflection, as an image of the
>>table, as a second table in the mirror is not real, it is a phantom. But
>>the reflection of the table as the refraction of light beams on the
>>mirror surface - isn't that a thing which is equally material and real as
>>the table? Everything else would be a miracle. Then we might say: there
>>exist things (a table) and their phantoms (the reflection). But only
>>things exist(the table) and the reflection of light upon the surface. The
>>phantoms are just apparent relations between the things. That is why no
>>science of mirror phantoms is possible. But this does not mean that we
>>will never be able to explain the reflection, the phantom. When we know
>>the thing and the laws of reflection of light, we can always explain,
>>predict, elicit, and change the phantom. And this is what persons with
>>mirrors do. They study not mirror reflections but the movement of light
>>beams, and explain the reflection. A science about mirror phantoms is
>>impossible, but the theory of light and the things which cast and reflect
>>it fully explain these "phantoms." (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 327)
>>Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 3.
>>Problems of the theory and history of psychology. In R. W. Rieber and J.
>>Wollock (Eds.). New York: Plenum Press.

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