Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Sat May 15 2004 - 06:36:11 PDT

I think that both Vygotsky and Ilyenkov really loved Lenin, and this mirror
metaphor caused them some problem because Lenin had committed himself to it
so decisively in 1908. Nevertheless, I think Vygotsky is not being true to
himself in repeating it. Perhaps it was not politically possible to
criticise it, but surely he didn't have to repeat, don't you think?

For me, it is the fact that the mirror is passive, whereas a human being is
active. (see good old Theses on Feuerbach again). Lenin points out
(correctly I think) that reflection is a capacity of *all matter* (e.g. a
footprint) and one can even impute an element of "interpretation" in
nature. But what is lacking is the 3-sided process of human activity which
includes an *ideal*.

What do you think?

At 06:27 AM 15/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>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 shown:
>>>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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