Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Mirrors

Ever since I was very young, mirrors have always held a sort of fascination for me.

And why shouldn't they? They are among the only ways we can see ourselves as others see us, and they offer us a glimpse into infinity when placed together. But it was always something "eery" about the mirror that drew my attention to it, and this eeriness did me the great service of showing me something important about my perception of the world.

When I look into a mirror, I immediately become unsettled. I suddenly get an impression of how transcendently odd it is that I exist at all, that I am a perceiving being looking through a pair of eyes at some piece of shiny glass. I feel an incredible sense of how unlikely it is that I am a bag of meat and water rushing around a flaming ball of gas, and I wonder why there is so much of this needless complication in the world. But I ramble.

If I were to use another analogy, think of watching a character on a perpetually-running television show. It could be a wonderful character, worthy of praise and esteem, but you would naturally recoil in disbelief if someone told you that that character was you. But that, of course, is just what looking into a mirror feels like. I feel like I am a transcendent observer, and when a mirror reminds me that I exist in a specific space and time, it feels odd and unnatural. But why is this? Could there be a psychological reason why I  feel fundamentally disconnected with the contingent world? I believe there is, and I have a theory to that effect.

The key to seeing how I perceive the world involves examining how I think of my self in relation to others. A neurotypical person perceives his or herself as one object among many, and thus the best model for their perception of humanity would be one where people act like atoms, which though they interact, are most definitely separate and distinct from each other. In other words, the universe according to the non-aspie is one where everyone has something which is distinctly "theirs", something which fundamentally distinguishes them from all others in the world. My universe, on the other hand, is quite different. If the neurotypical person thinks of human beings as a bunch of discrete and separate particles, I tend to think of them as leaves on an enormous and ever-branching tree. What, then, is the trunk? Why, only myself! I tend to think of every person, place, or thing in fundamentally the the same way which I think about myself, and thus do not see a strong difference between myself and the various components of the world. Do I therefore inflate my ego to the edge of extremity? Quite the opposite; I have no sense of self whatsoever.

The neurotypical will almost always have a strong sense of personal identity, a feeling which gives them a certain sense of "groundedness" in themselves as a person distinct from other people. For me, this feeling is curiously absent; I see no fundamental distinction between myself and others, and I only seem to do so because my language and society forces me in that direction. You see, our society takes it for granted that the "I", the "me", the "you", and the "we" exist, as we use these words every day without thought. But I will venture to say that if a neurotypical peeked into my mind (or vice versa) they would discover that it has a greatly differing conception of what these terms mean.

To give an additional example of this principe, sometimes I find myself unwittingly saying things in a conversation for which the other person is normally responsible. You see, if it comes to the point in a verbal exchange where the other person should say "thank you", I will often turn the tables and thank them. This occurs because I do not perceive two distinct "parts" in this conversation, but instead see it as continuum which, if anything, merely fluctuates from side-to-side. In other words, I do not think deep-down that any one person should say "thank you", but rather that "thank you" should be said.

I hypothesize that this is true not just for me, but for other aspies as well. I know of at least one other case in which this is true, but I invite any aspie readers to comment (anonymously, if you wish) about their experiences with these kinds of feelings. Is this an "aspie thing"? Or am I just crazy? I'm eager to find out.

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