Posted in Science & Nature, Special Long Essays


Mirrors are perhaps one of the most useful yet underrated inventions that we use every day. From shaving in the morning to fixing make-up during lunch, the modern man or woman will use a mirror (or some other reflective surface) at least once a day. Mirrors show us an accurate reflection of the world that we cannot see. We can only look forwards and need a mirror to reflect light going the opposite way to see behind us or – more importantly – ourselves. To do this, a mirror must directly reflect every photon (particles that make up light) at exactly the right angle so the image is not distorted. If the mirror is not completely flat or perfectly polished, light will not be reflected at the exact angle and we will see a distorted image – much like looking into a mirror at the circus. Therefore, one could say that a perfectly flat, clean mirror is absolutely honest, as it will reflect exactly as it sees.

However, this statement is not entirely true as what you see in the mirror is a mirror image of reality. This may seem trivial, but it has significant consequences. This is most obvious when you hold a book up to a mirror. Without training, it is very difficult to read something that is mirrored. This is why Leonardo da Vinci wrote his notes in mirror image. This phenomenon of something becoming completely different is also seen in chemistry. Because of the way molecules are arranged, it is possible to have a property called chirality – where two molecules with the same elemental composition are built in the mirror image of one another. Essentially, it is as if the molecule can be either left- or right-handed. It turns out that even if the composition is the same, two molecules of different chirality (called enantiomers) can act completely differently. This effect may be as simple as changing the way a liquid polarises light to making a drug completely inert or even toxic. For example, the amino acid carvone that gives the spearmint taste only tastes like spearmint if it is L-carvone (“left-handed”), whereas D-carvone (“right-handed”) is tasteless despite having the same molecular formula.


Since the topic of chirality is rather technical and hard to understand, let us move on to the field of literature. One of the best examples of how mirrors can completely change something is seen in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Lewis Carroll understood the significance of mirror images in chemistry and wrote this novel to portray how quirky and strange a “mirror world” may be. Through the Looking Glass is a sequel to the famous book Alice in Wonderland and describes a world that is the mirror image of Wonderland. Carroll cleverly wrote the first book so that it would be the opposite of the first book. The first book starts outdoors, is set in the summer, uses changes in size as a plot device and focuses on the theme of trump cards. The second book starts indoors, is set in the winter, uses changes in direction as a plot device and draws on the theme of chess. There are even characters such as Hatta and Haigha who are the mirror images of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare from the previous book. Although they are very similar, they are just not the same and hence Alice does not recognise them. Perhaps the line that best shows Carroll’s understanding of the dangers of mirror worlds is this: “Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink”.

The field of psychology is also heavily interested in mirrors. It is a well-known fact that our brains recognise the purpose of mirrors. If you put a mirror in front of someone, you know that the person will examine themselves, groom themselves or simply make funny poses. A simple experiment shows how used to mirrors we are. If you angle two mirrors at right angles and fit a transparent sheet of glass in front of the two to make a prism shape, the image you see through the glass is a reflection that is not mirrored. Because it is not mirrored, you can hold up a book to it and still read it fine. This is known as a non-reflecting mirror. An interesting experiment shows that if you make people use this kind of mirror, they become incredibly confused as they are too used to using a mirror image to see themselves. Even though the reflection they see is a “truer” image, because their brain automatically flips the mirrored image, they become uncoordinated and keep moving their hands in the opposite direction.

As mentioned at the start, mirrors are a human invention. Although reflection occurs in nature, such as on a clear surface of water, animals generally are incapable of using mirrors. This is such a universal fact that animal psychologists use a mirror test to determine whether a specie of animal is self-aware or not. The test is done by showing an animal a mirror. Most animals will see their reflection and automatically believe that it is another animal, as they are incapable of thinking that it is a reflection of themselves. Hence, they will try to threaten, attack or flee from the image they see. But if you show a higher-order animal such as an ape or dolphin a mirror, they will start to groom themselves as they realize that the mirror is simply showing themselves.


This is what sets us apart from animals. Not only are we capable of recognizing ourselves in a mirror, but we have the ability to go one step further and reflect on ourselves using the mirror of our minds. Some people may take a look at the person in this mirror and be content with who they are. But some will gaze into the mirror and, much like the animals in the mirror test experiments, see a completely different person they do not recognise. This may cause disappointment, frustration or even disgust as we realize that we are not who we think we are or aspire to be. Then again, sometimes you will gaze into the mirror and see a person that has strengths such as courage – a person you could be if you realized your true potential. The most frightening realisation would be to discover that there is no one in the mirror.

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Lastly, we could consider the mirror of behaviour. Goethe said that “behaviour is a mirror in which everyone displays his own image”. The corollary to this is that human beings read behaviour to try and interpret another person’s character. One can use this to greatly improve the relationship and connection with another person. Mirroring is the act of subtly copying the other person’s behaviour to build rapport – where an empathic bridge is constructed between two people. Rapport is particularly useful in jobs that involve earning the trust of strangers in a short time, such as in healthcare or business. By matching the other person’s body language, such as posture or actions like taking a sip of water, the other person will open up more easily to you. The same applies to verbal and emotional mirroring where you subtly reuse the words the other person spoke and reflect their emotions such as excitement. Obviously, one must be subtle with mirroring as a direct imitation will appear mocking and strange. If you are able to subtly copy their behaviour, the other person’s subconscious mind will be tricked into thinking that you are similar in character and trust you more. This skill is extremely useful in improving your interpersonal and social skills.

A mirror is a paradoxical object that is absolutely honest yet relatively deceitful. Reflections in the mirror are true yet completely different. If you take a peek into the mirror of your mind, perhaps you will see the person you think you are now or the person you could be in a mirror world. If you are happy with what you see, then cherish that and be proud of who you are. Otherwise, you can always do what Alice did and jump through the looking-glass to find an alternate you – the best you that you can be.


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Posted in Psychology & Medicine


A major challenge in psychology has been the question: “how do we categorise personalities?”. There have been many different approaches, one famous model being the Big Five model. This model describes five traits, summarised as OCEAN:

  • Openness: Describes a person who is creative, imaginative, abstract and curious. People with high openness scores are often skilled in the arts and inventing. They always seek new experiences. The perfect example for Openness is Leonardo da Vinci. This trait can be subdivided into the subcategories: Imagination, Artistic interests, Sensitivity, Adventurous, Curiosity and Tolerance for diversity.
  • Conscientiousness: Describes a person who is reliable, trustworthy, hardworking, plans ahead, goal-oriented, efficient, responsible and moral. The perfect example for Conscientiousness is Robocop. The subcategories are: Sense of competence, Orderliness, Responsibility, Achievement-striving, Self-discipline and Deliberateness.
  • Extraversion: Describes a person who is chatty, energetic, passionate, stubborn, social, easily makes friends and opinionated. The perfect example for Extraversion is Eddie Murphy. The subcategories are: Friendliness, Gregariousness, Assertiveness, Activeness, Excitement-seeking and Positive.
  • Agreeableness: Describes a person who likes to help others, is compassionate, friendly, forgiving, trusting, cooperative and empathetic. It is more about humanism rather than describing a spineless person. The perfect example for Agreeableness is Mother Teresa. The subcategories are: Trusting, Sincerity, Altruism, Compliance, Modesty and Sympathy.
  • Neuroticism: Describes a person who is unstable, easily depressed or worried, dark and susceptible to negative emotions. It is not the same as “neurotic”, which describes a mental disorder. The perfect example for Neuroticism is Woody Allen. The subcategories are: Anxiety, Self-consciousness, Hostility, Self-indulgence, Moodiness and Sensitivity to stress.

When the model is applied to a person, the person gets a score as a percentage for each trait. By using the Big Five score, one can compare different personalities and predict what kind of behaviour they would show in different situations.

Posted in Science & Nature

Golden Ratio

The golden ratio is a magical number that divides a line into the most beautiful ratio. It bestows a mystical power in an object and allows for the creation of excellent architecture and art.
This magical ratio is (1 + √5)/2, or 1.618033988. If there is a line divided by the golden ratio called a + b, then b:a and a:(a + b) are both the same ratio.

We can find the golden ratio in countless values seen in animals and plants. A snail shell’s golden spiral allows for the snail to grow without changing shape, while the distribution of branches on a tree also follows the ratio. The golden ratio controls everything from the spiral pattern of galaxies to the pattern of our brain waves. The golden ratio is the law of the universe.

Using this magical ratio, we can find the most beautiful composition of a human being. The Venus of Milo, considered as one of the most beautiful figures in history, has a ratio of 1:1.618 between her upper and lower body (divided at the belly button) – the golden ratio. The same can be said for the ratio between the head and neck compared to the rest of the upper body, and the length from the belly button to the knee compared to the length below the knee. The exact same composition was used to construct the statue of Doryphoros, one of the most famous examples of ancient Greek sculptures. The diagram that illustrates these ratios is the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (Vitruvius was a Roman architect who utilised the ancient Greek knowledge of applying the proportions of a human being, i.e. the golden ratio, in constructing temples). 

The Great Pyramids of Giza, Solomon’s Temple and the Parthenon are all partially constructed according to the golden ratio. It is said that buildings constructed outside of the golden ratio will collapse over time. The same is seen in Eastern constructions, such as buildings and inventions from the Goryeo Dynasty of Korea. 

Interestingly, the golden ratio applies to intangible objects as well. For example, Chopin’s Nocturne pieces tend to climax at the point of the golden ratio (roughly two-thirds in). The ratio is still used in modern day design, with the standard credit card size being the best example.

The golden ratio is an eternal beauty that does not go out of fashion with time.

Posted in History & Literature


The unicorn is pictured as a white stallion with a single, prominent horn on its forehead. It is still loved and is one of the most well-known mythical creatures. As with any mythical beasts, there are interesting stories related to the unicorn.

The horn is the source of the unicorn’s strength – the infinite fountain of magical power that grants the unicorn unmatched strength and speed. If it meets an enemy it either sprints and disappears, or uses its large weapon to impale even the hardest armour. This makes it extremely hard to capture.

Medieval people believed the horn of the unicorn to be a highly valuable magic ingredient, with extremely potent cleansing properties that could purify even lakes and seas. But as the only way to attain the horn is to capture a unicorn, it was an extremely rare commodity.
To catch a unicorn, one must know its most important (yet not well-known in the modern age) trait. Although they are wild beasts with a savage temper, they calm down like lamb in front of one group of people – virgin maidens. If it detects even the faintest scent of a virgin, it rushes towards her and places its head on her lap, soundly falling asleep. Due to this characteristic, it is often portrayed as a symbol of purity and chastity, and also Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
According to notes written by Leonardo Da Vinci himself, hunters used this trick to capture unicorns that would fall asleep on a virgin’s lap (whom they brought with them to aide in the hunt). Even a mighty beast has a weakness that can be exploited.

On a side note, it is also written that if the unicorn senses that the maiden is not a virgin, it would instantly use its large weapon to impale her until death.