Routines make you become more and more rigid in your thinking. At times, doing the complete opposite of what you want to do may be more beneficial. For example, staying awake when you feel sleepy, sitting in silence when you want to listen to music or walking to your destination instead of driving there. These small acts may allow you to discover fresh feelings and new directions.
(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)
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.
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.
If you tell a child not to do something, chances are he or she will do it. This is a simple rule of parenting that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. People (especially children and teenagers) are wired in a certain way so that if they are told they cannot do or have something, they react by wanting it more. They then rebel by reasserting their freedom and express anger towards the person restricting their freedom. This is a natural response for a person that is beginning to develop a sense of self and ego, as they feel an instinctive desire to protect their right to free will. This psychological phenomenon is known as reactance.
Although reactance can be very troublesome and annoying to deal with, you can easily turn it around to your advantage if you understand the basic principles behind the effect. Under the assumption that a child will always react to your commands and advice by doing the opposite, we can deduce that if you say the opposite of what you want, they will end up doing what you want. This is reverse psychology. It is a surprisingly effective method of manipulation, especially in those with high reactance (usually children or those who are as immature and stubborn as children).
It has been scientifically proven that reverse psychology is extremely effective in children, as they would rather protect their (perceived) free will than avoiding study or not eating their greens. An example of reverse psychology would be telling a child to stay home when they actually want them to go out and play. However, reverse psychology is not the most ideal way of parenting as it reinforces the idea that it is okay to do the opposite of what you ask, thus undermining your authority.
Reverse psychology works just as well in adults when used right. For example, using a strong imperative tone against a person effectively assaults their ego, which provokes their natural instinct of reactance. If you are not in a position of authority and the person has the option to defy you, it is likely that they will revert to an irrational teenager and do the opposite of what you commanded. However, repetitive use of reverse psychology may lead the person to think that they are being manipulated, causing them to nullify it by reverse reverse psychology. Reverse psychology can be a double-edged sword if this happens, so it is important to know when it is most likely to be effective.
Psychological reactance is more likely to arise if the restricted option appears more attractive and important. The greater the restriction of freedom, the greater the psychological reactance. Also, arbitrary threats produce high reactance as they do not make sense, making people more rebellious. It is important that reverse psychology be used subtly and sparingly on people who are resistant to direct requests. Mastery of the above skills will help you manipulate a person into doing your bidding under the illusion that they are acting on their free will.
The most famous characteristics of a bat is its behaviour of hanging upside down. This strange behaviour actually greatly benefits a bat’s survival. Because a bat’s wing is structurally different to a bird’s, it cannot generate enough flight to lift a bat off the ground directly. Therefore, bats leap off a high location to fly, so hanging from a high place allows them to fly off at any given moment. Also, living in a high place provides protection from predators.
A bat’s anatomy has heavily adapted to accommodate this behaviour. Thanks to its unique anatomical structure, a bat expends no energy while hanging. This is because they have talons that are designed to clench naturally when pulled by gravity, as the tendons tense. Thus, when hanging upside down, a bat can rest peacefully, and can even sleep in that posture as it requires no muscle action (all muscles relax in REM sleep).
As it is the norm to live upside down, a bat does everything in that manner. As stated above, a bat sleeps upside down, eats upside down, mate upside down, and even stay like that after death. There is only one time a bat stands upright: when it excretes waste. Even behaviour cannot overcome the power of gravity.