With much emphasis on “mirrors” in social media these days, I thought of Jacques Lacan.
Lacan did not write large volumes on his work in psychotherapy —
In fact :  he resisted writing.   Jacques Lacan’s focus was on real time dialogue.   It was his belief that the real meanings of a client psych, pertaining to therapy, revealed themselves in client-therapy dialogue.
A clients motives, intentions, and associations can be interpreted in the context of linguists chosen of that moment — interpreted by a trained- psychoanalyst.

Here is a good introduction to the linguistically and analytical concepts of
Jacques Lacan:

Ego and Phenomenology

a crucial one in Lacan’s eyes, is that the ego is an object rather than a subject. In other words, the ego, despite conscious senses to the contrary, is not a locus of autonomous agency, the seat of a free, true “I” determining its own fate.

Lacan’s “I” differs from much of the first person phenomenology  I rattle on about here because much of what is Written on Pennsylvania Echoes is about Zen and self therapy for Wellness and Day to day work.

Lacan created his “phenomenological other” or “phenomenological third” as a metaphor of an abstract observer in the client-annalist-session continuum (Gestalt)

  • Some therapist, including  Gestalt  allow or encourage the taping of a session.
    One can do this in there own self therapies, such as
  • talk,
  • real time journaling
  • or with alone with a Mirror –

In this regard, the viewer of the session later– fills the role of phenomenological third … but in a fresh new objective circumstance.
this type of “heuristics ” allows for further analysis of process and/or tenants
of the taped client-therapist session or self therapy session.

Ego and the Mirror

Lacan theorized that children develop a sense of self,
-that is academically constructed “Ego”–
by comparing this development to the outside world, as if looking into a mirror.
Experienced during the so called “Mirror stage” is a constant of depthless superficial reflections. This includes dreams sensations, and desires.

within this infant “Mirror stage” of dependency on parents –
the child experiences narcissistic (conquering), confident, curious and helpless tensions that bind an integrated sensation of a whole self or “me”.

My Thoughts on Lacan’s Mirror Metaphor

The fast pace of today’s technology filled world, overmarketing and growing violence can leave one feeling as if he is fragmented , fake , narcissistic….
or depend on to many things – or people. Some describe themselves as lost inside the reflection of a mirror or conforming to fit a vision of an outside world that doesn’t even seem real to them anymore.
I don’t think it needs to be this way for those who chose to find an integrated self/other and confident self/other sense self-autonomy.

questioning what do I have control of ; what ought I control; and what controls me… It really comes down to:

  • Deciding (decision making),
  • Esteem (ethics to prioritize compare decisions )
  • and Wholeness (Oneness in deciding , acting , and sensing )

Its to let go of the mirror, little by little, and experience the world more as a lens. This requires, at times a first, second and third point of view.

Be a lens and less a mirror

Beisser: Flying Without Wings

Arnold Biesser is the Author “Paradoxical Theory of change”
one of my favourite essays.

Briefly stated, it is this: that change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not

Paradoxical Theory of Change on PDF

Earlier post on Paradoxical Theory of change.



Cash Value of Meaning and Truth

To better understand William James’s  metaphor of  the Cash Value of Truth, I would like to make a case that “Cash value of Meaning” would be an improved word choice for today.
This is to say that from a subjective stand point, a person decides what is meaningful and how meaningful in any given context ( family social, work social environmental, aesthetically such as Studying a sculpture in a gallery) etc), in a market like process. Each context has own meanings, finally interpreted by the person, himself in his own interests.William James

A simplified example two people in the context of conversation.

Each person brings memory, previous opinion, biology, world view, diction and present mood into the field of conversation. This context of meeting  includes the physical location, and participants, including anything in the background. It maybe limited to what was discussed. If the two converse freely, the talking points and their significance of each discussed topic is decided by the participants in a intersubjective manner. All the topics discussed belong to the conversation and should rely only on that field at the time. How significant each topic was is prioritized with events in that field of conversation.

This may have been a meaningful exchange. The importances of this bracket event: the conversation, is experienced and prioritized by emotive, intellectual and active reaction. the important moments are provocative.

Later, If one the participants, reflects on the conversation earlier (people usually do) to define more meaning, they are now creating a NEW context. Now the context, or field, is with the person and his memory. Probably not as provocative… the entire market place is within the coercion of his own world view and mood of the location and his body/mind. The participants of the market place, of this moment of reflection are entirely himself. All arguments are of himself… body,mind, location.

  • Each meaningful experience is localized event. This fits with James thoughts that life is a series of interwoven experiences.
  • Interpersonal / intersubjective meanings are less coerced when it is discussed or experienced with multiple participants, whether other people, organisms, or environmental agents. just as William James market- like metaphor suggest.
  • The building blocks of are more constant meaningful ideas are defined tested and retested by new day to day experiences.

“Truth’s” for  William James,  are meaningful (in that they provocative or conscious constructed) ideas that are assimilated by one or many by verification in the marketplace of a reality. Truth is always contextual, always referring to experience, social, environmental, spatial, etc.  Truth always refers to an experience or a series of experiences where they are verified intersubjectively by all the participants in the field.  This holds true in science and other Academic contexts where ideas are rigorously tested by  the tester,   subject and controlled fields of testing.

Meaningful Conclusion

Truth Happens to an Idea as James proclaims, after rigorous testing in experiences, or its deemed as not true.
“Meaning of Ideas” is when those ideas and happenings, true or not, have a significance or use,  and  a how significant or useful to the ideas that are  tested in the realm of experiences.

Agnostic Conditions Reprised

Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication.

When  I read what William James published in “The Meaning of Truth”  I believed he was refering to the truth of ideas proposed by a single person or group of persons, a single consciousness or a collective of consciousness within their existence(s).   One  constantly tests  his/her stream of ideas within present environmental experiences and social experiences, and then with his/her memory of experiences… to judge a notion true or  not.
Navigating this uncertain world is certainly easier  by  taking an Agnostic position in regards to knowledge, and a willing to do the work of verifying ideas:  in participation and in experience.  But that’s just my opinion.  So  to start with an Agnostic attitude, what is “Agnosticism?”

Revised posted

Agnostic Conditions ” was originally posted on May 3, 2009

Agnostic – definition: not knowing or unknowing
What, then is the definition of Agnosticism?. If the definition of the root agnostic is “not knowing, or unknowing”, it is doubtful that one can define any full intellectual system of Agnosticism.–Much in the same manner one cannot with other “-isms” such as existentialism or postmodernism.
I was thinking about Jean-François Lyotard’s phrase: ” Postmodern Condition” , which is  a loose  bundle  of observations and criticisms about Modernism. (specifically: these postmodern conditions are conditions that expose Modern ideas of “progress, “Meta-Narratives”, “cause-effect”,”objectivity” of Modernity as fallacious. ).

I wonder that if instead of an “Agnosticism”, there was  a set of Agnostic Conditions, that were a reaction to theories of knowledge.
So I came up with a few agnostic conditions of my own:


  • Our total knowledge of all details is limited.
  • Nothing is absolutely known. What is “known” is based upon acceptable supporting evidence and verification.
  • Knowledge is limited to the collective experience, communication means and data storage of a group or person.
  • Knowledge is inseparable from consciousness. (which includes, previous and current meanings, bias, and introjection, etc)


  • A definition of Objective Reality: “what is real is measurable” as defined by classical physics; accepted as universal.
  • A definition of Subjective Reality: what is experienced, and accept as real by a single consciousness. such as the cognation of an organism’s interactions.
  • A definition of Intersubjective Reality. the collected objects, events, structures, descriptions, meanings, principles, etc that are shared as “real” between  subjective consciousness* conscious beings (organisms)
  • A definition of Absolute Reality: the way things truly happen, whether comprehensible or not.


  • meaningful… description of information, that is:
    • that is formed out of background of discord
    • that is relative: relative  to a topic, study, paradigm, “game” , time-space location, happening, or world- view.
    • that is defined  in language, symbols or gesture, for clarification or communication
    • that is prioritized in importance – intellectually and emotionally.
    • that is  prioritized   compared to other meanings in the  context… social, personal, environmental contexts
  • meaninglessness:  information that is not meaningful and therefore  remains, or is relegated to the background.


Uncertainty. Image from

  • I  decide that “X” is true, false, or probable. I could be wrong.
  • I do not have to decide if “X” is true, false, or probable  with out the considering the  agnostic conditions   ( of Knowledge, Reality, Meaning).
  • Uncertainty is inherent in the nature of things,  actions and decisions.

I think that agnostic conditions are an important considerations when studying epistemology and knowledge theories, and when making decisions and actions. They are a criticism and completion of such. For me, this is a definition for agnosticism: a set of conditions.

As for the repetitive question is “Does God exist”?
Well, one ,must define what he means when he ask about  “God” or gods, because there have been many definitions over time ,cultures contexts and subjective view points. How important is to know if God or gods exists or not?  Is it as meaningful  a question as to ask  “is there intelligent  life on other planets?, or knowing what goes on in other people lives in other countries?     It might be.  It might not be.

I don’t know.

* edited for clarity and grammar  11-17-2014

Intersubjectivity and Interpersonal Brighter Side Repost

Intersubjectivity and Inerpersonal Bright Side” was origionally posted: dec 5, 2011.

Look upon other people and see that we are all  humans.  We  roughly appear to have the same forms and physics, the same sets of uniquely  human behaviors ( such as use of language). Upon deeper inspection, by biologists  who study DNA, There are traits and characteristics that are universally Homo Sapien or  human.
Meet and talk with other people and discover that people have cognitive differences of each person; Travel and note the cultural  differences of people.
If  you are one who has used medications and therapies for serious health problems, you will quickly learn the unwritten rule : “what works for one may not work for another, everyone is different“. One can infer each Homo Sapien is  biologically different from the next, Same  goes for their sum total of subjective  experiences. The individual  has characteristics that are unique.

I am  pretty sure  that a universal model does not apply when talking about all people, most of  the time. But we also, in talking about the human race per se , or groups… education  ,communication or interactions ..need to talk about more than just the individual. I certainly want to know more than the individual that is me.

Self and Other, Person to Person

As I am  a subject of my  own permeated world that I participate in,  other persons are the subject of their own. As  subjects we have considerable influence upon the world. a subject acts upon other things.  In  the shared circumstance, such as that  of  a  conversation, or any other interpersonal experience, Each must treat the  “other” as a subject of overlapping or joined existence– an intersubjective circumstance.  Intersubjectivity.

On the hand, a we appreciate, as it were, [another  persons]  otherness, and on the other hand we appreciate the humanness we have in common

Brighter Side of Human Nature. Alfie Kohn chapter titled The Self and Other
Kohn goes on the explain  intersubjectivity in a meeting  (conversation, circumstance, Dasein etc) .  After the two fold contrast of Self and Other arises; and two subjects recognize an intersubjective  meeting, A   twofold attitude with the contrasting  of  sameness and difference arises. This is not a state between sameness and difference, according to Kohn, rather a “dynamic tension of the two”.

One  who appreciates both dimensions of otherness and common humanness is able to appreciate a given individuals subjectivity […] a subject is an actor, a knower, a center of experience and while two individuals share  these features each is  also a different subject.

I would postulate  that one is  often comforted in the  sameness beyond humanness in a intersubjective moment.  A subject maybe comforted in the sameness of culture, age, gender, ethnicity, ideology.  Perhaps, for better or for worse,the  Sameness    we find in other people confirms ones own identity.
We are at the same time excited by the novelty of otherness, sometimes startled…. sometimes curious. If   man is  to reach  beyond his own hands grasp , it could be said one seeks  out  otherness beyond himself. In interpersonal relationships, we very often find another person’s Otherness, including the persons individual experiences and circumstances, compelling or alluring.

Beyond Objectification

Many Neuroscientists believe that they have located “Mirror neurons” in the human brain. These neurons are believed to activate when we observe   other people actions.  In certain developmental stages (the experts argue the exact ages)  one learns by observing others, an interpersonal  action.

The understanding  that: other people  that one contacts (meets and interacts with) in his/her  own experiences,  have  similar  experiences  of their own, more than any stone, tree , structure or object;
and that they impact and influence  as subjects within their own experiences… this is understanding  takes a practical leap of faith.
But this understanding, which requires assumptions supported by a subjects growing experiences, lifts one beyond dull  solipsism and egoism , to the richness of an intersubjective matrix, which is our human world.

Modern Physics may suggest a  “subject:object” or “I:it” outlook as impractical. All things  have influence on all other things in a field, whether the affect is grand or arbitrary.  Any subject acting on a body, whether a stone, tree, another person, earth, sun, is influenced by the other in return. Objects are not static or inert.
For the purpose of interpersonal subject:subject or intersubjective relationship We may  as, Martin Bubers suggest, choose “I:thou” interpretation over “I:it” .

The Brighter Side

The rich understanding of other people in their  Dasein beyond ones own existence is one thing and Learning from others another. We also have to live with each other in space and our societies.  If I am ” to treat others  in the manner I wish to be treated“, Wouldn’t I have to know what is it like to be in another circumstance?

I am Reading Alfie Kohn’s The Brighter side of Human Nature“. Which postulates an individual’s existence is ideally positioned somewhere between the poles of  Egoism and Altruism, and the motivations of an individual lies somewhere between self-interest and pro-social selflessness.
He writes about the importance of  “Perspective  taking” including Empathy (or feeling into)
three types of perspective taking:

  • Spatial and perceptive:  imagining what its like to be in someone else’s physical circumstance.
  • Cognitive:  imaging how another people (and organisms) think,feel and act from their perspective including strengths, limitations
  • Empathetic: Being affected by another’s circumstance.

Perspective taking is understanding another’s perspective, while Empathy is “feeling into”, or being affected by another persons perspective or circumstance. In quoting by Robert Salmon Perspective taking and Empathy…”Are  form[s] of social cognition intermediate between logical or moral thought ”

Cohn synthesizes the work of scientist(including doctors , biologists) , psychologist, educators, and  philosophers and the book is   heavily annotated.  Cohen further illustrates the importance of  understanding intersubectivity in interpersonal relationships, to promote the pro- social(or altruistic) and motivations and actions of individuals. He makes a strong case for an the Altruistic interests of the individual beyond self interest. I would recommend the book for all, but especially humanists, individualists and existentialists.

To be a subject in Existence is  moral participation. To act upon and with others requires Dignity, Reciprocity, and Tolerance, (Ethics) in addition to subjects self -interests and mutual interests with others.


Phenomenology is the  study of experiences: generally the experiences of a subjects (an organism, a group, or a single conciousness) interaction with “other” (eg. the environment, field, “world”, other happenings or other people  in contact with the subject) and from the subject’s  point of view.
This includes all integral structures and components:

  • mood, excitement, aggression, apprehension and expectations in circumstances.
  • Bias, “world view”, outlooks and introjection
  • intentionality (or towardeness) and mindfulness.
  • sensing, near and far (touch and taste are near, sight and hearing far)
  • sensing time  and observing change
  • imagining, feeling, problem solving, abstracting,
  • desiring, empathizing,expressing,
  •  affecting and being affected
  • experiential learning -learning by experience and activity
  • the limitations of experiencing
  • The communication of experiencing, i.e language, language modes
  • context and meanings
  • patterns (similarities of different experiences and applications)

Some benefits  of phenomenological investigation is:

  • One may improve his understanding of his ways of cognating and acting.
  • find deeper meaning in events by holistically experiencing them rather than reading about them.
  • understand and find meaning  in other peoples shared experiences, paradigms, by cultivating perspective-taking skills.
  • improve problem solving with experiential learning, and patterning.
  • feeling “tuned in” to the world.
  • abstracting, imagining and being affected by other’s experiences (development of empathy and language).

phenomenal flower

Phenomenology is not just a subjective and intersubjective discourse in philosophy.  It is important to  Science (where objectivity is preferred)  as well.  For example:  the activity, including observations, of the tester must be considered in any scientific test. A scientist is always trying to remove error and accidental tampering in his/her measurements and  remaining as objective as possible.
Now consider the science of Quantum mechanics.
The tester or observer is so grand compared to tiny particles in field,  that even his idle observing can effect his measurement of particles.  This means that a quantum physicist must account for his own “consciousness” or cognations in measuring and observing particles,  including his expectations, attitudes and limitations that could effect his data! At this extreme level of scientific observation, the scientist’s experience of  measuring objects and events in a field is a component of the field.

Phenomenology is a much discussed topic in the quantum mechanics and physics, as well as psychology and both Eastern and Western Philosophies.  It’s an important topic within any Empiricism .  If I had a complaint about phenomenology its that’s an awfully long word and I can never remember how to spell it. :) …. and just try to  fit the phrase “existential-phenomenology” (the phenomenology that focus on whole action and not just “consciousness“) into the 140 character limit of a twitter post.  Phenomenology is one more ugly word that is very useful.

Gestalt Definition

An  organization or integration of components that are so interdependent , the whole is otherwise not easily described or easily summated.

  •  Most often use to describe spatial and /or temporal “phenomena”  or observable happenings..
  •  but can be used to describe  constructs and relationships.
  •   The organization or integration could graphically described as  a figure that is forming from a backround, where it remains in “contact” the ground.  That is: ” what is the gestalt” is always” in contact with “not the gestalt, globally”.

An example of a gestalt being not otherwise easy to describe or not easy summate might be   hand writing on paper and the hand eye coordination required.

  • One could study the functions of the nervous system and arm and fingers as it writes on paper.
  • One could study the visual process of the nervous system and eyes watching as one writes.

However, one could not just add the data of the  two studies  and expect to understand the interplay of hand an eye that is  involved with writing.  Instead one might treat and study hand eye coordination in writing as an integrated whole or Gestalt, because the components mention formerly are rather interdependent.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

is the creed of gestalt psychology ( a scientific and holistic study of perception that commonly uses gestalts) and a rather striking statement.  Mathematicians familiar with calculus and  analytic geometry might take issue with the literal value of this statement.  but consider the following examples:


In this visual example  of “closure” or “reification”:  an image of a triangle will  appear to a viewer.  the visual data of a triangle(in the right image above) is only constructed with the viewers  biology (his brain, eyes,etc.) and with all the components of the image viewed as a whole.  simply adding the visual components will not produce the visual data that is the triangle.
It would seem that  the arrangement of the smaller components must be involved in producing the triangle in any equation, but this would be hard to predict without at least considering the image as an integrated whole… or gestalt.

See if you can read the following:

you slouhd be albe to read  tihs sneetnce esliay
buscease yuor mind orangiezs waht you raed itno wohles.

(to check your “translation” mouse-over the highlighted above.)

Practical Investigations with  Gestalts

A gestalt   could be an organism,  family, community,  a social movement  a widget in a visual environment on your computer, a market place in business,  a symbiotic relationship inside an ecosystem and so on.
Since some things are difficult to study internally due interdependence  of its components and properties, thinking with gestalts may be helpful.  For example one may study cultures, subcultures and social movements. by comparing and contrasting “what is not” the culture, subculture, and social movement in question.  Graphically, one defines  a gestalt  by its borders, where it interacts with “other”.
The same  comparison is also done in Gestalt therapy  ( * not the same as gestalt psychology) where a client  focus on where and how “he”, or “she”  contacts and interacts his/her  world, environments and circumstances to define him or herself.

Gestalt is a graphical interpretation, that can include approximation. It is origionally a German word to describe a form, shape,or figure. I think that it is an ugly word when spoken yet beautiful in its usefulness.