(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)
|Projection. Source: Wikipedia.|
Following up on yesterday's short essay about time, here is another one that looks at a theme tackled in my about-to-be-released book Why Materialism Is Baloney. These short essays are not repetitions of what is discussed in the book, but different ways of looking at the same issues and extracting similar conclusions.
In psychology, projection is the act of attributing to other people qualities of ourselves which we are not aware of. For instance, a spouse who has unconscious thoughts about having an affair may project these thoughts onto his or her partner, beginning to suspect him or her of infidelity. On a more positive note, we may project our own inner wisdom, which we are often unaware of, onto figures of authority like doctors, therapists or teachers. In doing so, we see in another an aspect of ourselves. Many psychologists are convinced that most of us live in personal realities populated by projections: we don't really see people for who they are, but for the aspects of ourselves that we project onto them. This way, the world inadvertently enacts our own inner psychological dynamics on the 'outside.' We have even developed cultural institutions to catalyze projection. For instance, many religious rituals seem to have been unconsciously optimized to attract projections: inner wisdom projected onto priests, inner innocence onto altar boys, the inner mother onto nuns, inner transformative power onto icons, etc. In some mystical traditions, this is done quite consciously and deliberately. For instance, modern Rosicrucian rituals are designed to attract the projections of key unconscious psychological archetypes.
Projection is the amazing psychological mechanism by which we create 'the other' out of ourselves, like Eve from Adam's rib. It enables the magical rise of a second person from the first person, the 'you' from the 'I.' As far as the person placing the projection is concerned, the projected material is really real and objective. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in dreams: during a dream, we are entirely convinced that we interact with 'others.' Those 'others,' however, are projected aspects of our own psyches. The old wise man in your dreams is the projected image of your own inner wisdom. The stupid and inferior person in your dreams is the projected image of your own shadow. Through projection, the 'outside' world becomes a mirror for the most hidden and unacknowledged aspects of ourselves, which then become visible to us as 'the other.'
For those who suddenly realized the projections they were placing onto the world, the power of projection is as undeniable as it is disconcerting. Upon becoming aware of some of our projections, we immediately ask ourselves: What else might I be projecting right now? After all, I was entirely convinced of the objective reality of some of my projections earlier, so what other elements of the world 'out there' may actually be projections of my own right now? Is there anything about reality that I can be absolutely sure to not be my own projected material?
Could all of reality be, at bottom, a psychological, rather than a physical, process? Could the entire world 'out there' be, at bottom, a projection of ourselves? When we look at the world outside, could we actually be witnessing a mirrored image of the hidden aspects of our true selves? Given the empirically undeniable power of projection, who is to say that such is not the case?