(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?


  1. With regard to this and your previous post, I've recently been speculating that the tripartite notion of time (past, present and future) could be viewed differently. If I think in terms of "interactability", what we interact with is what we think of as "in the present". What we call memory is always interacted with, as is "thinking about the future". There might be no such thing as "non-interactability", i.e. no "past" or "future", but only the "present", or, if one prefers, no such thing as time at all. Also, we can interact with what we're turning our attention to.

    Similarly, space could be interpreted not in terms of distance, but in terms of how much attention we pay to it. What we think is "close" is occupying a great deal of our attention and appears "big"; what "far", is occupying less of our attention and appears "small". We can quantify what we think of as space (at least in scientific terms), but there's also "close and big" and "small and distant" in psychological terms; perhaps in the final analysis both are aspects of the same thing).

    I think, in principle at least, We're capable of making the distinction between the existent and the inexistent. A tentative hypothesis would be that what incontrovertibly exists is in the mind of Source Consciousness. What doesn't is in local mind--the mind of the whirlpool, so to speak. We may have better or worse notions of what truly exists.

    This begins to shade, as I see it, into the topic of your latest post about projection. How "real" our reality is depends on the degree to which we can make the differentiation between what's existent and what's not. It's probably true that none of our conceptions are completely accurate. Science and much other human endeavour (I'd include the arts and spiritual seeking) are about trying to increase accuracy.

    Even the most rigorous minds may make inaccurate distinctions. As some say, for all practical purposes, "perception *is* reality". We probably project our local reality onto Source reality, and that's perhaps inevitable: acknowledging the existence of misperceptions might be irritating, but on the bright side, that means we have the potential to learn, and that can be fun.

    So: I'd agree that most, if not all, of our "reality" is psychological projection. The more that we can test--in as unbiased a way as possible--what we project, the better the accuracy of our descriptions of the existent. It helps if we're humble: not sanctimoniously self-effacing, but, like the kind of person you mention, able to wonder how much of what we deem existent actually *is* such. I think that probably liberates "spiritual" potential; which isn't just putting on funny clothes and chanting Hare Krishna, but something much more practical.

    Models of reality inform language and culture, and vice-versa. Words have the magical power to create faux realities like "time" and "space": concepts which are clearly useful to some extent, but it's nigh on impossible to consider other ways of looking at things

    Incidentally, your book has yet to be released in the UK (Amazon says it's due on April 25th), so I've not yet been able to read it. I'm looking forward to it.

    1. I am fascinated by your speculations about the relationship between space-time and mind. You've written about it before. This is a topic very present in my mind, though I haven't yet achieved a minimum level of clarity about it, though intuitions abound. Maybe one day I will contribute some writing of my own on this topic.
      Regarding the way you define existence and non-existence, since the local minds are merely processes in the "Source Mind", doesn't the distinction fall apart, ultimately?
      Cheers, B.

    2. I hope you do consider the issue of time and space, Bernardo. If you turn your attention to it, I feel sure you'll come up with an interesting angle.

      You're right that I'm only speculating and could be very far off the mark. Nonetheless, even though time and space as we usually conceive of them may not be the reality of the situation (and philosophers and scientists have both pondered the issue), they have a certain significance. And, if we are to accept that all is ultimately mind, then the two apparent phenomena are ultimately psychological. Maybe they're part of a mode of mentation characteristic of local minds (the "whirlpools"). Maybe they're the best we can model that which actually *is* in the mind of "the river".

      Yes, the distinction in theory falls apart, but unfortunately, local mind finds it very difficult to make a better job of interpreting reality than modelling it the way it does. It also finds it very difficult to escape the tentacles of language. We can't talk about space and time without the use of words that depend on the two concepts. For a start, all our verbs have tenses, and many of them, in one way or another, embody the sense of place and/or motion. It may actually be nigh on impossible to discuss time and space "objectively" on this account.

  2. I have something else I'd like to raise that might not be quite so on-topic, though it's in your general ball-park, I think. I was just listening to an interesting recent podcast (20 Mar '14) of an episode of the BBC radio series hosted by Melvyn Bragg, discussing Bishop Berkeley. If anyone's interested, it can be downloaded here:

    The thing that intrigued me was that one of the experts in the discussion said that Berkeley, a putative Idealist, was actually a kind of Dualist: he believed in a deep divide between minds and things, like tables and trees, which are composed of the sensory qualities of experience: what today we'd call qualia, I suppose. These are two different categories, and though it's not mind/matter dualism, it's still dualism of a sort.

    Now I'm not saying that your version of Idealism is identical with his, Bernardo, but what the expert said made me made me think. At least as I have been conceiving of Idealism, I have been making a distinction between mind and ideas in mind. It's not that mind is all there is, but that there is nothing that is not either mind or ideas in that mind. So maybe I'm also a dualist of sorts?

    Can you speak to that, Bernardo? Do you see a dualistic aspect to Idealism in that sense, or do you have a way of eliminating it?

    1. If you've finished 'Why Materialism Is Baloney' you will have seen that I acknowledge a form of (illusory) dualism, though no mind/matter split. The dualism I acknowledge arises from an identification of split-off complexes of Mind with local topologies, like whirlpools. This gives rise to the illusory dualism between the processes of mind that I don't identify with (the world outside) and those that I do identify with (the world within). Both are mental, though.
      More closely related to what you said, I use the metaphor of the 'membrane' to make sense of consciousness (mind) itself. I describe experiences as movements of that membrane. There is a sense in which that suggests a dualism between membrane and experience (mind and ideas in mind). I ultimately conclude, though, that the membrane is a void; it's just a potential for experience. Therefore, there is no true dualism there either; the perceived dualism is an intellectual artifact of language.

    2. I have only recently got the book, Bernardo, and I'm taking my time with it because I always find I frequently stop and think about what you've said. It could take a few more weeks to get through it. Since I haven't got to the bit you're referring to, I won't comment further at this point, though I may say more when I do get there.