The Mirror of the Self

The Mirror of the Self

Order has its own inherent quality or value, what Alexander calls “a harmonious coherence” [Bk I, 15]. This quality is in the thing itself without reference to any external personal self or self-generated judgment. It is simply a quality of the thing itself.

The Mirror-of-the-Self test is a test put forth by Alexander to help us put aside our sense of fashion, taste, personal perspective and biases and “culturalization”, and evaluate the life of object strictly on the basis of the life inherent in those objects themselves.

In Alexander’s view as creators we can, through iteration, create things in which this harmonious coherence is iteratively intensified resulting in things of great beauty that express our deepest connection-human species integrally connected to the universe as a whole. But in order to create and intensify this harmonious coherence, we must be able to recognize this coherence when we encounter it. Alexander calls this recognition the “Mirror-of-the-Self”.

Alexander makes a distinction between “liking” something for reasons of fashion, personal taste or even cultural norms and biases on the one hand and “liking from the heart” or what he describes as “deep feeling” on the other. In his view it is this liking from the heart or deep feeling that allows us to perceive the true beauty, harmony and wholeness; the life inherent in objects themselves, qualities that exist without reference to any external self or self-generated judgment.
Alexander provides a ‘method’ [Bk 1, ch 8] by which we can discover the relative life of any two objects, things, regions of space, temporal events and so forth by asking such questions about the things we compare as:

  • Which arouses deep feeling?
  • Which generates in you the most wholesome feeling?
  • Which better connects you to the world?
  • Which comes closer to being a picture of your self as you are and as you want to be?
  • Which is more connected to your eternal self?
  • Which would you prefer to become on the day of your death?
  • If you had to be one which would you rather be?

Admittedly it is an impossible task to put aside all our personal taste and cultural norms and biases to arrive at this perception of the mirror of one’s true self. Alexander himself says

    “I may have given the impression that the mirror-of-the-self test is a mechanical test which always produces the right answers and which always produces agreement. The real situation is not so neat and tidy. It can take years to learn to perform this test correctly. Also, in the process of learning use the test, one is forced to learn more and more about one’s own self. Thus even one’s understanding of one’s own self is changed by the task of learning to perform this test.” [Bk I, 343]

In Alexander’s view the questions help us come closer to understanding ourselves as members of this wholeness we call the universe, rather than as viewing ourselves as the individual collections of thoughts, feelings, desires and prejudices we call our ‘egos’. These questions can help us come closer to the internal coherence he calls harmony, and can help us create an environment better aligned with the ‘natural order’. I believe his view to be that we either align ourselves with the nature of order or we are ultimately doomed as a species. Natural order will continue to unfold with or without us.