Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I should warn you. This is not your usual short story. It’s more taking you on an imaginary investigation. Don’t panic, however. It’s guaranteed to be painless (well, more or less) even if it is puzzling.
I’m not going to tell you anything you haven’t already observed. Go to that tall hall mirror to check it out. It reverses your image so that your right hand becomes your left and vise versa. “Big deal,” you say! But have you ever wondered by it reverses right for left but apparently not up for down? To put it another way, it doesn’t turn your body up-side-down so your head is where your feet are and your feet stick up in the air. I realize that that is simply stating the obvious but the question is WHY NOT? Why does a mirror reverse your image horizontally but not vertically?
Well this simple question bothered me to no end so I decided to experiment a little. What would happen if I lay down horizontally in front of the mirror? Would I still see a right and left reversal but not a head to toe? So I tried it, but the mirror didn’t reflect my body at all because lying on the floor, I was too low. That was easy to rectify. I put a piano bench in front to the mirror and lay down on that. Now the mirror was too narrow to reflect my head or toes so it was hard to tell just what the mirror was doing to my image. I tied a red ribbon around my right wrist and sure enough the mirror showed it on my left wrist. Though I couldn’t see my head or feet I could differentiate my dark pants from my light shirt and… as I expected, they were in the same position both in fact and in the mirror image. How did the mirror know that I was lying down? How did it understand that I was trying to trick it? A real conundrum!
So I stood up once again—in front of the mirror. Maybe the mirror was, in fact, giving me the view I would have if I could look at me from where the mirror was, without moving from where I was. (An exercise that could only be done in my imagination.) But no, it would NOT be the same as the mirror image of me. If I could look at myself from the point of view of the mirror, I would see my left hand as my left hand and my feet firmly planted on the floor. No aberrations at all! So the mirror was not telling the truth… at least the not the WHOLE truth.
But what picture would I get if I placed a camera in the position of the mirror and snapped a picture? Do you remember the old days when such an operation created a negative? The negative was what the camera saw. It reversed EVERYTHING: right for left, up for down, and even black for white and colours for their complimentaries. In order to bring that back to normal, I had to make a positive. The positive was exactly like reality—barring the lack of a 3D effect. So the eventual print is closer to the real scene and NOT like a mirror image at all.
We are arriving at the conclusion that a mirror creates a UNIQUE representation of the actual scene. Neglecting for the moment mirror-like lakes, ponds and puddles (a rarity in our over-civilized world) man-made mirrors provide this unique rendering of every day life—yet it is not reality!
Now supposing I lay the mirror on the floor and stood at one end and examined my own image. No difference: right for left but up for up and down for down. But aha! If someone ELSE stood at the opposite end of the mirror and looked at MY image in it, right would be left BUT my head would be where my feet should be and vice versa! Somehow that doesn’t seem to surprise me (and perhaps you) probably because I am not seeing it myself, and I can only carry out the experiment by myself by being two places at the same time. Patently impossible—and yet—isn’t that what the mirror is doing? It creates another reality. There are two of each of me, one flesh and blood and one illusorily and just a shade different.
Lewis Carroll may have arrived at this conclusion when he penned “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” When Alice stepped through the mirror she entered a new and strange world on the other side. A world with an angry red Queen with an insatiable desire to cut off her subjects heads; flamingoes who allowed themselves to be used as croquet mallets; a mushroom with eerie abilities to make the eater larger or smaller; a cat whose most enduring quality was its smile. A very strange and different world—not at all even a faulty rendition of the scene on the reality side of the mirror. Maybe Mr. Carroll was right and we just haven’t looked long enough or far enough. Maybe, just maybe, there is another life that our double is leading in another time frame and in another geographical realm. That could account for the stranger who is sure she met you at some cocktail party, or the man who heartily shakes your hand only to drop it in embarrassment when he takes a closer look. A little spooky isn’t it?
So when you next apply your make-up or brush your hair or shave your face, maybe you can catch a glimpse of the red Queen just beyond the ephemeral image you are looking at. Take a cautious look! She is probably hungry for your head.
It’s all pretty silly isn’t it?

8 Responses to “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”

  1. Lois and Richard says:

    Or maybe it means too much mirror-scene from Onegin ?

    Keep up the output, Lyman. You brighten our days.

    And GB to you !!

  2. Finally, someone willing to take on the madness of mirrors, the reality of reverse. Thanks Lyman!

  3. Jack Long says:

    Mmm! Let me see. If I stand behind the mirror and look at the back of the it,– no that won’t work. If I stand behind the mirror and look at the mirror in a mirror and then turn around and face backwards-no that won’t work. Maybe if I — oh never mind I’ll think about it some other day,

  4. Now that, dear Lyman, is a wonderful meditation. Thank you!

  5. Lorna Kelly says:

    I am glad to see your not letting your mind rest Lyman.

    So if you hold a mirror in your hand, and look over your shoulder at the image in the mirror, and the reflection of you looking in the handheld mirror, wait I think I am confused .. ….. this needs some time!

  6. Rose says:

    Once again, loved your thought pattern Lyman. This story brought back memories of working in the camera department in film. There always seemed to be a bedroom/bathroom scene. So when the focus puller has a 100 ml lens to work with & there is 1/2″ depth of field, measurements have to be taken to ensure the actor is in focus. So when the camera is on the mirror, the focus puller measures from the camera to mirror, gets someone to hold the tape on the mirror and then measures to the actors eyes. How’s that to confuse matters more?

    Thanks for the thoughts.


  7. Joy MacFadyen says:

    lyman… are clearly staying up too late at night. I think I saw Alice and now I’m confused too……
    xo Joy

  8. David Giles says:

    Lyman, Yes I too remember years ago wondering about the image on the other side of the glass. It’s NOT how the world sees us but how we see ourselves. This inspired to write a song about it. I’ll dig it up and send it to you.

    Keep up these bedtime stories!

Leave a Reply