Inside and Outside – revisited

Many people have felt isolated, alone and even alienated from others and the world around them from time to time. This may sometimes lead us to fervently wish the boundaries between “inside” and “outside” could be breached, if only for a little while. We could then feel merged into the whole wider world or universe, our consciousness subsumed for a little while into a greater whole. What perspectives and insights might we then experience?

Nearly all animal forms have the ability to distinguish what lies outside their own skins. This is necessary so they can avoid predators, notice potential mates, and secure food and shelter. Yet only a few animals have the ability to imagine themselves outside their own skins. This ability requires is a very high order of brain development. The test for this is very simple but ingenious. An animal is presented with a mirror. Most animals will react to their image as if the image is another of their kind, even attacking the mirror. Only a very few recognize the image is a reflection of themselves. Among these are monkeys, dolphins, elephants and some birds. So humans are among the favored few with this ability.

Seen this way, the difficulties we face in our worthwhile efforts to erase the boundaries between inside and outside can also be viewed as a positive thing, a sign that we humans have a nearly unique self-awareness. We can value our individual self-hoods, focusing our external efforts to understanding and valuing the contributions others make to our very diverse existence, while at the very same time striving to eliminate the barriers between ourselves and the world.

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