Suppose you are on a dead planet. One where you have every material provision to ensure survival, but where nothing is alive. No doubt you would feel like an alien. Alone. Separate and different from this barren world. Then suppose you came across a plant. How would you greet the sight? With eagerness and pleasure?
All life – life by its nature – entails struggle, and struggle entails the possibility of defeat. We desire and find pleasure in seeing concrete instances of successful life as confirmation of our knowledge that life is possible.
How much more can the sight of another human being offer?
The successes and achievements of those around us can provide fuel and inspiration for our efforts and strivings. Perhaps this is one of the greatest gifts human beings can offer each other. The sight of happiness, achievement, success and fulfilment.
Imagine now you are marooned on an uninhabited island. Alone but able to survive. You come across a dog. How does this make you feel? Most likely the dog’s presence would be of enormous pleasure and value. Not because it could make any practical contribution to your physical survival, but because it offered a form of companionship. A conscious entity to interact and communicate with.
The fact of integrating with a conscious entity is of importance. Were you to interact with an inanimate object, it would react in a mechanical way. It would not be responding to you. There could be no possibility of it grasping the meaning of your interactions. Or of apprehending your intentions.
The effect of another consciousness is to make your feel seen, to make you feel visible.
To gain visibility the interaction must be one that you regard as appropriate. One that matches your view of yourself and of what you are trying to convey. If an animal responds to you with fear and cowering, you would experience yourself as being misperceived. You do not feel pleasure.
We experience ourselves, in effect, as a process, an activity. The content of our minds are a shifting flow of perceptions. Images, organic sensations, fantasies, thoughts and emotions. Our mind is not an unmoving entity which we can contemplate as a direct object of experience. We cannot comprehend it as an object in the “external world.”
In this manner our most important value – our character, soul, psychological self, spiritual being – can never exist apart from our own consciousness. We can never perceive it as part of the out there. But we desire a form of objective self-awareness and, in fact, need this experience.
When we stand before a mirror, we are able to perceive our own face as an objective reality, and we normally find pleasure in doing so, in contemplating the physical entity that is ourself. There is value in being able to look and think, “That’s me.”
There is another mirror in which we can see perceive our psychological self.
It is another consciousness.
As an individual alone we are able to know ourselves internally– at least to some extent. What another consciousness can offer is the opportunity for us to experience ourselves as concrete objects “out there” in the external world.
This is the experience of visibility.
Significant visibility requires consciousness’s congruent, to some meaningful extent, with our own. It is possible with animals only to a degree.
We can experience optimal self-awareness and visibility only in a relationship with a consciousness possessing an equal range of awareness, that is, another human being.
Through visibility with others we are able to see and know ourselves.