This exercise, if done completely, should take about 30 minutes. It’s worth it. If it is done only partially, the results will be far less than merely partial.
Look into a mirror and speak aloud words that are similar to the statement below. Read the statement a few times until you feel you get it, and then look into the mirror and make the statement in your own words. It’s okay to miss a few of the concepts, or, to add a few concepts, as you feel necessary. Wing it. While you are speaking, also do the following:
1. For the most part, pay attention to your face.
2. Pretend as much and as often as possible during your “speech” that the person in the mirror is actually trying to convince you that he/she is a real person–not a mere reflection.
The word “pretend” means: interspersed with whatever thoughts and actions you experience in order to perform this speech, you intend to have other thoughts which remind you of your observational intent. Sample thoughts might be: “Here’s an image, much like a television or film image, that is trying to convince me that it is real.” And/or, “This image is no more real than Mickey Mouse in a cartoon saying the same things.” And/or, “This image has utterly no real qualities like I do; it doesn’t actually breathe, feel, have thoughts, etc.” In short, adopt an underlying attitude that the image before you is trying to “pull off” something preposterous–which is: that it even exists enough to be something that COULD pull off something!
3. Pretend that the character that you see before you in the mirror is highly motivated and has been challenged to prove he/she exists as a sentient entity and is strongly trying to convince you that it is a real person.
I think; therefore, I am. I’m alive. I’m awake and sentient. I know this in my bones! I’m am a complete individual and separate from my surroundings. I am real. I feel. I have plans. I have a personality.
I cause things to happen. Look at my finger; I will now move it. See? It moved! I predicted something, and it happened, so therefore I am the cause of that and other events. That’s a real, hard, scientific, experimental result. Therefore, I am a doer. Go ahead, ask me to do anything with this body, and I’ll do it!
If someone else were here right now, I’d show you. I would have a compete set of complex reactions to that person, and these emotions, thoughts and actions would have amazing subtlety. In every way possible, I am measurably real. I could cut myself, and I would bleed. I have a body with internal organs.
I want to be a better person. I am concerned about good and evil, and I am a moral and philosophical being.
Repeat the above procedure about ten times. Your goal is to get a deep clarity about the plight of this character before you. You want to really see that the character is capable of making only completely invalid statements, and that you cannot be swayed by any of its arguments. In fact, there just is no basis whatsoever for you to even begin in the faintest way to consider this character a candidate for personhood or sentience.
Finally, once you’ve practiced doing all of this and confidently feel you’ve achieved clarity, immediately go to a friend and have them look you in the eyes when you make this statement to them. For extra credit, have them read the statement back to you while you watch them.
How did I feel when I made the statement to my friend? Was there any doubt about my own existence? Am I merely a character in a dream?
When my image was trying to persuade me that it was real, did I ever, for even a moment, believe it had the slightest chance of convincing me?
In what sense was my image separate from the rest of the image reflecting off the mirror? Would it make any sense to say the part of the image that was me was somehow more alive than the other parts of the image I see in the mirror?
If I were on one side of a glass wall, and another person were on the other side, what statement could that person make to convince me he/she was not a television or film image? How did I feel when my friend read the statement to me?
If I had a dream in which a person came up to me and spoke the statement, what would be my dream-me’s reaction? Upon awakening and recalling the dream, what would I as an awakened person think of that dream person’s status?
How is it that a mirror image can be everything me, but also, so very, very not me?
When I look down and see my body, how is that image’s light rays any different from those coming from a television screen?
When I look at my past, my personality, or my future, how is that different from looking into a mirror?
How far into my past do I have to look before I become a character as opposed to who I am now? Did my childhood happen to someone else?