Mirror stage
The mirror stage is a concept in the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

. Philosopher Raymond Tallis
Raymond Tallis
Raymond Tallis F.Med.Sci., F.R.C.P., F.R.S.A. is a British philosopher, humanist, poet, novelist, cultural critic and retired medical doctor.-Medical career:...

 describes the mirror stage as "the cornerstone of Lacan’s oeuvre."

Initially, Lacan proposed that the mirror stage was part of an infant's development from 6 to 18 months, as outlined in his first and only official contribution to larger psychoanalytic theory
Psychoanalytic theory
Psychoanalytic theory refers to the definition and dynamics of personality development which underlie and guide psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy. First laid out by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytic theory has undergone many refinements since his work...

 at the Fourteenth International Psychoanalytical Congress at Marienbad in 1936. By the early 1950s, Lacan's concept of the mirror stage had evolved: he no longer considered the mirror stage as a moment in the life of the infant
A newborn or baby is the very young offspring of a human or other mammal. A newborn is an infant who is within hours, days, or up to a few weeks from birth. In medical contexts, newborn or neonate refers to an infant in the first 28 days after birth...

, but as representing a permanent structure of subjectivity
Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desires. In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.-Qualia:...

, or as the paradigm
The word paradigm has been used in science to describe distinct concepts. It comes from Greek "παράδειγμα" , "pattern, example, sample" from the verb "παραδείκνυμι" , "exhibit, represent, expose" and that from "παρά" , "beside, beyond" + "δείκνυμι" , "to show, to point out".The original Greek...

 of "Imaginary order".

History of development

Lacan's concept of the mirror stage was strongly inspired by earlier work by psychologist Henri Wallon
Henri Wallon (psychologist)
Henri Paul Hyacinthe Wallon was a French philosopher, psychologist , neuropsychiatrist, teacher, and politician...

, who speculated based on observations of animals and humans responding to their reflections in mirrors. Wallon noted that by the age of about six months, human infants and chimpanzees both seem to recognize their reflection in a mirror. While chimpanzees rapidly lose interest in the discovery, human infants typically become very interested and devote much time and effort to exploring the connections between their bodies and their images. In a 1931 paper, Wallon argued that mirrors helped children develop a sense of self-identity. However, later mirror test
Mirror test
The mirror test is a measure of self-awareness, as animals either possess or lack the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror.The test was developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970, based in part on observations made by Charles Darwin. While visiting a zoo, Darwin held a mirror up to an orangutan...

 research indicates that while toddlers are usually fascinated by mirrors, they do not recognize themselves in mirrors until the age of 15 months at the earliest, leading psychiatrist Norman N. Holland to declare that "there is no evidence whatsoever for Lacan's notion of a mirror stage." Similarly, Tallis notes that a literal interpretation of the Lacanian mirror stage contradicts empirical observations about human identity and personality: "the [mirror stage] theory would predict that congenitally blind indiv­iduals would lack selfhood and be unable to enter language, society or the world at large. There is no evidence whatsoever that this implausible consequence of the theory is borne out in practice."

Wallon's ideas about mirrors in infant development were distinctly non-Freudian and little-known until revived in modified form a few years later by Lacan. As Evans writes, "Lacan used this observation as a springboard to develop an account of the development of human subjectivity that was inherently, though often implicitly, comparative in nature." Lacan attempted to link Wallon's ideas to Freudian psychoanalysis, but was met with indifference from the larger community of Freudian psychoanalysts. Richard Webster explains how the "complex, and at times impenetrable paper [...] appears to have made little or no lasting impression on the psychoanalysts who first heard it. It was not mentioned in Ernest Jones
Ernest Jones
Alfred Ernest Jones was a British neurologist and psychoanalyst, and Sigmund Freud’s official biographer. Jones was the first English-speaking practitioner of psychoanalysis and became its leading exponent in the English-speaking world where, as President of both the British Psycho-Analytical...

’s brief account of the congress and received no public discussion."

In the 1930s, Lacan attended seminars by Alexandre Kojève
Alexandre Kojève
Alexandre Kojève was a Russian-born French philosopher and statesman whose philosophical seminars had an immense influence on twentieth-century French philosophy, particularly via his integration of Hegelian concepts into continental philosophy...

, whose philosophy was heavily influenced by Hegel. The diachronic structure of the mirror stage theory is influenced by Kojève's interpretation of the Master-slave dialectic
Master-slave dialectic
The Master-Slave dialectic is a famous passage of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. It is widely considered a key element in Hegel's philosophical system, and has heavily influenced many subsequent philosophers...

. Lacan continued to refine and modify the mirror stage concept through the remainder of his career; see below.

Evans argues that Lacan's earliest versions of the mirror stage, while flawed, can be regarded as a bold pioneering in the field of ethology
Ethology is the scientific study of animal behavior, and a sub-topic of zoology....

 (the study of animal behavior) and a precursor of both cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology is a subdiscipline of psychology exploring internal mental processes.It is the study of how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems.Cognitive psychology differs from previous psychological approaches in two key ways....

 and evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations, that is, the functional...

. In the 1930s, zoologists were increasingly interested in the then-new field of ethology, but not until the 1960s would the larger scientific community believe that animal behavior offered any insights into human behavior. However, Evans also notes that by the 1950s Lacan's mirror stage concept had become so abstract as to be untestable
Falsifiability or refutability of an assertion, hypothesis or theory is the logical possibility that it can be contradicted by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment...

 and therefore of no scientific value.

As phenomenon

As Lacan further develops the mirror stage concept, the stress falls less on its historical value and ever more on its structural value. "Historical value" refers to the mental development of the child
Biologically, a child is generally a human between the stages of birth and puberty. Some vernacular definitions of a child include the fetus, as being an unborn child. The legal definition of "child" generally refers to a minor, otherwise known as a person younger than the age of majority...

 and "structural value" to the libidinal relationship with the body image. In Lacan's fourth Seminar, La relation d'objet, he states that "the mirror stage is far from a mere phenomenon which occurs in the development of the child. It illustrates the conflictual nature of the dual relationship". The dual relationship (relation duelle) refers not only to the relation between the Ego and the body
With regard to living things, a body is the physical body of an individual. "Body" often is used in connection with appearance, health issues and death...

, which is always characterized by illusion
An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. While illusions distort reality, they are generally shared by most people....

s of similarity and reciprocity, but also to the relation between the Imaginary and the Real
The Real
The Real refers to that which is authentic, the unchangeable truth in reference both to being/the Self and the external dimension of experience, also referred to as the infinite and absolute - as opposed to a reality based on sense perception and the material order.-In psychoanalysis:The Real is a...

. The visual identity given from the mirror supplies imaginary "wholeness" to the experience of a fragmentary real. See Lacan's paper, "The Mirror Stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience", the first of his Écrits.

The mirror stage describes the formation of the Ego via the process of identification, the Ego being the result of identifying with one's own specular image. At six months the baby still lacks coordination
Motor coordination
thumb|right|Motor coordination is shown in this animated sequence by [[Eadweard Muybridge]] of himself throwing a diskMotor coordination is the combination of body movements created with the kinematic and kinetic parameters that result in intended actions. Such movements usually smoothly and...

 (see Louis Bolk
Louis Bolk
Lodewijk 'Louis' Bolk was a Dutch anatomist who created the fetalization theory about the human body. It states that when a human being is born, it is still a fetus, as can be seen if one pays attention to its big head, to its uncoordinated motility or to its absolute helplessness, for instance...

); however, Lacan hypothesized that the baby can recognize itself in the mirror before attaining control over its bodily movements. The child sees its image as a whole, but this contrasts with the lack of coordination of the body, leading the child to perceive a fragmented body. This contrast, Lacan hypothesized, is first felt by the infant as a rivalry with its own image, because the wholeness of the image threatens it with fragmentation; thus the mirror stage gives rise to an aggressive tension between the subject and the image. To resolve this aggressive tension, the subject identifies with the image: this primary identification with the counterpart is what forms the Ego. (Evans, 1996) The moment of identification is to Lacan a moment of jubilation since it leads to an imaginary sense of mastery. (Écrits, "The Mirror Stage") Yet, the jubilation may also be accompanied by a depressive reaction, when the infant compares his own precarious sense of mastery with the omnipotence
Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

 of the mother
A mother, mum, mom, momma, or mama is a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the ovum that grew into a child. Because of the complexity and differences of a mother's social, cultural, and religious definitions and roles, it is challenging to specify a universally...

. (La relation d'objet) This identification also involves the ideal ego which functions as a promise of future wholeness sustaining the Ego in anticipation.

The mirror stage, Lacan also hypothesized, shows that the Ego is the product of misunderstanding – Lacan's term "méconnaissance" implies a false recognition. Additionally, the mirror stage is where the subject becomes alienated from itself, and thus is introduced into the Imaginary order.

The Mirror Stage has also a significant symbol
A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

ic dimension. The Symbolic
The Symbolic
The Symbolic is a part of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, part of his attempt 'to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding I later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real - a distinction never previously made in psychoanalysis'.-The...

 order is present in the figure of the adult who is carrying the infant: the moment after the subject has jubilantly assumed his image as his own, he turns his head toward this adult who represents the big Other
The Other or Constitutive Other is a key concept in continental philosophy; it opposes the Same. The Other refers, or attempts to refer, to that which is Other than the initial concept being considered...

, as if to call on him to ratify this image. (Tenth Seminar, "L'angoisse", 1962–1963)

Further reading

External links

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