Mirror, mirror on the wall

A few weeks ago I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker about the neurobiology of itching.  Among the more interesting aspects of the article were the medical uses of mirrors to essentially cure persons of unexplainable, chronic itches, as well as phantom limb problems.  Yesterday's Science Times likewise had a fascinating article on mirrors and human perception.  Some of the more interesting tidbits:

Other researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect
human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in
a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful
and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups
performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V.
Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror
were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social
stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

?When
people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think
about what they are doing,? Dr. Bodenhausen said. ?A byproduct of that
awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more
desirable ways of behaving.? Physical self-reflection, in other words,
encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the
Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you
know yourself.

This finding is just really great.  You are not as attractive as you think:

For that matter, humans do not necessarily see the face in the mirror
either. In a report titled ?Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Enhancement in
Self-Recognition,? which appears online in The Personality and Social
Psychology Bulletin, Nicholas Epley and Erin Whitchurch described
experiments in which people were asked to identify pictures of
themselves amid a lineup of distracter faces. Participants identified
their personal portraits significantly quicker when their faces were
computer enhanced to be 20 percent more attractive. They were also
likelier, when presented with images of themselves made prettier,
homelier or left untouched, to call the enhanced image their genuine,
unairbrushed face. Such internalized photoshoppery is not simply the
result of an all-purpose preference for prettiness: when asked to
identify images of strangers in subsequent rounds of testing,
participants were best at spotting the unenhanced faces.

And here's something that Kim refuses to believe (and, she's not alone):

When we look in the mirror, our relative beauty is not the only
thing we misjudge. In a series of studies, Dr. Bertamini and his
colleagues have interviewed scores of people about what they think the
mirror shows them. They have asked questions like, Imagine you are
standing in front of a bathroom mirror; how big do you think the image
of your face is on the surface? And what would happen to the size of
that image if you were to step steadily backward, away from the glass?

People
overwhelmingly give the same answers. To the first question they say,
well, the outline of my face on the mirror would be pretty much the
size of my face. As for the second question, that?s obvious: if I move
away from the mirror, the size of my image will shrink with each step.

Both
answers, it turns out, are wrong. Outline your face on a mirror, and
you will find it to be exactly half the size of your real face. Step
back as much as you please, and the size of that outlined oval will not
change: it will remain half the size of your face (or half the size of
whatever part of your body you are looking at), even as the background
scene reflected in the mirror steadily changes. Importantly, this
half-size rule does not apply to the image of someone else moving about
the room. If you sit still by the mirror, and a friend approaches or
moves away, the size of the person?s image in the mirror will grow or
shrink as our innate sense says it should.

There's a few more interesting tidbits in the full article.  

About that surge

I know I've posted before on the topic of the Surge, and how all this “Surge is working” talking points really misses the big picture about what the surge was actually supposed to accomplish.  Given, that the McCain response this week to Obama's big Middle-East success is to basically whine, “but he didn't support the surge and he's not smart enough to realize it's working” it seems necessary to revisit the issue.  As Matt Yglesias is much smarter on the issue than me, I'll outsource:

After a couple of days worth of chaotic retreat, the right wing
seems to have settled on a fallback position, namely that it's only
possible to now contemplate withdrawing from Iraq because things have
gotten so much better and all improvements in conditions — including things that happened before the surge began
— are due to the surge. Thus, despite Obama apparently having shown
good judgment on the question of invading Iraq and seeming to have the
best policy moving forward, “really” McCain is vindicated.

In addition to the somewhat magical thinking in which things like
the “awakening,” the Sadrist cease fire, and the natural reduction in
violence that comes with a completed process of ethnic cleansing become
consequences of the surge, this misses the larger point of the surge
debate. Surge opponents said the surge was pointless — a tactical
smokescreen to obscure the fact that hawks have an unworkable strategy.
And now, over 18 months after the 2006 midterms showed that the voters
want an end to this war, the hawks still can't explain what's been accomplished
in exchange for the hundreds of dead and hundreds of billions spent
over what, say, following the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would have
cost us. The basic shape of the Middle East is the same, our posture in
Iraq is still unsustainable, we're still getting nowhere with Iran, and
things are worse than ever in Afghanistan. Probably, but not certainly,
the surge has helped save some Iraqi lives. But fundamentally, we're
still going to have to leave Iraq and it's still the case — just as it
was before the war — that Iraq might muddle along okay or might turn
into a disaster all depending on what choices Iraqi leaders make.

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