We may be looking at the same object, but do we see the same thing?
The symbol in the illustration above is based on an Egyptian hieroglyph called AKHET. Although its multiple meanings are still a subject of debate, one of them seems to be “horizon” – the sun’s movement in the sky, as seen between two mountains. Look at it and imagine the active sequence: Do you see a sunrise or a sunset?
This mental exercise and its result may not seem much, but the meaning we assign to neutral/vague stimuli is actually an interesting way to probe our unconscious mind and see what hidden processes drive our thoughts and actions, thus shaping our life from the shadow.
Projection is a mental process through which we displace elements that are part of our inner structure – emotions, attitudes, etc. – and attach them to external objects, people, or contexts.
Many methods of psychological evaluation are based on the assumption that the analysis of the projected content can reveal significant information about a person’s mental life. Preferences, main attitudes, general emotional context, and inner conflicts are some of the interpretations for the various ways in which a person assigns meaning to an ambiguous stimulus.
I need to mention here that regardless of the claims made by test creators, the projective methods are not scientific in nature. They reveal possible correlations, not definite traits of a person. It is also true that most of the time, the diagnosis hypothesis or personality tableau retrieved via projective tests seems to be on par with psychological tests or investigation methods that are standardized or considered in the evidence-based category.
My training and use of the Rorschach test allowed me to experience this phenomenon first-hand and I have to say that working with symbols and subjective perceptions is a mesmerizing segment of human psychology that offers great insight into the way human minds function.
But back to our symbol, the AKHET: Sunrise or sunset? What would be the difference and what implications would your interpretation of the Egyptian symbol have on your perspective on life?
Well, this is similar to the “glass half empty or half full” context.
An interpretation of sunrise would rather point to someone’s optimistic view on life, whereas a sunset may indicate pessimism.
But it’s not just that, we could go further and see that the sunrise would rather imply [replenished] energy, while the sunset may be linked to mental states of low energy, such as depression. If the symbol does not trigger an interpretation of any of the two phenomena and the person simply says that the sun does not set, nor does it rise on the sky they see, that it just stays there, we may consider apathy or emotional numbness.
These would all be elements to investigate in personal development programs – whether in the range of self-help, or settings guided by a professional. They are not definite descriptors of a person’s personality, but relevant suggestions regarding the direction of psychological [self-]analysis.
The correlations I mentioned before – sunrise/optimism and positive emotional states; sunset/pessimism and rather negative emotional states – stem from the general meaning most societies have assigned to the motions of the sun across the sky – we rather see the sunrise as a beginning and the sunset as sign of an end.
But general meanings are not necessarily valid for the individual. We may assimilate social constructs in the form they are internalized by most members of society, but we may also add our own understanding and connotations, and thus make a symbol our own.
In the case of the AKHET and its two possible interpretations – sunrise and sunset, it is important to also investigate the personal connection you have with the two constructs. If you are a person who loves waking up early in the morning and getting most of the things done while the sun is still up in the sky, then it is likely that the positive connotation of the sunrise is valid for you. But if you’re a night owl, then you may love sunsets and see them as a green light toward the most exciting part of your day, so the meanings for the two constructs would be inverted for you, or maybe even lose the entire projective value if there is no difference in the way you treat the two segments of the day.
With projective methods, it is important to make sure that the conclusions we formulate indeed make sense for the person whose mental life we are trying to assess. The person would have to only agree on the meaning of a symbol, not on the psychological conclusion though.
Why am I telling you all this? Why should you even consider projections, especially since their interpretation is not even scientific in nature and it’s all subjective in the end?
Well, what you see in the world around you – and that inside you is closely linked to how you look at that world and how the final image is created in your mind. That is how we start entertaining certain beliefs, develop attitudes, and ultimately decide on the direction of our lives.
How you navigate life, the opportunities you see, what you think it’s possible for you to achieve, what you decide to pursue, what you allow yourself to experience, and the personal connections you nurture, they are all linked to your worldview. Therefore, it becomes critical to guide our perception of the world in a way that is the least distorted and which offers the best clarity regarding our present stance and our future steps.
I think it is preferable that we see the world through a lens that is as clean and as undistorted as possible. Both pessimism and unrealistic optimism bend our perception of the world.
Identifying the type of perspective we have regarding the world and ourselves can be a great first step in the realm of personal optimization.
If you know how your perceptions are shaped, you can start training your mind to modify those processes and gradually get better, clearer results.
I would say it is best to train our minds mainly toward realism, but also make sure that optimism and the ability to identify opportunities and discover solutions remain driving forces in our mental world.
So, where are you today? What is that you see on the horizon?
Regardless of what it is, I would say finding out is fully worth it.
P.S. The other meaning of AKHET is “Flood Season” or “Inundation Season”. The Nile’s levels could bring both prosperity and disaster for ancient Egyptians. Too much or too little water could mean a poor harvest season. The symbol once again seems to preserve an internal level of uncertainty.
Akhet. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/science/akhet
Looking Through the Pylon. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://echoesofegypt.peabody.yale.edu/overview/narrative
The Sphinx as a National Park ” Ancient Egypt Research Associates. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2020, from http://www.aeraweb.org/sphinx-project/national-park/