Can a Microscope Examine Itself?

What can we know about our thinking given that we have to use our thinking to examine our thinking? In other words, can the instrument of thinking become the object of its own instrumentality? Before you jump into a response, keep in mind that such an inquiry would require the use of the very thing you are inquiring about to make the inquiry? In other words, speaking analogically, this seems roughly similar to using the microscope you want to examine to examine the microscope you want to examine. It appears to create a conundrum. Of course, my analogy could be misleading.

Perhaps the problem that prompts me to ask this question  is some notion of objectivity. It seems that in order to examine our thinking we have to somehow get out of ourselves, to get an overview of the process of thinking, but this doesn’t seem possible, as we are locked within the structures and process of our thinking.


The responses I have received so far are challenging me to clarify the nature of my question, both for myself and for you all. (I am a dialogue dependent thinker). So, I give you the following, which I lifted and revised from the comment section:

So, I think I am inquiring about our ability to understand the phenomena of thinking as a whole, and within that I am wondering about the relationship of our thinking to the world or reality, or to whatever it is we are thinking about. And, it seems that the problem in this attempt to examine this relationship is that it would require us to look at our thinking as one object in relationship to another object, but I don’t think our thinking can be presented to us just as an object, since it is itself the subject involved in the process of examining the relationship.


The following are brief articles or posts that touch upon or are related to the question I am posing:

Subject-Object Dualism

Subject-Object Problem

8 Responses to “Can a Microscope Examine Itself?”

  1. Terry Mallory  

    I am a little confused by this question and I want to make sure I understand. I think this is a question i will have to think about… Thinking about this is making my head hurt…

    Is it Possible to examine ones self? Is that what your asking?
    Are you asking Is it possible to think about how we think?
    Damn this is really making my head hurt because i am first trying to understand the question.

    What say you blue?

  2. Roger Green  

    May I use a mirror?

  3. Anthony Velez  

    Terry – Of the two options you identified in asking me to clarify, it is the latter that this post is about. Can we effectively examine and analyze our thinking? And, I want to emphasize “effectively” because we can, of course, attempt to examine what is going on when we think, but because we must use the processes of thought to examine the processes of thought, it seems like a self-enfolding enterprise. I think embedded in my question is a query about whether we can have an accurate picture of the relationship between our mind and the world out there, which is a common enough question in Western philosophy. However, at the git-go I see a problem with this because it seems to present the mind as just another thing in the world, but the mind is not just another object in the world, it is the entity that receives data about, inquires about, and attempts to make sense of the world. It is the entity that generates the idea “world” as an integrated whole, as well as the idea of “objects in the world.” And so, how does the mind examine itself when it is not really just another object in the world but rather is that entity which in someway actually stands behind the world.

    As another point of clarification, I am not asking if we can do an anatomical study on the brain. I know that has been, and is being done. Instead, I am asking can we examine what the brain supposedly produces, which is consciousness. Can we use consciousness to directly examine consciousness as such?

  4. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – Sure, you can use mirror as your favored analogy for thinking, and in fact this is how many, historically, have understood the relationship between the mind and the world or reality. The deal is, what I am asking us to do would not be akin to using one mirror to reflect another mirror, but rather using the same mirror to be both the instrument and object of reflection at once.

  5. K.L.B.  

    Ever heard of the null hypothesis?

    That’s almost what you’re describing.

    Essentially when you ask about self-examination, that is akin to the observation one would expect when observing and inquiring about the pigmentation of dark-skinned folk. It ain’t white – at least the norm is not.

    But before I continue, let me first share about the null hypothesis. Essentially, that statistical supposition states that any observations made in a study will not differ from a random sample and any suppositions or hypotheses made about such a group would not significantly differ from any testing or sampling of that group, and further, that any differences would be purely random, and due to sampling error, for which there is no correlation to account for the difference.

    Get it? (I made an “A” in statistics.)

    Perhaps more succinctly, “The null hypothesis, denoted by H0, is usually the hypothesis that sample observations result purely from chance.”

    The Alternative hypothesis is “that sample observations are influenced by some non-random cause.”

    Analogously it’d be like observing 100 black folks and finding dark-pigmented skin. You’d expect it. However, there’d be variations in pigment tone, ranging from blue-black to milk-chocolate, even to tan or white. The majority would, however, be similar to each other. (Remember the bell curve, and that 95% of all observations will fall between ±2SD of the n?)

    Similarly, it’d be almost akin to asking ‘how many times would we observe the X+Y=M before it would not yield M? (Your astute readers will recognize chromosomes).

    X+Y always = M
    X+X always = F

    Any observed differences are attributable to external influences, for the formula remains the same.

    How does this relate to your question?

    Before I proceed, let me ask you this: Have you ever used the microscope? Your question would seem to imply that you have not -though I’m certain you probably have. Ever used an oil microscope? How many times have you ever goofed off and used the objective to view the clips or any part of the stage? My personal favorite was the stereoscope microscope.

    Therefore, the microscope CAN be used to examine itself. Can it examine all of itself? Yes. Albeit certain parts would have to be placed under the objective.

    And your question about objectivity is good.

    But again, let me ask you if you’ve ever been a little boy. Of course, the answer is yes.

    So then you know about little boys – right? And, you also know about raising children… for you too were raised.

    Your questions are related – insofar as I sense – mathematically related. Where is the norm? How do I know if I’m correct? How can I account for differences? These are all questions that can be addressed mathematically. It’s called “Statistics.”

    Occasionally, we need help from external sources. That’s an important aspect of our humanity – community – for which we were designed. As well, it’s an important aspect of our relationship to the Almighty.

  6. Anthony Velez  

    Kevin – Perhaps I am dense, but after having read your comment three times, I am not sure what your saying in response to my question.

    I looked up null hypothesis, and one definition I found was that if you have a hypothesis and you do research to test your hypothesis you have to acknowledge that any relationship you see in your research that might support your hypothesis is one that could have happened by chance. Thus in order to prove that the relationship you see is not just a matter of chance you have to compare it to the null hypothesis, which an assertion that is the opposite of your hypothesis, and demonstrate that the null hypothesis is likely wrong. The idea being that if you can’t prove the null hypothesis wrong, then the data of the research can be used to support either hypotheses (your initial hypothesis, and the null hypothesis) which would indicate that the relationship your seeing is random. (by the way, thanks for introducing me to this concept and prompting me to research it; it’s an interesting concept)

    So, given the above, it wasn’t clear to me if you are saying that I have made a hypothesis and have yet to support it by addressing the null hypothesis, or if you are making an hypothesis, and are acknowledging at the same time that it is not yet valid until the null hypothesis has been addressed. As far as I can tell, I have not yet made a hypothesis about the nature of thinking, but rather just presented a question, and tried to identify what I see as potentially problematic in resolving the question. On the other hand, it strikes me that all you said above could have been about the problem of randomness, which is an interesting concept and problem in-and-of itself, but again I am not sure what you are saying about randomness and the inquiry into thinking.

    As far as using the microscope, and as you specifically say, using the objective to examine the clip or stage, I certainly agree that we can and have analyzed our thinking, but this is not quite what my question is intending to pose, and I assume responsibility for people not quite getting at what I am getting at, because, honestly, I am still trying to identify the specifics of what I am trying to get at, and I think this accounts for the openness of the meaning of my question. All this, however, is good from my perspective, because it is forcing me to tighten up on what my question specifically is, and the formulation of a good question is often a major part of good thinking. So, I think I am inquiring about our ability to understand the phenomena of thinking as a whole, and within that I am wondering about the relationship of our thinking to the world or reality. And, the thing that is tough about the attempt to examine this relationship is that it seems to require us to look at our thinking as one object in relationship to another object, but the fact is our thinking can’t be presented to us just as an object, since it is itself the subject involved in the process of examining the relationship.

  7. Anthony Velez  

    The following quote from Schopenhauer sheds a light on the underlying problem regarding the subject-object relation that my question poses: “We imagined that we had thought of matter, but in fact we had thought of nothing but the subject that represents matter, the eye that sees it, the hand that feels it, the understanding that knows it.”

  8. K.L.B.  

    So the lyric that says, “See me, feel me, touch me…” is a lie?

    I once thought I thought, but I thought I thought, I did not think.

    Now, I think I thought, whereas previously I thought I thought.

    “‘S’cuse me, while I kiss the sky.”

    I thought I thought, but thinking, I thought I didn’t.

    Did I think, or did I think I thought? Am I thinking?

    I think I thought, but not thinking I thought I think but didn’t.

    I didn’t think I thought, but wondered if I was thinking. So I thought I thought. But thinking I thought not. Now, I merely think I think.

    When I once thought I thought, I know now I think I think. However, I once thought.

    I think, I thought, I ought, I naught, eye naught, eye ought, aye ought, I ought, aye naught, eye naught, I ought, I naught.

    Pardon me… the dog is chasing its tail, and the tale says I think I must join.

    Anthony, the man “doth protest too much, methinks.”