Reflections on Observation

In general, I believe it is safe to say, people need to believe they are seen in order to remain sane. This need usually falls under the heading of sociability, as an inherent aspect; that is, if one is social, then one is by necessity observed, and therefore it is not necessary to separate out observation from sociability. However, I think it may be of use in understanding exhibitionism, and religion, and mental illness, to consider the need for observation apart from any need for sociability.

It is difficult to imagine any even hypothetical case where someone knows they are definitely being observed, and yet are not being social, since once they know they are being observed, their behaviour will be affected by their knowledge that others are watching, and their expectation of the opinions of others will derive from former social interactions.

Inversely, cases are plentiful in which someone is certain that they are not being observed, by humans, but there arises in place of the old sociability a strong sense of being monitored by some god, or by nature, or else by spies.

Those in solitary confinement are said to acquire a phantom sense of being observed, though there are no cameras in their tiny cell, and their door is known to be only occasionally visited by guards. The observation is not thought to originate from any person in particular, either, but is as if from a deity, and not necessarily a benevolent one.

Of course, one of the main consolations of religion has always been that although the believer suffers injustice without redress, virtuous and upright behaviour is still worthwhile, because observed by a higher authority than those who inflict the wrong.

Those crossing the desert alone are said to arrive at the profound conviction that nature herself is observing them with a million hungry intuitions, as if the whole hidden ecosystem is a highly strung sensor for the detection of potential food.

There are forms of paranoia wherein the certainty of being observed never leaves the patient, despite absolute isolation. In these cases, the alleged observers might be imbued with the intention to thwart or destroy the sufferer, as for example, by stealing their creative secrets, but the contrary case is equally likely, wherein delusions of grandeur impart to the watchers an admiration and reverence for their almost magical hero.

It is difficult to damp the suspicion that our minds are hardwired with the realization that if we were not, by any one, by any means, known, we would therefore cease to exist.

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