A Tweet this morning hijacked my mind and led to this bauble of a reflection.
T @al2615: Can you reflect on something in the future?
My gut feeling is yes and no. When saying ‘reflection’ in a sense we are making use of metaphor, here comparing a way of thinking with the way images appear (to a greater or lesser degree distorted) in for example water or a mirror. It is important to remember this metaphorical root since it implies with it a limitation and we can find ourselves shackled by the metaphor.
Reflection before action
Reflection for me is a kind of critical review of things done, with the intention of making changes to what I do next. This is like the Denning cycle of plan-do-review. The review feeds the next plan, and is very much part of it and review/plan is what constitutes my reflection. SO when making a professional reflection ‘on action’ it is inextricably linked with future action. If I am to use my reflection for future action (and thereby presumably achieving some goal, aim or objective) then in some way I must be reflecting upon that which does not yet exist. If we have ‘reflection in action’, and ‘reflection on action’, then we can, and I think must, have ‘reflection before action’. SO as a good citizen concerned about the environment I have reflected upon the carbon footprint I leave when flying around the place. I have reflected on the impact this has, I have thought carefully about the harm I have caused. Now I reflect on a possible trip to Prague for a weekend, or a shopping trip to New York. I reflect upon the harm that I will probably cause by doing this and what the ultimate consequences might be. I reflect upon the sort of world I would like my children and your children to live in. I consider what the possible alternatives will be and then make a decision.
Future History-what if reflection
A further version of this is to ‘reflect’ on what might be. 1984, Animal Farm, I robot and the laws of Robotics, Fahrenheit 451 all portray attempts to f=reflect on what might be: often with a cautionary quality to them. This I would call ‘visionary reflection’. It is rather more than mere speculation (though that has its place) and has at it best a striking reflective quality to it since it ‘looks for interrelations beyond the superficial’. They try to take account of historical and current influences and directions and use these to build a critical picture of what might be.