Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Our faces, ourselves

We recently had a basic clinical neurology lesson, in which we learned that the human face is among the most captivating objects with which to lure someone's eyes. When a patient is minimally responsive, moving your face from side to side and observing his or her eye movements can give you valuable information about the patient's mental state. Faces are the first objects that capture a baby's attention.

And yet, when I was told that a faculty candidate looked like me, I had no real basis for agreeing or disagreeing. I could objectively say that yes, her hair and skin colors looked like mine, so sure, there might be a chance that she looked like me. But could I really say if there was a "resemblance"? Could I "see it"?

No. Which is often the case with people who are told they look like celebrities or relatives or friends. Somehow, despite having a finely-tuned mechanism for picking out human faces, and telling one face from another, and years of experience with our own faces, it's very hard for us to compare these faces to others'. Is it precisely because of this extensive experience with our own faces that prevents us from seeing it as others do? Or is it a projection of our desired or possessed characteristics onto our physical aspects (as in, "I can't look like her because I'm more youthful-looking than she is")? Or something entirely? What does this mean in terms of our concepts of who we are, and our relationships to our physical appearance?

No comments: