Friday, May 04, 2007

Face Reading...

Physiognomy, or the pseudo-science of face reading, is a dicey topic with a very bad track record. It is ripe for abuse in the wrong hands as a means of establishing hierarchies and drawing lines of population segmentation. It should be avoided in any form of institutional practice. It is a severley flawed form of judgment which generally leads to no good.

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) is considered to be the first modern scientist to explore the realm of face reading (the acient Greeks were all over the stuff a thousand years earlier). He wrote: "There is surely a Physiognomy, which those experienced and Master Mendicants observe....For there are mystically in our faces certain Characters which carry in them the motto of our Souls, wherein he that cannot read A.B.C. may read our natures...

He continues: "Since the Brow speaks often true, since Eyes and Noses have Tongues, and the countenance proclaims the heart and inclinations; let observation so far instruct thee in Physiognomical lines....we often observe that Men do most act those Creatures, whose constitution, parts, and complexion do most predominate in their mixtures. This is a corner-stone in Physiognomy...there are therefore Provincial Faces, National Lips and Noses, which testify not only the Natures of those Countries, but of those which have them elsewhere."

Historical abuses aside, there does appear to be something in our perception that enables us to estimate the character of another person from scanning their face. I would guess that this is directly tied to our ability to read emotions through facial expression. The specific features and planes of the human face are like bits of grammar contiunally re-adjusting themselves into new sentences. Our brain has an innate facility for understanding this language. Perhaps it is time for us to understand more deeply what this unspoken language means to us?

(A map of the facial zones used in modern day Chinese face reading)


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