Sunday, December 03, 2006

about face

In a very strange congruency, the idea of prosopagnosia (face blindness) has come up a couple of times over the past few days. First it was the case du jour on this week's 3lbs (a show I doubt will make it past mid-season, but it stars Stanley Tucci so I'm watching anyway). Then it popped up again in the November issue of Wired. What must it be like to live in a world where the faces are no more recognizable than the famous apple-obscured bowler wearer in Magritte's Son of Man?

The Wired article talks a lot about the isolating aspect of the condition. Imagine not being able to recognize your own face, not realizing when the love of your life just walked into the room. Think of conversations without the benefit of expression or any facial clues. What a confusing world that must be.
There is so much emotion wrapped up in the idea of faces -- everything from recognition, to communication, identity. It's a big part of the world to be cut off from. I'd imagine it feels like losing half of your words.

In Orwell's 1984 there's this whole idea that you can curb thought if you simply remove the words to express that thought. I wonder if someone born with prosopagnosia would be less likely to use facial expressions having never seen them communicated? Years ago Discovery Channel did a series on how the brain processes faces. In addition to face blindness there were people who could only focus on one part of a face at time and could not put together the whole. There were others who could see the face but could not attach emotion to it. I remember one young man who was convinced his Mom had been replaced with an actress who looked just like her. He recognized the face but felt nothing for her. There was still one more who could see faces but could not distinguish a new face from one he had encountered before.

It must be a particularly heavy burden to have to keep introducing yourself to someone who loves you. There's such a strong element of selection in love -- I choose to be with you and no other -- would that choice, and thereby that love, be questioned if there was always a moment's hesitation before he or she moved towards you?

Heavy questions for a Sunday night. I did my first year of University as a pre-med student (and graduated with an English degree, long story). I remember taking a course on Brain and behavior that year. We didn't cover prosopagnosia, I wish we had, but it was fascinating how much we still don't know about the human brain. We can get all the way to the moon and back, but cannot travel all the way into our own heads. I wonder if it's for our own good.


Anonymous said...

Wow...that's a little bit..wierd...and kind of..disconcerting. (I think that's the word I'm looking

<3 love you!!!

Anonymous said...

hey..when're you gonna put up that new header that you took at the beach???

love youuu...