Face of Knowledge

I look into the eyes of my lover. At nineteen I am shy. A Dutch child is a candle burning twice as bright, fair-haired and blushing skin. For the glow I paid a painful adolescence, blemishing my complexion, twisting my body’s frame into tallness and structure, finally a man. Kristine is a dark-haired beauty. We ask the same questions. We love the same books. Smarter, bolder, she made the first move, rubbing my leg beneath the desk. Our on first date, wrapped in each other’s bodies, I look deep and long into Kristine’s eyes. She looks back. I can brave the world.

A deep gaze in the eyes of a stranger is rare, troubling, and precious.

A few seconds of eye contact anyone will give. A smile, nice to meet you. We craft a mask. It is a remarkable device, engineered from decades of tears and betrayal, an interface to an uncertain world. The mask affords a minute to read the other. What do you want? What do you have? We risk long looks with strangers only from a distance. A fellow studies me in his boss chair. A store clerk greets me eagerly for a sale. A young woman smiles easily because I am fifty and gray like her sweet father.

If the eyes are the mirror of the soul is there a deeper body of knowledge? Beneath the skin is just another surface, fascia, a network of tissue, fibrous and pliant, connecting and separating muscles and organs. Beneath the surface fascia there is just more tissue, ligaments and tendons and joints, connecting the muscles and bones. Surface plied upon surface. Beauty is skin deep, they say; a mountain face is only another skin, another layer of rock, and it is sublime.

Look into the eyes of a dog, a monkey, or a dolphin. Soul does not insist on language. Machines have faces. Look into a digital eye. In aesthetics there is a term, uncanny valley. The more human a thing looks the more endearing it is. But when we see a replica that appears almost, but not exactly like a human, we shudder with revulsion. Worse, look into a mirror. In a minute you will see a stranger. You, old and deformed. A lion or a monster. Is there nothing special to be found? Are we all but animals or machines?

The face is in the light, nude to the world. I am like you; do not hurt me. Some can hold a poker face, others will flicker with doubt. It is the by the flicker that we know them. The eyes cannot hide a child’s laugh, a lover’s desire, or a widow’s grief. We know our lover by the face, the blemishes and pockets, the retreats and reveals from the mask, the rings beneath the eyes, the turns of light and shadow. The eyes are the soul, cradled in the face of knowledge.

2018-01-03. Face to face is eros, erotic. There is an other in those eyes, a mystery I do not understand. What is looking back at me? Another human? I am like you, do not hurt me. Or is it something else looking back, something vaster? Or is just me looking back? We are all connected, a common identity. Face to face, eye to eye is the first step in tantric massage. It is the test too for a potential AI, even a chatbot with no face: is there mystery? can I know it? A ping for humanity.

2018-01-13. What I seek in Face to Face is in that middle zone between the persona and mystery. Persona is fun, the clever act the individual has prepared from his or life experience so far; it is a performance we keep working on and testing on others. The middle zone is the wild space, when I slip behind the persona, when I am skilled or trusted enough to see the uncertainty, the wild space that the person knows personally but does not share easily, the known unknown. This is an exciting erotic place that we can share, and if I am granted access there, then perhaps we may glimpse together at mystery, the unknown unknown that is too big for any one of us.

2018-02-22. The Naked Truth: The Face and Body Sensitive N170 Response Is Enhanced for Nude Bodies
Jari K. Hietanen, Lauri Nummenmaa
Published: November 16, 2011

“Without any doubt, other human beings are the most important visual objects in our environment. Compatible with this, cognitive neuroscience has revealed that the perception of other human beings is based on brain mechanisms specifically devoted to processing visual information from this socially and biologically relevant class of stimuli [1]. Much research has focused on neurocognitive mechanisms subserving perception of human faces and bodies as they both provide information necessary for social interaction and interpersonal relationships.

“Electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) studies have investigated the early stages of visual processing of human faces and bodies. These studies have identified an event-related potential (ERP) and its magnetic counterpart recorded over occipito-temporal regions peaking between 140–200 ms after stimulus onset and being more sensitive to faces than to other objects [12]–[15]. Because of the typical peak latency (170 ms) of this negative potential, it is often referred to as N170 response.

“Recent event-related potential studies have shown that the occipitotemporal N170 component – best known for its sensitivity to faces – is also sensitive to perception of human bodies. Considering that in the timescale of evolution clothing is a relatively new invention that hides the bodily features relevant for sexual selection and arousal, we investigated whether the early N170 brain response would be enhanced to nude over clothed bodies. In two experiments, we measured N170 responses to nude bodies, bodies wearing swimsuits, clothed bodies, faces, and control stimuli (cars). We found that the N170 amplitude was larger to opposite and same-sex nude vs. clothed bodies. Moreover, the N170 amplitude increased linearly as the amount of clothing decreased from full clothing via swimsuits to nude bodies. Strikingly, the N170 response to nude bodies was even greater than that to faces, and the N170 amplitude to bodies was independent of whether the face of the bodies was visible or not.”