Thursday, February 9, 2012

Modern Physiognomics (Sort of)

Part of one of the readings that we had for Friday discussed the old study of a field called Physiognomics, or as the reading describes it, "body criticism." Physiognomics proposed that a person's entire character, or who he or she "really is" internally, could be determined simply by how he or she looked externally. The field was involved with mystic beliefs, with a central one being the belief in a Glass of Momus, or a window into a person's soul that only a trained eye could perceive.

Although this field, as it originally was, has gone the way of Alchemy and disappeared, a new kind of Physiognomics has actually developed, as new studies show that it is actually possible to assess certain aspects of a person's character based on his or her external appearance. For instance, in general, men with wider faces are considered to be more aggressive, as a wider face is an indication of having more testosterone. Additionally, a person with a liberal political viewpoint is more likely to be able to keep eye contact in conversations than a person with a conservative political viewpoint. Between this and many others, the core ideas of Physiognomics actually work.

Therefore, direct comparisons can be made between early Physiognomics and more modern Physiognomics, but there are many differences between the two, as well. While early Physiognomics focused more on mysticism, modern Physiognomics is based on scientific studies and concrete scientific explanations, like hormones and DNA. Modern Physiognomics also doesn't try to determine universals in character based on external qualities. While old Physiognomics sought to learn everything about who a person "really is," modern Physiognomics is conducted with the full knowledge that what they determine is made up of generalizations rather than blanket statements - i.e. not all men with wide faces are aggressive.

All in all, I found it to be an interesting take on how an old study has been revitalized and adapted based on modern science.

-Christopher Hoef

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