I want to avoid some work today, on purpose, which is super rare for me, and talk about outward appearance. This isn’t a post about the objectification of women, or being shallow, which is something I think about a lot, but a post about how visual cues inform us.
One of the ways to think about any issue is to remove the parameters that restricts the issue being discussed. As an example, and the point of this post, imagine that instead of one body, you could change your body at any moment, into anything you wanted. Adult, child, man, woman—your boss—whatever. Now, think about what that would mean in how you related to other people.
There’s been a lot of studies on dishonesty, and how much people lie, and apparently it happens a hell of a lot. I’m actually the kind of person who imagines the best of people, and thinks most people have good intentions towards me, and others. But I do know that people lie, mostly white lies, to protect other people’s feelings.
If you can’t rely on your sight to recognise the people around you, then what do you do?
The best way would probably be to come up with a catchphrase. A word. Since there are no permanent signs/markings on the flesh, it has to be something meta. Unless you wear a certain piece of clothing everyday. Language is the only thing that could honestly represent identity in that case (provided you don’t share that information with others). It must come as an example of shared understanding.
Do you judge a book by its cover?
Well, you’d be suddenly disempowered, but at the same time you’d be just as disempowered as everybody else. And also empowered as everybody else. You could deceive everyone around you, but you could also be deceived. I don’t think things are so different now. We can all lie, deceive, certainly it’s harder to hide evidence as a morphing body, but I think the issues of trust would be no different.
You either trust people, or you don’t.
Let’s move onto identity.
When you look in the mirror to get ready for work, you see yourself daily. There are slight changes year to year as you age, maybe you change your hair colour or your makeup, but mostly, you stay the same. What if you see someone else in the mirror? It’s you, because the sense of ‘I’ hasn’t changed, just a different looking you.
Psychological studies have shown that we actually have an innate concept of body identity. As an undergraduate, topics of body identity interested me a lot especially when discussing things like Phantom Limb syndrome. For a person to change their biological structure at will (I’m not going to get too bogged down in logistics here), we would also need the mind to accept those changes in the body.
Amputees who’ve had two or three limbs removed would still see themselves in the mirror and say ‘it’s still me’. Well, perhaps most would say that, I’m not an amputee so I’m probably being extremely ignorant (and hopefully not insensitive—please let me know if I am).
In this way I think the face probably contributes most to how we identify with ourselves and how others identify with us: we’re all interconnected. I actually think the impact on our connections would be the greatest concern. A person who burns their face in a fire (can still see and talk) can still be recognised by their eyes and voice, but what if that person can’t talk, their eyes are burned out, and can only hear.
They’re still recognisable despite the changes and their loved ones will still love them because they still know it’s the person they love, and yet surely it would impact their relationships in some way. Or maybe it would mostly impact new relationships. I don’t know. The blind can usually still talk, but even if they can’t, they still have braille. Even if someone I loved was completely changed beyond all recognition and could no longer communicate with me, I would rely on my memories to bring those feelings back, to imprint my stored concept of who that person truly is onto the faceless, voiceless, person in front of me.
I think if we could change our outward appearance to be anything we wanted then, as a species, we’d still opt for the long term familiarity… whether it be eyes, hair, voice, body, whatever… we’d keep an obvious trademark so others could, for the most part, identify us through sight.
Depending on how we change into others… whether we copy DNA, or we just visually imprint the person’s appearance onto ourselves (though that seems less likely), there’s considerations like ‘Would we still have fingerprints?’ since fingerprints are not genetic but made in the womb.
I’m not really interested in discussing the security, or greater societal implications, but theme nights would be fun at the local club.
Tall Dark and Handsome Fridays.
Happy hour before 10:00pm. Everyone must come dressed as a man with black/brown hair and must be over six feet tall. It raises the question about sex and love. I imagine that would be easily overcome by simply selecting a willing mate who’ll change for you, since if we’re born changing into other people, biological sex no longer really matters…unless you’re disgusted (I actually think disgust is a strong reaction to thinking about being intimate with someone of the same sex. Indifferent, yes. Not aroused. Sure. Disgusted… hrmm, maybe not).
You might end up with a preference for a certain sex or gender, but would it really matter? Maybe it would. That raises another question. If someone asked me to turn into a 5ft man with a hairy back and a beard, would I care if the person asking me was the person was exactly who I wanted to sleep with?
Do I need to embody certain physical traits to feel aroused and sexy?
Maybe I would if I only just acquired the gifts of changing into whoever I wanted at twenty five, or twenty eight, when identity tends to become crystallised (so ends the prefrontal cortex development). But if I could change into anyone from birth, and let’s assume society stops emphasising the physical idealisms of Ken and Barbie dolls, would I need to look a certain way to want to be intimate with someone?
Many people believe that men are simply visually stimulated and that women are emotionally stimulated (a dichotomy I personally abhor), but if we take it on rocky faith that it’s true, then maybe it wouldn’t matter to me, as a woman, who only gets aroused by someone emotionally connecting with me.
Would we even call ourselves men and women at that point? I suppose if our minds identify as woman or man, then we might be likely to concern ourselves with gender and sex during an intimate connection, but if it doesn’t (because we assume the body identification part of the brain is more fluid than it is now) then I assume we’ll be left with charm/cleverness, emotionality, and intelligence.
I identify as about 65% sapiosexual, which means I tend to be more attracted to intelligence than anything. Especially logical and rational intelligence. For me, the idea of a society that can change itself into anyone they want to be, outwardly, is definitely an interesting concept, but wouldn’t really change what I’d want from a person on the inside.
I’m being too short sighted aren’t I?
If we see a person’s creativity and intelligence as being expressed outwardly through identity, then maybe I would have a specific preference. I’m just as capable of drawing conclusions about a person’s intelligence and smartness just by look at them, as the next person. Tall, glasses wearing guys with a conservative dress sense tend to attract me as I find people who are okay with wearing glasses rather than contacts, or opting for laser eye-surgery, are probably interested in intelligence as well, and if they’re interested in intelligence, they’re probably also intelligent.
I’m yet to investigate whether there’s even a hint of truth to this.
So maybe in this world where I’m neither male or female outwardly, but likely to be a above medium to high percentage on the ‘I like dudes’ Kinsley Scale, I’m probably going to feel attracted to the guy with the glasses who is tall, and yet, maybe someone else is making the assumption that women who go for these kinds of guys also have traits that they find attractive… so they’re playing up the intelligence appearance to also get their needs met and therefore deceiving me.
I must come up with a good riddle to test their intelligence 😛
Things become complex at that point, which makes me happy – I love a good mystery – but for the person who just wants a fling for the night, they probably need a ‘meeting place’ that specialises in taking out the guesswork.
There’s always online dating. Since an accurately worded profile is better than a flash of teeth from across the room.
Anyway, I love thinking and exploring ideas like this. I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring some very limited aspects of identity with me.