Physiognomy Part Deux

‘When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is anyone, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face as accurately as possible in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.’

These are the words of a clever schoolboy in Poe’s The Purloined Letter. The story of the boy is tangential, but it explains the actions of Poe’s detective hero C. Auguste Dupin. It also contains in it two important principles. The primary principle in the story is “know your enemy.” In most direct competition, the surest path to victory is correctly anticipating one’s opponent. Although certainly not novel, one must admit that this axiom is solid.

The second principle is highlighted in the above quotation. It is strikingly similar to the opinions of William James (which we’ve seen here before.) Namely, one’s state of mind does not only cause changes in body language, but body language causes changes in one’s state of mind. James wrote about emotion, but Poe goes beyond emotion. For his schoolboy, ones physical appearance is related even to his intelligence, goodness or wickedness. This approach to physiognomy is actually fairly ancient, but Poe’s revival of this concept (while mentioning Machiavelli and La Rochefoucauld in connection with it) came while James was still in diapers.

Beer of the Week: Sol – The clear glass bottle must be to show off the beautiful light-golden color of this beer. The clear glass also lets in a lot of light, which speeds up the spoiling of beer, but it sure looks pretty. And as long as the beer is fresh, Sol is pretty good for its genre. It is a little more flavorful and certainly less watery than many other Mexican lagers, but still goes down smooth after spicy food or on a hot summer evening.

Reading of the week: The Purloined Letter by Edgar A. Poe, Lines 94-96 – The story of how a schoolboy took all of his classmates’ marbles by gambling is meant to illustrate the methods Dupin uses to understand the criminal mind. And how he eventually uncovers the purloined letter.

Question of the week: Some people are more likely to like or dislike somebody just because of how they look. Could it be that what appears to be shallow is actually just very perceptive?

Feeling BLUE?

If you are feeling down, I have some advice for you: keep your chin up. Literally. It will make you feel better. As cliched as it sounds, “keep your chin up” is practical advice. This is because the real stuff of emotions is not abstract mental states, but all of the physical changes that accompany them.

If you do not trust me on this point, perhaps you will trust the dog whisperer Caesar Milan.  He occasionally advises people to hold up their dog’s tail because that is how a confident dog holds its tail. The dog, feeling its body physically displaying confidence, actually becomes confident. Looking confident (or, more properly, physically experiencing confidence) is being confident.  The same is true for all of the standard emotions.

“That is all very well for dogs,” you say, “but I am nearly twice as intelligent as a dog; my brain surely could not be fooled so easily.”  However, the great American psychologist William James asserts that it really is just that simple:  “Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it do not gradually thaw!”

Beer of the week:  OB BLUE – The name “BLUE” is supposedly an acronym for “Brewed at Low temperature, matUred and fErmented.”  Since the beer is a pale lager, the name is appropriate enough (if a little odd.)  This beer has one distinct high-point:  the smell.  OB Blue has a pleasant hoppy aroma.  Its bouquet (as connoisseurs might say) is not quite as strong as Pilsner Urquell, but still reminiscent of a fine pilsner.  The taste is a bit sweet and doesn’t have as much hop flavor as the aroma suggests, but as far as Korean macro-brews go, this is the best I’ve encountered.

Reading for the week:  What is an Emotion? by William James – In this article, James proposes his theory that the physical manifestations of an emotion are really “the entire fund and capital of the emotion.” One does not weep because he is sad, rather one calls his weeping, the tightness in his chest, and all the other related physical reactions “sadness.”

Question for the week:  Were it possible to completely habituate oneself against the pangs and sobbing of grief or the elevated heart rate and flushing of anger, would it be worth it? Doesn’t one lose something of his humanity by effectively ridding his body of these emotions?