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Liking What You SeeI just finished reading a collection of stories by Ted Chiang. Many of them were very good, although strangely uncompelling, as if the author were intentionally not pushing buttons. Or, maybe that's just how things tend to turn out when you write the kind of science fiction that's about ideas?
The last story, Liking What You See: A Documentary, was a perfect example of that. It wasn't a page-turner, but it was full of ideas; in fact, it was full of ideas about beauty that were remarkably close to my own. And the proof is, here I am, remarking on them! So, if you like, compare the following to What Is It Like to Be a Male?, particularly to the subessay Aspects of Beauty, and even more particularly to the comments I made about skin. The true power of skin is rarely appreciated, I think.
All animals have criteria for evaluating the reproductive potential of prospective mates, and they've evolved neural “circuitry” to recognize those criteria. Human social interaction is centered around our faces, so our circuitry is most finely attuned to how a person's reproductive potential is manifested in his or her face. You experience the operation of that circuitry as the feeling that a person is beautiful, or ugly, or somewhere in between. By blocking the neural pathways dedicated to evaluating those features, we induce calliagnosia.
You can probably also see the connection to One Thing Leads To Another.
Later, the story touches on another pet subject of mine, advertising. I don't have an essay about exactly that, but Reaction Against Button-Pushing is pretty close.
Think of cocaine. In its natural form, as coca leaves, it's appealing, but not to an extent that it usually becomes a problem. But refine it, purify it, and you get a compound that hits your pleasure receptors with an unnatural intensity. That's when it becomes addictive.
Before, every time I used to walk past a magazine stand or see a commercial, I could feel my attention being drawn a little bit.
@ November (2004)