eye contact and its implications

false mirrorEye contact is a primary interest of mine. It feels like the most raw and deliberate form of human communication. If we think about language as a good enough medium for getting information from one mind to another, that is, adequate for getting an occasional idea across but fundamentally a category shift that only gestures towards rather than captures our intentions, then eye contact represents a method of direct communication.  We rely less on eye contact and more on language for organizing the social world because eye locks are less susceptible to being watered down and ordered in the way that speech can.

In the fascinating Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, the authors explore a student’s insightful leap regarding the notion that people with blue eyes are often considered particularly evolutionarily advantageous. The idea was, roughly speaking, that because blue eyes are lighter, it is easier to detect the size of the person’s pupil (with larger pupils signaling interest) when a person’s eyes are blue rather than brown or green or hazel. Easily detectable interest in others is itself an evolutionary advantage because people are going to be more willing to take the risk of implicating one in a sexual encounter if they can easily detect that person’s interest.

I’m commonly preoccupied by the long-term implications of everyday events. For instance, it’s clear that we can be mistaken about our own intentions. We can be telling ourselves stories about our actions while doing something for reasons that are hidden from our conscious viewing. For example, we might tell ourselves we are attracted to Jane because she has a natural way of relating and she makes us feel good about our weaknesses, but on some unconscious or semi-conscious level, we’re detecting her pupil size and realizing we have a better chance of getting into a reproductive scenario with her than her friend Emily. Or to zoom out, we can tell ourselves stories about why we want to become actors or painters, saying that we want a medium through which to express ourselves, when really what we want is to not die, and one anti-death method that is pleasurable as well as reliable is finding a sexual partner, reproducing and maintaining our genetic line, and success at a creative enterprise is going to increase our chances of successfully playing out this long-term survival strategy.

Every human relationship I’ve had has been maintained by conversation. Of course, there are people with more relational sophistication than me (those who successfully communicate with the deaf or people with cognitive impairments) but much of the time, our everyday interactions run on language. However, people are born and people die over glances that cannot be reduced into sentences. Considering that all human connection depends upon the knowledge that the other is able to understand and react to what we’re trying to get across, and considering that eye contact is a primary means of establishing this fact in everyday interactions, it seems to be a representation of how we can be confused about the primary phenomenon that is creating our life circumstances.

at the very least, projecting

I began this post trying to walk through my psychology, attempting to think through some of the internal conflicts that have brought me down this week. This is an emergent of simply asking a question and seeing where it takes me. I’m interested in what it means to lay myself bear with no intention except to be self-revealing, and to explore my inner terrain. Maybe you will relate, or maybe this will be an exhibition of having an inferior feeling function. 

I want to build an inner foundation, or organize my experience around the elements of a “good” life– financial clarity, relationships, and engaging work. Relationships seem to be the element that cause the most suffering, though. I am sensitive to the idea that if I lose the people from my past, then as it currently stands, I have no relationships to rely upon. I somehow equate history with trust, and trust in relationships as a way of being comfortable within my life. These are problems I don’t like to admit. Although I strive to form new relationships, the potential for positive relations in the future is in some way dependent on the past. I’m fixated on the idea that if something goes wrong with the relationships I already have, then I’m less equipped to navigate current and future relationships. If previous entanglements suddenly break down, they were built on flawed assumptions, and this must be a sign that I’ve missed some critical information and therefore lack a strong perceptual system to lead me into the future.

But I also keep thinking, I am all I have. My relationships are always susceptible to abrupt endings because there is so little I know about the interiors of others. In the school of life video, “Why We Are Faded To Be Lonely” Alain de Botton discusses the idea that loneliness is an inevitable side effect of being a complex and sensitive human being. It’s unlikely we will meet someone EXACTLY like us, capable of anticipating our every need, and this sets us up for a low-grade, interminable sense of isolation, even if it seems to lessen in select instances. It is, of course, possible that an extraordinarily like-minded person could have passed us on the street yesterday, or that they currently live in Amsterdam and will die tomorrow, or maybe they were born in Prague in 1918, but due to the limitations of time and space, as well as the structure of daily life (i.e. the pervasive tendency to simply pretend we don’t see the people with whom we share trains, buses and library bathrooms) the likelihood that the people who could connect with us on the deepest possible level is not necessarily high. I am trying to build my own foundation. One built on relationships is going to be perpetually unstable, no matter how long they’ve existed or how seemingly trust worthy they are. All I ever have is my mind and its contents.

A main factor in my chronic loneliness is the constant search for subtext within social contexts, usually at the expense of immediate, concrete details. Although my focus on understanding the hidden thoughts and feelings of those around me occasionally helps me avoid conflict, most of the time it creates an excessive screening for how much of my authenticity is safe to reveal at any given instance. The question becomes- is it better to make predictions as to the thoughts of another and use this information to mitigate potential moments of disconnection? Or does it make sense to simply embrace authenticity, and assume that anything happens as a result is better than what happens on the basis of cautiously navigated falsehood? To put this another way: is it better to experience solitude as a side effect of having been authentic? Or to carefully assess how much authenticity will be within the bounds of acceptability and act from there? My sense is that if I know that I’m never going to fully understand anyone, and no one will ever fully understand me, it makes more sense to display what is actually within me. Even if none of my connections are ever satisfying on the deepest possible level, instances of connection that occur based on complete openness would likely satisfy more than those that are fractured and dulled by restraint.