Studies on Reality: Changing Faces in One Face


Ayad Gharbawi

October 16, 2009

Why is it that one face can have so many different variations? One face can literally have an endless number of different images that can be dissimilar to the so-called ‘original’ face. So is there an ‘original’ face? No, there is not, precisely due to the existence of these unlimited number of faces that we can see in that one face. So, what is the ‘face’ on an individual if there isn’t ‘one’ face? The answer is that all the images are the ‘truth’ of what the person in question looks like.

But isn’t there a lowest common denominator? Surely, when we imagine a person, we do have a certain image of that person’s face? And surely that ‘certain image’ allows every person to immediately recognise the person in question? All these statements are true, but they do not change the fact that every face has an unlimited number of images. And, yes, every face, does have a lowest common denominator, and by that, I mean that every face has certain basic, common physical attributes that allow us to recognise it.

But how is it that ‘one’ face can have so many different images? Because within ever second, a face changes its facial muscles thus creating another image. These changes occur so fast, that it is best to see them in photos, or in slow motion. That is why we sometimes do not like the way we look in photos: but these unwanted images are part of you, wether we like them or not.
Another complicating factor is that the face, over time and experiences, does constantly change physically; so much so, that in many cases, one can hardly recognise a person between the time and ages of 20 and 60.

Let us go back to the question of, how exactly does a face change and produce so many images?

What factors affect visual perception?

I did say that changes in facial muscles are responsible for changes in the facial image. But there is more. Another factor is our own changing mood. Our changing moods will also affect our changing perception of the face in front of us. For example, if we happen to despise the observed face, then it is likely that we will view a negative image as being evil, ugly or bland. The next factor, is movement. Any movement by us and any movement by the observed person’s face will affect the images we perceive. Next, our own visual standards. One person’s vision may be stronger or weaker than another person’s vision, and that affects our perception of a face. Another factor is light. The strength or weakness of the available light will affect your perception of the image in front of you

What gives the face its most emotional content?

Without doubt, it is the eyes that give the most emotional expression to a face. Here too, there are constant changes. Indeed, were we to cover the eyes, it becomes difficult – if not annoying and frustrating – for us to ‘read’ the face before us. The next most expressive part of the face are the lips and mouth. Finally, it is the voice that affects our perceptions of the face.
Now all these factors affect our perception of a face before us: and, to stress, it is a constantly changing situation. Given all these sensitive factors involved, it is hardly surprising that a face constantly changes its images.

Thus, our perception of a face, in any given time frame, will be affected by: changes in the observed facial muscles + changes in our mood + changes in our movement + changes in our visual acuity + changes in the light around us + changes in the observed person’s eyes + changes in the observed person’s lips and mouth + changes in the observed person’s voice.
All these factors constantly interact with each other at the same moment in time and they immediately produce and create the ever changing face you see.

It is perhaps because of these complications that it can be so easy to forget a face. After all, the face is not a one, fixed image before us. Perhaps this fact causes us to have some difficulties in recognition and in its remembrance.

It is fascinating to see how a face changes almost instantly even though, at times, it hardly alters the above mentioned factors. Indeed, you notice a face before you, changes constantly, from moment to moment. The face is like any colour with all its infinite number of variations in its hues, brilliance, tint, tone, dullness and shades.

Thus, we see that our study of the perception of ‘reality returns us to that grand infinite number of images, moods or emotions and sounds that are constantly and immediately changing nano-second by nano-second, and, in turn, producing differing images and differing sounds, that in turn, produce for us observers, what we deem to be ‘reality’ before us.

There is no ‘unity’ here; the perception of a face contains an infinite number of changing images.

Reality is not a unified structure.
Ayad Gharbawi

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