Magic as advanced technology

Emma Comerford emmaco at
Wed Sep 15 22:45:03 EDT 2004

Quoting minnow at

>> An awful lot of people in fiction have a wonderful way of being able to
> read not just facial expressions but the *eyes* of those with whom they are
> conversing.  Does that really happen all that much in real life, short of
> the person being "read" bursting into tears?  There's also the amazing way
> that people in fiction seem unable to conceal their emotions unless they
> are described as having a completely poker face: heck, even having
> someone's face go blank speaks volumes to some characters.  The depths of
> insight the viewpoint characters often have are startling.  I'm thinking in
> particular of an Elizabeth Goudge I read recently, in which everyone's
> emotions seemed to be laid out to be read -- which in Real Life (OMT) I
> don't generally feel that they are unless they are fairly obvious ones.
> (maybe I'm borderline autistic at that)
 and Jon:

>I seem to recall reading that a psychologist had done
>research on this and concluded that in reality people
>can read virtually no emotions from the eyes alone.

Does seeing the bits around their eyes count as reading expressions from eyes? Because squinting in 
puzzlement, or in thought, is definitely an expression I can identify. But I think reading facial expressions 
is a contextual thing: you can guess the likely responses of someone face in many instances. So if this 
study tested people just trying to tell expressions without a context, it might explain why this result was 
reported. Plus it's knowing the person you're talking with (even slightly) that helps with guessing emotions, 
and if you know them well even slight facial movements can give a lot away.

I find understanding someone in a foreign language much easier in person, when you can watch their faces 
and body language to help you understand what they're saying and if they're understanding you. And I 
think blank faces are a great way of telling what someone's thinking, especially if they have a fairly lively 
face usually.

Despite this, I'd have to agree with Minnow that the ability to read faces in books often seems to approach 
the magical!

Emma :)

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