Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Did you know that Captain Fitzroy nearly refused Charles Darwin his spot on the Beagle because his (Darwin's) nose did not meet the physiognomic profile of a naturalist? I think he missed that call.

Since Mitchell's confident face-reading in H1 has some of you enthralled, do be aware that some consider the practice no more reliable than palm-reading, or tea-leaf reading, or the old Roman practice of dissecting entrails. But it's definitely entertaining.

For what it's worth, this is from Wikipedia's entry on the subject:
Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning "nature" and gnomon meaning "judge" or "interpreter") is the assessment of a person's character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face. The term physiognomy can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics, as in the physiognomy of a plant community.
Credence of such study has varied from time to time. The practice was well-accepted by the ancient Greek philosophers, but fell into disrepute in the Middle Ages when practised by vagabonds and mountebanks. It was then revived and popularised by Johann Kaspar Lavater before falling from favour again in the late 19th century.[1] Physiognomy as understood in the past meets the contemporary definition of a pseudoscience.[2]
There is no clear evidence that physiognomy works though recent studies have suggested that facial appearances do "contain a kernel of truth" about a person's personality.[1]
The Skeptic's Dictionary says:


Physiognomy is the interpretation of outward  appearance, especially the features of the face, to discover a person's predominant temper and character.
Physiognomy has also been used as a kind of divination and is often associated with astrology. The faces depicted to the right are from Barthélemy Coclès Physiognomonia (1533) and show eyelashes of men who are proud, vainglorious, and audacious.
Coclès, like others before and after him, tried to create a science out of something each of us does from time to time: judge a person by his or her facial characteristics.from M.O. Stanton, The Encyclopedia of Face and Form Reading, 1920Physiognomists like Coclès are wont to say things such as "people with snub noses are vain, untruthful, unstable, unfaithful and seducers." The snub-nosed of the world tend to snub their noses at such pseudoscientific drivel.
Three hundred years later, M. O. Stanton would write of the pug type nose:
the interpretation of character is in consonance with the peculiarities of the form [of the nose], whether it be rounded, blunt, pug or a sharpened narrow pug. In regard to its meanings, it indicates lowness, coarseness, or commonplace mentality. If it be relatively sharp, the character is more acute and the subject quicker in his perceptions than where a blunt pug is exhibited, yet all of this class of noses have the same general meaning in absence of reasoning power, pugnacity, irritability, quarrelsomeness, and opposition. (The Encyclopedia of Face and Form Reading, 6th revised ed., 1920)
Stanton’s musings are clearly based on sympathetic magic.
"acquisitive eyes" from M.O. Stanton, The Encyclopedia of Face and Form Reading, 1920
In the 18th and 19th centuries, physiognomy was used by some of its proponents as a method of detecting criminal tendencies. Many bigots and racists still use physiognomy to judge character and personality. This is not to say that there are not certain physiognomic features associated with certain genetic disorders such as Down syndrome orWilliams Syndrome.

And guess which philosopher of our recent acquaintance was familiar with physiognomy?
That the outer man is a picture of the inner, and the face an expression and revelation of the whole character, is a presumption likely enough in itself, and therefore a safe one to go by; evidenced as it is by the fact that people are always anxious to see anyone who has made himself famous by good or evil, or as the author of some extraordinary work; or if they cannot get a sight of him, to hear at any rate from others what he looks like. So people go to places where they may expect to see the person who interests them; the press, especially in England, endeavors to give a minute and striking description of his appearance; painters and engravers lose no time in putting him visibly before us; and finally photography, on that very account of such high value, affords the most complete satisfaction of our curiosity. It is also a fact that in private life everyone criticises the physiognomy of those he comes across, first of all secretly trying to discern their intellectual and moral character from their features. This would be a useless proceeding if, as some foolish people fancy, the exterior of a man is a matter of no account; if, as they think, the soul is one thing and the body another, and the body related to the soul merely as the coat to the man himself... (continues here)
 That's none other than Artur ("Scrooge") Schopenhauer, whose face was not hard to read at all.

But he wasn't always so easy to read, was he?


  1. You're right on in that people often write it off, usually on the basis of goofy stuff like what you posted as a sample. Thus the warning I gave to my compatriots of the Nameless Wanderers: Not all resources are accurate, and some are just plain stupid.

  2. I find it really interesting, but I wonder if some of it has to do with suggestion. I don't remember what I was watching specifically, but it said that a lot of the generalizations with personality traits and zodiac signs has to do with suggestion. If someone says Cancers are moody, as a random example, then most Cancers (whether it's true or not) will find some situation in their head that leads them to accept it as true. Most of our appearance comes from genetics, so outside of the worry-line type stuff, I sort of wonder. It's interesting though! (H3)