Typical Minds and Typical Faces

…as I wandered around, downtown…
looking around at all the faces…
trying to… recognize the places
their minds must be—
to generate the shapes I see

simulate them on my own features
the body is my teacher
of how they feel
making these strangers real
to me

So go some of the lyrics in a song I wrote last year, “Lost & Found”. Listen to it here.

I was thinking about these lines again today as I walked down Mission Street in San Francisco, the “downtown” to which these lyrics referred. I just arrived yesterday, back for the first time in over 7 months.

I found myself now, as then, looking at the faces of people I passed, and shifting my own face to match their expressions. In addition to getting a workout for both my facial muscles and my empathy centers, I’ve learned a few interesting things from this easy exercise.

People make a lot of different faces

You can walk past 10 different people, and your face will do 10 different things. Some might be similar in various ways, but they’re all distinct, which I find really curious—I got no sense of there being more or less popular faces, particularly.


I almost never make most of the faces that are possible

This is probably the most surprising part. For probably half of the expressions, I would adopt it then realize I basically never make that particular face. So what are these people thinking, such that their faces are shaped like that. Are they thinking thoughts I never think? Or do their faces just have different resting positions? Perhaps it’s lots of both.

It’s possible to access a kind of gestalt sense of the mood of a street by doing this

After walking several crowded blocks while simulating expressions, I have often experienced a sense of familiarity with the emotions on the street. It’s a really neat feeling.

Try it

Give it a shot! The cost is basically nothing. I haven’t noticed anyone catching me ever, though it’s important to be walking past people in order for that to work for any length of time.

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you with what your experience of it is like 🙂

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for achieving your important goals.

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