UPDATE Despite the number of RSVPs, so far I'm expecting only 4 people to attend. I hope it's clear to people that we're using (what used to be only) a thought experiment as a departure point--really, we're talking about What Is "Face"? Recognition, reputation, deception, self-presentation. Unless you want to take it another direction. Please update your RSVPs!
Talking Heads: "Seen and Not Seen"
He would see faces in movies, on T.V., in magazines, and in books....
He thought that some of these faces might be right for him....And
through the years, by keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his
mind....Or somewhere in the back of his mind....That he might, by
force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal....The
change would be very subtle....It might take ten years or so....
Gradually his face would change its' shape....A more hooked nose...
Wider, thinner lips....Beady eyes....A larger forehead.(This is what David Byrne's face looks like! :-)
He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other
people....They had also molded their faced according to some
ideal....Maybe they imagined that their new face would better
suit their personality....Or maybe they imagined that their
personality would be forced to change to fit the new appearance....This is why first impressions are often correct...
Although some people might have made mistakes....They may have
arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them....
They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish
whim, or momentary impulse....Some may have gotten half-way
there, and then changed their minds.
He wonders if he too might have made a similar mistake.
I doubt Descartes ever wrote about face transplants, but we won't let that stop us! Let's talk in our usual freeform manner, but rather than a philosophical theme keeping us in a discernible neighborhood, our touchstone this time will be the latest medical breakthrough. It will be an opportunity to apply any of the themes we've discussed, or anything you've read or thought about on your own, to a real-world problem. And your friends say philosophy was a waste of time!
Face transplantation is no longer science fiction, though it was during a discussion of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that I learned that at least two have been performed recently. At the moment, the recipients won't "pass" for their (deceased) donors, but is there something eerie about reusing a body part so closely associated with identity? Assuming the benefit to the tragically disfigured outweighs others' queasiness, how should we train our minds to conceptualize this transfer? Or if we simply cannot, how would we rationalize putting limitations on it? Note that we won't confine ourselves to current applications of face transplantation, but imagine where the technology might proceed, and what further issues might arise.
After focusing on concrete phenomena for a while, we'll choose one or more of the themes that have come up, to explore in greater depth. I'm excited to see what effect this provision of context will have on the meeting. Perhaps it will create an initial consensus of some sort--but never worry, we can always find something to reveal interesting differences among us. It may suggest future themes, too (in fact, this discussion is a prelude to "Nature", for April).
There is no assigned reading (and I haven't done any yet), but you are encouraged to post links to this event. I recommend writing a blurb either summarizing the article's relevance, as that will induce people to read in a philosophical context. Other than the departure point, however, this will be just like our monthly meetings.
“Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity and ruin.”
“I am alone and miserable. Only someone as ugly as I am could love me.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein