The other day my friend noticed aloud that she probably knows my face a lot better than I do. I suppose it’s true—I only see it a few minutes a day in the mirror, or occasionally in a photograph. But she sees it almost every time either of us says anything to each other.
Of course, I’ve been seeing my face my whole life, much longer than any of my friends have been around. But our faces are constantly changing, and we only see them in certain contexts: primping, shaving, examining blemishes, checking for cars behind us. A person’s direct experience of their own face is surprisingly limited.
Yet, if you’re like me, you think you see your face all day long. Somehow, I feel like I know what mine looks like at nearly every instant. It seems like I can actually see it when I’m conversing with someone, or when I’m sitting at a computer typing, even though I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen myself doing those things.
It’s a strange hallucination, this impression that I’m always seeing my face. I’ve tested it by making a face and then checking it in a mirror against what I think it looks like, and it’s always wrong. Try it yourself.
Our faces seem like an essential part of who we experience ourselves to be, yet they’re much more familiar to the people who know us than to ourselves.
And we see our own faces much more often than most of history’s human beings. With the exception of the last two hundred years, there were no cameras, and few households had mirrors. Unless you were a debutante, or had Narcissus’s habit of gazing into a ponds and rain barrels, it’s hard to see how your face would become a big part of your experience. Read More