October 25, 2010
I have a hypothesis that “Crazy Eyes” is a real thing.
We know that a person’s eyes can reveal certain types of emotions. For example, your pupils will widen when you look at someone you love. That’s why attraction is so hard to hide. I’ve spent the past few decades observing people’s eyes to see if they reveal other secrets as well. One thing stands out.
I have a hypothesis that you can detect in a person’s eyes when they have a preference for imagination over direct observation. Let’s call that look Crazy Eyes because it can be unsettling to the third-party observer. With Crazy Eyes, I think the brain is accessing the imagination instead of the rational part of the brain, and it causes the eyes to have a sort of glassy, unblinking, dreamy, scary look. At least that’s how it looks to me.
I was noticing this again recently as I watched a news program about religious activists who were organizing their lives around a worldview that needs to be imagined because it can’t be directly observed. Their eyes had a spooky, dreamy look when they spoke of their plans, as if they were accessing their imaginations instead of whatever part of the brain does math. I’m not saying their worldview is wrong. I’m only saying that objective evidence in support of their worldview can’t be directly observed, so imagination necessarily has an important role in their daily lives, and their eyes showed it. They had Crazy Eyes.
Suppose you did a study where you took one group of religious people and one group of skeptics and filmed each of them speaking about whatever is important to them. Then you cropped out everything but the eyes and showed the films to a group of volunteer subjects. Could the volunteers distinguish the skeptics from the believers just by their eyes? I think they could, at least more than chance would predict.
I thought of this topic because the other day while working out in the gym I was having an exceptionally good hypomanic creative flood. It was wonderful. One good idea after another was popping into my head. I stopped to use the restroom, and when I was washing my hands I looked in the mirror and noticed that I had Crazy Eyes. I was so deep in my imagination that my eyes looked different even to me. It was jarring.
My point is that I’m glad I work alone, and I totally understand why my cat won’t give me eye contact.