Friday, August 19, 2011

Remembering someone's face but not one's name

I used to know a man who professed that he couldn't remember people's names well, but he always remembered someone's face.  And he was so proud of this accomplishment, like he had a supernatural ability to remember them.  And being young, I believed him and was impressed.

After reading Moonwalking With Einstein, I understand that humans have evolved to remember people's faces with great clarity, and to be able to detect even the slightest change in expression.  Everyone can remember faces, because as humans we've been doing that for thousands and thousands of years.  Even before language and names existed, people had to remember faces.  It would be critical to early humans survival to know as they approached another human if they had seen them before and what their relationship was.  To think you recognize someone, only to have never seen them before, could be deadly.  Strangers can be brutal to eachother, but friendships are valued.

My old mentor bragged about his ability, but it was reality an innate gift passed to him by our common ancestors over the millenia preceding us.  He no more worked on his ability to remember faces than I worked on my ability to breathe oxygen through the air.  We are just born with it.

Its like a fish bragging about how well he can swim through water.  Of course he can swim, he's a fish!

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