AI-powered Facial Analysis is Pseudoscience: A Reflection on Physiognomy

I have recently joined the many people who have wondered what can be read from the face of another person, otherwise known as physiognomy. Aristotle considered it possible to infer character from features, at least for passions and desires. Opinions have oscillated over time, physiognomy enjoying certain respectability in the 18th century, before descending to the realm of pseudoscience in the 19th.

The advent of artificial neural networks in recent decades has revived the question of whether there might be a kernel of truth in the assertion that aspects of a person’s personality and character could be inferred from their appearance (see. e.g., Richard Wiseman, Roger Highfield, Rob Jenkins 2009 article in New Scientist, “How Your Looks Betray Your Personality.”

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Drinking Straw—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

My earliest recollection of drinking straws was the discovery that I didn’t need them. When I was growing up, my family owned a small restaurant in Southern California where one of our featured items was milkshakes. I used to make my own. I liked them very thick because of the texture and strong ice cream flavor. Sometimes they were so thick that they wouldn’t pass through a straw no matter how hard you might try.

I also didn’t use straws for soft drinks, because I liked to drink them with a lot of crushed ice so that my epicurean palate could be titillated by the flavor of the drink and the prickling of the ice all at the same time.

These were my preferences as a pre-adolescent; however, when I became a teenager, my priorities began to change. This was in the 1950s when television and the cinema were rife with scenes of young amorous couples dreamily looking into each other’s eyes while languorously sipping a milkshake through two straws in the same glass.

I still don’t particularly like drinking straws, but I recognize they do have their uses. And have been serving and disturbing mankind almost from the dawn of time. This is why I believe the drinking straw very much deserves a place on the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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