Monday, June 1, 2009

Ted Chiang's "Liking What You See: A Documentary" (novella, thought experiment): What if we could switch off perception of beauty of a human face?

Quote from short story titled Liking What You See, A Documentary by Ted ChiangAmong the best of Chiang; perhaps of the genre too. And with a bit of philosophical bend.

There is a certain amount of notoriety associated with this story. It was withdrawn from Hugo nominations on author's request because he didn't think it was good enough.

Story summary.

Calliagnosia (aka "calli") is a painless, non-invasive, fast, cheap, & reversible medical procedure to switch off your brain's emotional reactions to 3 attributes of a human face:
  1. Clear unblemished skin.
  2. Symmetry ("any environmental stressor - like poor nutrition, disease, parasites - tends to result in asymmetry during growth. Symmetry implies resistance to such stressors.").
  3. "Facial proportions" that represent racial mean.

    Note: The idea of "racial mean" of certain defining human attributes also appears in a different context in William Tenn's satirical "Null-P"; but I'll talk of that some other time.
You aren't reduced in any mental faculty except that you no longer notice or prefer a beautiful face!

Story is in the form of a documentary - recording a huge variety of conflicting opinions by a variety of actors on the desirability or otherwise of the technology. In the context of an impending student referendum at Pembleton University that proposes to make calliagnosia compulsory for all students while they are enrolled at the university.

Collected in.

  1. Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life and Others".

Fact sheet.

First published: Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life & Others" (collection, 2002).
Rating: A.
Related: Stories of Ted Chiang; stories that deal with (or bend) the notion of "beauty"; philosophical fiction.