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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/380

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

EYE LANGUAGE.
By LOUIS ROBINSON.

NO part of the human countenance engages our attention so frequently as the eyes. When face to face in conversation, we do not look at the lips—although, as a rule, the attention is very quickly taken by any movement—but at the eyes of the person with whom we are speaking. So much is this the case that the habit of many deaf people of watching the mouth always strikes us as peculiar. In fact, one usually feels that there is a sense of incompleteness in the association of mind with mind by means of conversation if there is not a continual interchange of glances making a kind of running commentary on the words spoken. The same may be said of ordinary greetings when two people shake hands: unless there is at the same moment a meeting of friendly looks the ceremony loses much of its meaning.

Now why is there this continual meeting of eyes accompanying all kinds of human intercourse? Partly, no doubt, it is attributable to certain habits of comparatively recent date. The eye, "the window of the soul," is a more truthful exponent of the inward thoughts than the tongue, and seeing that speech is very frequently used not to tell the thoughts but to conceal them, we look to the eye for confirmation or the reverse for what our ears are taking in.

Partly, I think, the habit is based upon an inbred instinct which we have inherited from very remote ancestors, and which is exhibited by many of the lower animals. One finds that very young children, long before they acquire any knowledge of words, establish an understanding with those about them by means of the eye. A babe of a few months old directs its glances to the eyes of those round about it quite as much as an older person. A dog watches its master's eyes habitually, and, as will be shown later, monkeys use this method of ascertaining what is in the minds of those round about them almost as much as we do. Many wild creatures instinctively understand when they are being looked at. Thus a hare in her seat will often allow a man to pass close by her if his gaze is directed at some other object, but when she sees his eyes turned toward her she seems to know that she is discovered, and is up and away in an instant.

Is it not Oliver Wendell Holmes who draws attention to the automatic way in which we challenge the eyes of those we pass in the street, and thus establish, every time we walk abroad, a species of understanding with many persons who are otherwise complete strangers? It is not too much to say that mind begins to communi-