I’ve had my attention drawn to Jordan B Peterson over the past two or three months. He’s become something of a celebrity overnight, almost. And I find him very interesting to listen to. He brings a certain passion to what he’s saying.
Nevertheless, I never find myself completely buying what he says. And in this respect something he said at about 3 minutes 20 seconds into the video below is an example of something I couldn’t buy.
“What are you really up to? Everyone’s always wondering that. It’s why they’re watching your eyes. Because your eyes point at things. And they can infer what they’re interested in, what you’re up to by looking at what you look at. And that’s why your eyes have whites, so that we can see where you’re pointing, because gorillas don’t. And so what that means, roughly speaking, is that all your ancestors whose eyes couldn’t be reliably tracked were either killed or didn’t mate. It’s a big deal for us to see where people’s eyes are pointing. And so we’re always watching each other’s eyes constantly.”
Herrumph! That made me sit up:
“all your ancestors whose eyes couldn’t be reliably tracked were either killed or didn’t mate.“
Is it really true that we can only see where other people are looking if we can see the whites of their eyes? Isn’t the pupil in the middle of the eyes, with the coloured circular iris around it, enough to gauge in which direction someone is looking?
After all, is it impossible for people to tell in which direction green-eyed cats or brown-eyed dogs are looking, because they have only vestigial whites to their eyes? I could tell when my cat was looking at me, and even looking into my eyes.
But – hey, wait – there’s another problem: we’ve got two eyes. And we can only look at someone else’s eyes one at a time. You look at either their right eye or their left eye: you can’t see both of them at the same time. And when someone’s looking at something that’s near to them, their eyes swivel together. And when they’re looking into the far distance, their eyes point in pretty much exactly the same direction. But if you can only see one eye at a time, you can only gauge in what direction one of their eyes is looking, not what they’re looking at. If you’re trying to find out what people are looking at,you’ll have to look at first one eye, and then the other, and hope that their attention remains on the same thing (which it may not be).
So is it ever possible to know what anyone is looking at? Or what the lenses in their eyes are focused on? No. It isn’t. There’s no way of reliably tracking anyone else’s eyes. It’s a physical impossibility.
So if you ended up killing or not mating with people whose eyes you couldn’t reliably track, you’d wind up killing everyone.
And wouldn’t doing something like that be a bit Darwinian? Is life really such an awful Struggle For Existence that you have to kill off even people who don’t have any white in their eyes? I don’t think so.
But it’s more than that:
“we’re always watching each other’s eyes constantly.”
Are we? I don’t. Usually when I’m talking to people I don’t look at their eyes. I don’t even look at their faces. Sometimes I just look at the floor. Most of the time, I don’t really care where they are looking either. Do I really need to know? Mostly I don’t. Most of the time it’s good enough to just hear what people are saying.
And there’s another thing: he’s really only talking about people in social contexts, where they’re interacting with each other. We use our eyes to do lots of other things as well, like aim a rifle or a bow, or look out for approaching tigers and wolves, or see how far we have to jump or throw something. Social interactions make up a very small part of people’s lives, if they’ve got jobs to do, tasks to carry out. And for the most part I think it’s those other tasks – all of which require using our eyes – that seem more important than after-hours social interactions.
Anyway, on thinking about what he said, it just didn’t stack up right. And I wound up dismissing more or less everything he’d just said.
And that’s pretty much how I usually end up feeling. He initially sounds very persuasive, but on close examination it doesn’t really make much sense.
But, hey! That’s just me.