Google says, “For many years, animal behaviorists largely agreed that animals weren’t smiling because they were experiencing joy, but instead because of a muscular reflex. Because of this, most people also believed that dogs didn’t smile as a way of showing their emotions. That belief, however, has been challenged.”
So, for many years, the prevailing scientific wisdom has been that dogs don’t smile. How typically and tragically scientistic, to reduce something so beautiful, that we all can plainly see with our hearts and minds, to “muscular reflex.” As if, because muscular reflex is a thing we know about, even though it’s obviously a smaller part of a greater whole of causation and meaning, we naturally attribute the the whole of a dog’s smiling to that alone, as if it simply happens for no particular reason.
As with many other domains, science has been asking us here to ignore and occlude our own hearts and sensibilities and deny something beautiful. It’s sad that so many people tend to buy into such pretenses. Yes, it’s true that have a tendency of anthropomorphizing non-human things and animals, but, on the other hand, we also tend to discount one important principle…
There is a sort of connective aspect between all things/beings and their appearance, whereby things have a tendency to “look like” what they really are. Of course, things are bound to look like what they are to some degree, simply because we learn by living to infer aspects of things/beings identities from their appearances. But by this “connective aspect” I mean to imply something more than that. I mean to invoke the mystical.
For example, we know that we can tell a lot by looking into someone’s eyes—we can see their inner light, their emotions, or whatever—but how? Just how much does the eye change in response to emotions, or with respect to one’s inner light, and why?
Some of that perception may not even be in the looks themselves. Maybe some psychic sense informs us of the person’s inner light and the physical sensation of seeing their eyes only acts as something like a “carrier wave” for that impression. How/why else would be be able to see spiritual light through one’s eyes? Gauging emotions from the eyes is a little more understandable (in the mundane sense): evolutionary social psychology could have led us to express emotions via the muscles surrounding the eyes, and also the lacrimal (tear-making) gland because it’s “useful” for others to know how we’re feeling. But the associated changes in eye state are extremely subtle, so that seems somewhat unlikely.
Maybe the connection between emotions and eye state isn’t due to utility at all but is a kind of side effect of our evolutionary development, like many other things. Or maybe it’s cosmic in a way and both the expression and the perception of it tie into the nature of life/consciousness itself. This possibility, of course, is in line with what I’m talking about more generally regarding the connection between appearances and identity being mystical.
The same kind of connection applies to our entire physical form. The ideal human form is not sexy and beautiful just because we were Darwinistically evolved to be sexually and romantically attracted to people whose genes are more evolutionarily fit. They’re sexy and beautiful because they embody cosmic principles, truths or aspects, and/or because they embody traits of certain Universal, or perhaps earthly, gods and goddesses. “Beauty is embodied wisdom,” someone once said was whispered to them by an angel. (That’s especially interesting because I once heard that angels love to whisper secrets.)
The face in particular conveys a lot of information about a person’s identity. Because of the prevalence of scientism and scientific thinking, we tend to see all things and parts and aspects of things as functional “black boxes” that are separated from each other in every way except those ways in which they’re proven to be connected or correlated. Scientific thinking isn’t all bad, of course; it’s produced a lot of knowledge, but it rests on a mentality that must ignore everything that’s not overtly useful, categorically applicable, and particularly amenable to razor-like analysis and abstract modeling, being easily separable into independent factors, unlike the more holistic processing characteristic of right-brained thinking.
So, we carry this independent-“black boxes” worldview into many things, including our assumptions regarding the inherent meanings of various facial features—specifically, the assumption that there aren’t any. You can easily reductio ad absurdum your way out of that delusion, though, by imagining various characters you know as having the faces of completely different people and observing, intuitively, that it wouldn’t make any sense for some of those people to have some of those faces.
This, by the way, is why any kind of modification of the face that’s meant to change or mislead from its original appearance, such as cosmetic surgery, Botox injections, lip fillers, makeup and hair dye, are dishonest and unethical. The closer our looks become to being purely plastic, the less meaning biological beauty actually has. It’s kind of like how if you allow everyone to create whatever coins and bills they want to, money loses its meaning.
That’s an imperfect analogy, of course, since biological beauty isn’t necessarily a commodity and beautiful paintings don’t lose their meaning just because anyone is allowed to be an artist, but biological beauty is a different kind of subject because faces are not beautiful simply because of how they look, but also because of the personality characteristics, or perhaps even the DNA, that they signify—or, more accurately, reflect or convey.
That’s not to imply that all beautiful people are “beautiful on the inside,” as in they’re compassionate, fair, thoughtful, generous or whatever and that all ugly people are ugly on the inside, as in selfish, vindictive, petty, etc.; the correspondence isn’t that simple.
Anyway, harking back to animal appearances, it would also be a mistake to think something like, the fact that house cats look cute has nothing to do with the cuteness of their species’ personality. (Yes, individual cats tend to have very different and unique personalities, but by “species personality,” I mean the dynamics of how their senses, emotions, minds, etc. are basically organized.) Similarly we can tell a lot about any other animal just by the way they look, sound, etc.
This principle probably also applies to landscapes. Are mountains majestic? Yes! Are rainbows magical and happy? Yes! Is the moon feminine, or at least very yin? Yes! Is the scintillating of the sunlight or moonlight reflecting off of ocean waves alive? Probably! Is the sky and everything spiritual it represents actually peaceful and calming, or did we just evolve to like the light blue-green color because it’s a color we see so often? Of course the former! Is snow delicate and gentle? Yes. The beauty of a landscape reflects the beauty of life.
One thing worthy of note is that, in line with this cosmic principle of things tending to be what they appear to be, some people like to infer a lot of things things from words and sentences other than what’s literally intended, based on things like the direct meanings or etymologies of names, alternate meanings of words used, words that sound similar to words used, and possible innuendo/double entendre. There tends to be a lot of truth to it, but it’s tricky. It can be taken too far. Really, without digging deeper into a subject, you can’t know which of such inferences are valid and which aren’t. So they should be taken with a grain of salt if at all.
One other thing worth noting is that things or beings that are specifically designed to simulate, or otherwise “look like” or mimic, other things or beings, are one big class of exceptions to the principle of things uncannily tending to be exactly what they appear to be, because they’re essentially co-opting or overriding the mechanics linking identity to appearance, or another way of looking at it is that they’re taking advantage of and manipulating our cognitive mechanics of taking things as they appear to be, or more accurately, of linking specific identities with specific appearances.
As an example, AI such as ChatGPT is specifically engineered to produce similar output as living intelligence, so its apparent intelligence shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an indication of real intelligence. Similarly, a robot or computer that’s programmed to say “I love you” shouldn’t be taken at face value. Other examples of exceptions are so-called catfish, scams, phishing websites, lies, camouflage, advertisements, manipulation, propaganda, gaslighting, FOX News, politicians, fiction, etc. (Though, of course, fiction usually conveys more truth than untruth, the untruth being mostly confined to the merely literal or factual levels.)
Returning to the science of dog smiles, it’s good that the once-prevailing wisdom that dogs can’t smile is finally being challenged. In this case, the self-correcting mechanism of science has actually paid off in a domain where it matters, where the truth is subtle and sublime. But all too often that isn’t the case, so please, watch out for that and protect your heart!