Sensory-Moral Poignancy in Anthropomorphic Forms and Human Figures Denoted

  1. Symmetry of the face resonates -probably at something like a homeostatic level- in our visceral, metabolic experiencing of perception. In this sense, any face implies an anthropomorphic experiencing of it for socio-homeostatic subject. In regards to animals, masks or any form of inanimate human figure (dolls, statues, wax figures, etc.), because there is no recourse to rational (verbal) interaction, a context of extreme titillation is created for perceiver based on the ambiguity of simultaneously being and not being human; an impasse of sorts, at least metabolically, that has no resolution: because of this, facial symmetry and human-like figures become a reliable constant for human groups on which they can come to depend for intense sensory-metabolic invigoration that, precisely because it cannot be rationally approached or in any way contradicted, becomes a recourse towards stability in this socio-physiologically structural sense.
  2. Interaction with anthropomorphic figures highlights the general tendency of culture towards the elevation of human space up and over the strictly physical: because of our extreme sensory-moral regard for human figures (inherent in our phylogenetic evolution) intense and immediate invigoration is obtained obviating to some degree the confines of material space as perceived by the body. In fact, the same can be said for the body itself as witnessed collectively: because our own sense of individuality depends on the group, whatever spectacle of physical duress, suffering, destruction or supremacy of any kind arising in the proximity of our own belonging in regards to others, is at the same time profoundly moral -and intensely invigorating- for ourselves. In this sense it is no surprise that human groups use actual physical bodies (in different states and conditions, frequently to some degree of violence) as props –atrezzo, on the social stage as it were- and given the extreme potency of moral resonance in us as, simply, invigorated, pre-reflexive metabolic experience, although the ultimate “meaning” in a socio-rational sense is exclusively a construct of a particular cultural group.
  3. Evidently, sedentary contexts push groups towards increased use of more physiologically metabolic than strictly physical experience as means of accommodating originally pre-agrarian, socio-homeostatic physiology. However, due also to increased direct and more immobile social contact, sedentary contexts seek to expand strictly metabolic spaces through semiotic development and complexity: because the impact of direct corporal experience (especially violence), the pain and suffering implied in specifically agrarian contexts (that have less direct recourse to physical movement and displacement) is diverted towards moral forms of violence that use above all physiologically esthetic means towards invigoration. That is to say, the pain implied in the spectacle of our fellows´ affliction is invested, so to speak, in the construction of a moral-conceptual universe in which the social self is now a moral self in the way we universally understand this today, in regards to a culturally-specific form of individuality. More formal and conceptually based forms of Religion, and art in general, have always been sedentary society´s hallmark in regards to a now technical need for a more morally defined social self, and in the general avoidance of physical conflict (in regards specifically to one´s own anthropological group).
  4. The increased technical possibilities of visual reproduction as of 15th century Europe (engraving), and the later advances over the following centuries (advances that include the printing of images, photography, photojournalism, cinematography, billboard advertising, television, video and the later electronic transmission all things digital) suggests that the evolution of civilization might also include a continuum of sorts in regards to the moral poignancy of visual representation itself; and that what originates in the corporeal and its socio-proxemic articulation of physical human groups, viritualizes itself as the complexity of agrarian-based industrial society grows. To the point that present day consumer society (or “information society”) should probably be understood as heavily dependent on images as in fact the key means of auxiliary support of deeper, socio-homeostatic mechanisms of anthropological individuality arisen originally as of nomadic, pre-agrarian human groups.
  5. To the extent that rationality and the socialized self is a socio-homeostatic construct in response to the anomie of physical singularity and the violence it inevitably leads to, in the same degree must sedentary context incorporate mechanisms of mimetic (Norbert Elias) stimulus and invigoration in order to retain and prime the very need for the rational itself: technical reproduction of the human figure especially in the form of sports imagery is probably one of the most important sources of sensory-metabolic invigoration for industrial societies (the history of industrial society and sports are in fact inseparably interwoven.1)
  6. Because the social self is physiologically dependent on the human and anthropomorphic figure, our perception of its absence is also an extremely intense form of moral invigoration: the images of empty towns and cities, empty seating in a theater, or wherever else people should logically be present, weighs heavily on the socio-homeostatic process of human cognizance, frequently triggering in us a deep, pre-reflexive sense of dread (the physiological effect Zombie films unfailingly have over the viewer is probably an example of this, in regards to empty urban landscapes that are the natural setting for these films; or the need during the pandemic for professional sports organizations to mitigate in some way the imagery of empty stadium or arena seats during televised events, frequently by covering them so as not “disturb” viewing experience).
  7. Because even series of objects can draw our anthropomorphic eye (such is the urgency of the human figure and group for our homeostatic and pre-rational physiology), artistic presentations of this type seek specifically to target in us this point of phylogentically evolved, sensory-metabolic susceptibility: cemeteries, the stars in the United States flag, or columns and rows of skyscraper windows, are all frequently used as visual strategies towards the evocation in the viewer of visceral notions of seriousness, solemnity, the sacred or, simply, institutional power. The example of such symbols and the sensory-metabolic contexts they impose, are probably universal to cultural experience, but the underlying point of effectiveness is, specifically, the physioloigical urgency in human beings towards the detection and confirmation of groups, as an ultimate source of both sanctuary as well as threat for the homeostatic subject.
  8. Finally, once language comes into play, this same foundation of a geometry individuality-versus-groups can also be observed in linguistic strategies of admonition and warning. It is precisely this pre-rational, pre-reflexive seriousness of the group and one´s relation with it that pervades language strategies of this type, usually towards the intimidation of the individual through what is in fact a subtly subliminal form of psychological leveraging.


1 Norberto Elias (and Eric Dunning): Quest for Excitement. Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process. Oxford, 1986