Appearances and Free Will

There is more to every person than meets the eye. If you took the effort to get to know every single person you encounter, you would probably find a few surprises. Some people might have opinions you were not prepared for, or skills you did not expect.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It is very difficult to learn things about everyone you meet though. It takes a lot of energy that might be better put to use elsewhere. Many of us employ a cognitive shortcut when we encounter new people: we judge them based on what they look like.

Definition is a funny thing. Are people defined by how they see themselves, or by how they are seen by others? You might think you are a nice, respectable person, but other people might see you as a smelly liability. Both perspectives are valid, but which is more important?

Smelly Businessman

This guy seems cool, but he smells terrible.

Small people are often seen as cowards. If you are looking for someone to complete a heroic task you might pick the big, strong person over his smaller, weaker counterpart. Would this be a justifiable decision?

Big people are often stereotyped as being stupid. If you needed help solving a puzzle, you might overlook giant people as potential assistants. They are too big to be very smart. Would this be a defensible position?

Paul Bunyon

Paul Bunyan could have been a math wiz or a science guy…if he fit in the school.

We are all told to look out for crazy people, and we have an idea of what a crazy person looks like. So what if a person was wearing a business suit, but he was also running around yelling and generally acting crazy? Is that more or less acceptable than a guy wearing hobo clothes behaving the same way?

Should all crazy people be required to wear crazy-person clothing so we can spot them easier? Should crazy people all start wearing business suits so we like them more?

What if you encounter a random person who is smiling? Does this smile mean they are nice, or does it mean they are creepy? If you meet a person who is always scowling, does that scowl mean they are mean, or are they just in deep thought?

Scowl

“I am thinking very deeply about how annoying you are.”

Appearances matter more than many of us would like to admit.

Is a person’s appearance right now more or less important than how they have appeared over time? If a person looks crazy now, but you saw a picture of them looking sane a long time ago, does that change your assessment of their craziness? If you meet a mean old person today, but you know they were attractive in their youth, does that change how you interpret their behavior?

Being mean to old people

“I don’t care how many suitors you used to have, Helen. You’re old now, so act like it!”

There are somethings about our appearance we choose, and others we don’t. We get to choose our clothing, our hairstyle, and other things like that. We don’t get to choose our skin complexion, our height, and other physiological qualities. Which set of appearances matter more: the things we choose or the things we don’t?

If the things we have no control over influence how other people see us, and in turn determine our place in the world, then what does that say about free will?

Does the ugly person have any choice but to be ugly? Does the beautiful person have any choice but to be beautiful?

Red Pill Blue Pill

Do our choices even matter at all?