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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Dead Horse And A Hot Babe

Only at Fresh Brainz will you find a photo of a dead horse next to hot babe.

Heh.

Of course you are asking: WHY???










Exhibit A: The skeleton of Eclipse, an 18th-century champion racehorse which was never beaten on the racetracks.

Exhibit B: Charlize Theron, uber hot babe and accomplished character actress.

Turns out that they have something very important in common.

They are both "average" individuals.

OK now you are going: WTF!?!!

Relax, I'm going to make this crystal clear in just a minute.

But first - a nice, big mystery for you.

If the hottest babes in the world are so rare, then why do so many people find them beautiful?

I mean stars couldn't become "stars" if only five people in the world thought they looked awesome, right?

It's true that people who look like Charlize Theron, Aishwarya Rai or Ayumi Hamasaki are hard to find. But so are people who are 90cm tall or people who weigh 500kg. Yet very few people would find such unique individuals attractive.

"Uniqueness" appears to be a popular catchphrase in society. There is a powerful, innate drive in human beings to distinguish ourselves from the crowd.

Yet despite the heroic efforts that people use to differentiate themselves from the thronging masses, little did they realize that nobody actually lives in Average Land.

It's like the place where the curve y = 1/x meets the y-axis or the point where parallel lines meet.

It doesn't exist.

There really isn't an average person who is 1.71m tall, earns $25 150.43 a year, drives 1.3 cars, keeps 0.7 cats and has 2.1 kids.

Maybe except in Novaya Zemlya.

The faceless average person is just a mental concept that we use to simplify the world and to separate the "me" from everyone else.

In reality, everyone is unique. We are all decidedly non-average in some physical or mental attribute.

Uniqueness is not something to aspire to - it's something you already are.

And it isn't something necessarily appealing neither. It's just... different.

As a matter of fact, when it comes to physical attractiveness, psychologists have proposed for a number of years that the "averaged" face is the most beautiful for most people.

An "averaged" face is a computer-generated model that morphs the average facial dimensions of a number of people into a single image.

Instead of becoming increasingly ho-hum as more faces are added into the database, the generated model actually becomes increasingly beautiful!

People with facial proportions nearer to that of an "averaged" face are considered attractive by far more people than people with "unique" faces.

More of a mass market appeal, as business types would say.

That's fine and dandy, but what's all this got to do with an undefeated racehorse?

Well, scientists want to find out what makes a champion racehorse gallop so fast.

So, they modelled Eclipse's skeleton on a computer and analyzed the movements of its reconstructed limbs.

Did Eclipse possess some incredible anatomical features that explained its speed?

Ultra-long, ultra-strong legs?

To their surprise, they discovered that Eclipse was average in almost every feature. Yet the combined effect of all these attributes resulted in a very speedy horse.

I know it sounds tad bizarre, but perhaps deep inside everyone really prefers to be "average", because that is the impossible ideal.


Would you like to know more?

-
Psychology of facial attractiveness
- Why was the racehorse Eclipse so good?

5 Comments:

ah said...

You should take a look at the book 'Black Swan' by Nassim Taleb. It's about improbable events sitting way outside a standard deviation. Your article touches on some of the ideas in that book.

Oh, and to balance out the high-brow intellectual stuff above I would like to point out that Charlize Theron likes to get Nekkid on a fairly regular basis. Wiked!

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Thanks for the reference! Here is an informative page about Nassim Taleb's ideas:

http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge136.html

And here's a quote:

Why don't we realize that we are not that capable of predicting? Why don't we notice the bias that causes us not to realize that we're not learning from our experiences? Why do we still keep going as if we understand them?

An excellent primer for my next article.

As for Charlize Theron getting nekkid, I was sooo tempted to put a link in the "Would you like to know more" section...

...but Google is your friend. So go ogle :D

Z said...

hehe
Nice analysis about the average beauty :)

rasmussenanders said...

Interesting post, I have actually done some research on attractiveness, and I can only confirm that if you mix say 30 images together you get a pretty nice looking face...

http://rasmussenanders.blogspot.com/search/label/Beautiful%20is%20good

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To z:

Thanks and welcome to Fresh Brainz!

To Anders:

So you use EEG as a read-out for brain responses to an attractive face? Hmm... very interesting! Thanks for dropping by and it's great to have an expert comment on this subject.