This cartoon by Hilary Price really gets it:
We’re built for relationships, so much so that we love looking for and at people all the time and extend this trait to looking at inanimate things that resemble us. We are a social species, after all, hardwired from infancy to seek out others, built to be in relationships of one sort or another all the time. As members of a gregarious group, our survival as individuals depends on it. Like the elephants above, gazing admiringly at teapots with trunk-like spouts, we love taking each other in to such an extent we like making things – from cartoons to objects, art and architecture – that look like us, too. (A previous post on the faces we unconsciously see in Palladio’s Villa Rotunda is here.)
But where does the predispositon come from? Apparently, from some time ago. Check out the Makapansgat Pebble, below: Uncovered in South Africa almost a century ago, and now in a museum there, the pebble is considered – at 3 million years old – the world’s oldest example of ‘symbolic thinking’, the ability to think in images and symbols which children develop in pre-school. This is the trait needed to create art and language, critical for the development of human society.
But it also suggests something more: how deeply our hominid ancestors needed to see each other – and something else significant, too:
How our evolution sets limits for our architecture today.
If we want to create buildings that last and places people want to be, and feel at their best around, the structures need to suggest people too, or put another way, be easy to anthropomorphize. Otherwise our brain won’t easily build a relationship with them. It can’t. Mother Nature, inherently conservative, has not wired us to let that happen.
Here’s a slide from a recent talk I gave on how new findings in neuroscience can inform green design. The drawings are by Canadian artist, Ryan Dodgson, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. I met him a few years ago at a Toronto art fair and after looking at his hand-drawn ‘edi-faces’ asked him whether he’d ever studied neuroscience. “No,” he said.
Clearly, he didn’t need to. He’d already intuited it.