A couple of years ago I lost the ability to see faces on a daily basis. This happened so gradually I hardly noticed it was happening at all. For with people I have known a long time, I would fill in what they look like. So it was more apparent when I met someone new.
I found whenever I met someone knew I was creating a mental picture of what they looked like. But what was I basing this picture on? As how can I imagine what a stranger, I have never seen looks like?
These questions were brought to the forefront when I was working with a fellow student at university. I had worked with them on and off for over 2 years, so I knew their voice well. I could easily pick it out from a crowd of voices. Due to the familiarity of the voice I had begun to assign a mental representation. But rather than specific features it was just a feeling. While working with her one day I turned round and I got a brief flash of her face. For that brief moment all the conditions required for me to see were fulfilled to perfection. This is such a rare occurrence that to this day I have only seen my eldest sons face a handful of times and yet to see my youngest.
I mentioned to her that I just saw her face and she looked nothing like I had imagined. I was quickly met with the retort, “so what did you think I looked like?”. I found I couldn’t describe any specific facial features, just a general form that her voice had created in my mind. Since then I have not been able to see her face again and the rest of the people I meet remain faceless. I just get a sense of people like objects moving around me, with no sense of a persons appearance.
The best way I can describe the faceless appearance of people is a scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Where Jim Carrey’s character is trying to see the face of a woman in his mind, but despite moving around continuously the woman remains faceless. No matter how much I will it so, I cannot choose to see someones face. It is only in those ephemeral moments that I have the briefest of flashes of features.