Feeling the Feelings of Others
The Ambiguous Intensity of Eye Contact
Thus a simple physical feeling is one feeling which feels another feeling. But the feeling felt has a subject diverse from the subject of the feeling which feels it.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p.362
COMMENTARY by John Koenig:
"One thing I find fascinating about eye contact is how utterly mutual it is. In order to get access to someone's eyes you have to expose your own at exactly the same time. Like poker. You lock eyes across a party, and ante up in order to play. "I see your sublimated frustration at being out of place, and raise you an empathic nod." "I see your flirtatious glance, and raise you a tension-diffusing comedic eyebrow wiggle." You push your chips forward, then you show your cards. Eye contact is such a delicate and dangerous art. Even holding it a half-second too long can radically change its meaning, like a wayward brushstroke on a painting that can radically shift an expression from dismissive to neutral, or from flirty to wary to sardonic, or from suspicious to threatening to seductive to unspoken bond to wordless gratitude then back around to murderous. The final line "So we're all just exchanging glances, trying to tell each other who we are" is deliberately vague. You are trying to tell others who you are, but you're also trying to hint to them who they are. That sort of external identity reinforcement sounds weak and self-conscious, but damned if it isn't true. Perhaps a more fitting card game metaphor is Indian poker, in which everyone can see your card but you. So you have to watch their faces for cues. Without them, your identity will feed back on itself, rounding up into grandiosity or down into depression, and you go crazy."
found on Koenig's Youtube site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsKBTIdR99o.)
COMMENTARY by Jay McDaniel
There are many ways a person can feel the feelings of another: being touched by them, hearing them, and glancing at them. Each has its intensity.
Never do we feel their feelings exactly as they feel them. And never do we feel the whole of them. They are always more than our glance contains. And we are more than their glance contains.
Still, in the moment, we feel their feelings. There is an exchange that is not simply objective but also, in its quiet way, subjective. A subject-to-subject encounter. This encounter is theological in its way. Or theopoetic. Or, to coin a phrase, Darshanic.
Hinduism teaches that everyone contains something of the divine in them, and that when we look into their eyes, we sense something of this. They call it Darshan: glimpsing the divinity. Typically the word is reserved for seeing a deity in statuesque form, or in a sacred person, or in a sacred object. In our time some people feel this way in seeing celebrities, movie stars, and other famous people. We feel charged by the sight of them. But if everyone contains a bit of divinity, wouldn't it all be Darshan. In feeling their feelings, even for a moment, aren't we feeling part of what makes up that side of God which contains all feelings?
Whitehead proposes that the universe as a whole is gathered into the unity of a life who feels all the feelings of all the sentient beings in our world and, for that matter, in the entire universe, itself a multiverse. God, too, knows the ambiguous intensity of eye contact. Divine Opia, divine Darshan.