Today I had a rather long conversation with a man whose eyes are an extremely unusual shade of blue. He was quite intelligent, articulate, and well spoken. The conversation was on various topics of great interest to both of us, and there was indeed much to discuss. And yet, some part of my mind kept focusing on the unusual color of his eyes.
I realize that objectively there is no “there” there – in the immortal words of Gertrude Stein. The color of a man’s irises should not in any way influence one’s perception of his thoughts. Even so, there is something about encountering someone with an unearthly eye color, a fellow human possessed of uniquely shaded irises, that tends to draw your attention, to pull upon you at some deep instinctual level.
As we talked, I found myself pondering the evolutionary forces at work here. Why are we drawn to strange eye colors (as far as I can tell, pretty much everyone is). We are distinctly not drawn to other unusual physical traits, such as three arms, or an unusually small head. And yet eyes of a shade found nowhere else on earth seem to attract.
I have no answers to this riddle, but I do suspect that the underlying mechanism at work here is an important one. In many ways people operate on an instinctive level, much as our Cro Magnon forebears did fifty thousand years ago. I wonder, did a Cro Magnon man, trudging once upon a time through the harsh winters in search of food, ever come upon another Cro Magnon man unusual of eye? And did he stop short, surprised, bemused, curious?
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.