Hari Seldon Strikes Again

In Isaac Asimov’s book “Prelude to Foundation”, he presents through his character “Hari Seldon” the “Hand-on-thigh Theory”: That which we uncover we invite to be touched. This comes about from an encounter between Hari and a female associate on the beach. She is wearing a swimsuit when he comes to sit on the arm of her chair. He places his hand on her thigh for balance, and when she calls it to his attention he can’t explain easily why he feels it is okay for him to touch her so familiarly.

Later on they meet up again in a formal setting, both well-dressed for the occasion. She then invites him to put his hand on her thigh again, and he realizes he would no longer feels comfortable doing so in that situation. His conclusion is that whatever we uncover we invite to be touched.

Now there is some scientific support for that notion, though perhaps not directly:

After looking at these pictures and reading a brief description of Erin/Aaron, subjects were asked to evaluate the mental capacities of the person. They answered six questions, which took the form, “Compared to the average person, how much is Erin capable of X.” The X was filled in by various agency-related capacities, such as “self-control,”“acting morally,” and “planning” and a slew of experience-related capacities, such as “experiencing pleasure,” “experiencing hunger,” and “experiencing desire.” Participants answered these six questions on a 5-point scale from 1 (Much Less Capable) to 5 (Much More Capable).

It turns out that a glimpse of flesh strongly influences our perception of Erin/Aaron. When the pictures only showed a face, they had lots of agency. But when we saw their torso, we suddenly imagined them as obsessed with experience. Instead of being good at self-control, they were suddenly extremely sensitive to hunger and desire. Same person, same facial expression, same brief description – but a hint of body changed everything.

It may not be fair, but it’s evidently true that if you dress revealingly others will look at you as more pleasure-oriented and less intelligent. The article doesn’t indicate whether there is any difference between men and women in this reponse, either, so one can infer that both genders think similarly. Male of female, if you want to be perceived as intelligent keep your clothes on.

In other, unrelated news, Lindsay Lohan’s Playboy cover has been leaked. I’m sure she’s looking very intelligent.

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