In philosophy there exists something of a mind puzzle or dilemma surrounding the identification and definition of an ideal type or the “normal” for a concept, that is, what is the “essence” of something like a chair? When we think of a chair, we almost always have in our mind the mental image of a chair, a certain, distinct iteration of the categorical concept “chair”, yet there are other chairs that are variously dissimilar to this image which nonetheless we can easily identify as a member of the “chair” category as well.
Not only is it hard to identify precisely what qualities make something a chair, it is hard to identify what attributes a thing could possess that would make it decidedly not a chair but instead something else. Is a chair without a seat, still a chair? (And by the way, what does the ideal type of the category “seat” look like?) Is a chair with a wavy back still a chair? We might decide that this is a chair, yet hardly anyone would imagine such a chair when they think of the conceptual ideal in their mind.
A friend shared with me the following today: “World of Averages”
If I understand what I am looking at correctly, the composer of the set of images contained in the link took a number of photographs of women of various ethnicity from all around the world and overlaid similar national/ethnic portraits with various transparency levels until he arrived at an average assimilated, symmetric image for each nation/ethnicity. The result is a series of portraits of (spectacularly beautiful!) women from all around the world that may be said to approximate something of a categorical ideal type for their ethnicity, ie, when we think of a “Serbian woman” perhaps that portrait is what comes into our mind as capturing the essence of “Serbian womanness”.
Now, what I think would be extremely fascinating is to take this idea to its logical extreme– overlay each of these resultant portraits over one another and create the “human woman” archetype. What does SHE look like? And do we all think of her when we think of “woman”?
I find this particular piece of art absolutely brilliant. It is not only a philosophical experiment but a biological, historical and genetic one. The pictures we are looking at represent thousands upon millions of years of human migration, habit and variance all frozen at a particular moment in time. Aside from many of these ethnicities/nationalities not existing in years prior (and likely in years hence), they undoubtedly looked different then and will continue to change in the future.
There appear to be many more fascinating “average” portraits at the original source blog.