Winking (and Twitching)

Tue, 2 Apr 1996 10:45:21 CST

The posts by R. Lawless and R. Holloway remind me of Clifford Geertz's
importation, into anthropology, of philosopher Gilbert Ryle's contrast
between intentional winking--which requires "thick description"--and
involuntary twitching of the eye (Introduction to *The Interpretation of
Cultures*, Basic Books, 1973; reprinted in *High Points in
Anthropology*, 2nd ed., P. Bohannan and M. Glazer). Geertz--and
presumably Ryle--attach special importance to the supposed
indistinguishability, objectively, of a wink from a twitch. I find this
highly implausible, and have assumed Geertz was asserting it mainly in
order to deepen the impression that the the world of meaning is
ultimately inaccessible to objective study; hence, all we can do is
speculate. (The description grows thicker and thicker; anybody got a
shovel?) My own impression is that unintentional eye "twitches" usually
are faster, and less complete, than "winks." That Ryle and Geertz make
so much of this contrast, without offering empirical evidence for the
claim, is quite unsatisfactory from a scientific point of view. --Bob