October 10, 2012
A signal is a function, which varies in time and/or space, and transmits information or some phenomena. In terms of electrical engineering and signal processing, these signals have various properties that allow us to store important information in terms of discretized data points. Simply, an input signal is entered into a system, which then modifies the signal to give some response, namely the output. We are surrounded by signals: talking, lights (i.e. vision), even hormones are signals.
Another signal we often encounter...are mixed signals. Yes, I just introduced my engineering nerd credibility to talk about flirting and relationships, get over it. But I think it's something important to talk about.
Fun fact: I'm a terrible flirt. I am somebody who doesn't know when I'm flirting with somebody, and likewise, I do not know when I'm being flirted at, and usually it takes one of my introspective showers to realize that I was flirting with some guy...two years ago. At the same point, I think we develop personal filters that block out certain mixed signals or transform signals to our own psychological fit.
As somebody who has struggled with self image, reading Jacob Tobia's fantastic article on HuffPo inspired me to write this post. Mentioned above, a very common signal we are faced with is sight. The photons that are reflected off of our body, clothing, hair, etc. are received by our eyes, and then our brain, the system in this case, modifies the signal into what we perceive, the attractiveness of others. It seems like such a simple process, but with profound outputs. How can light so radically divide the LGBT community? How does the brain process the images that can sink our self-esteem?
Jacob raises some great points about why this case. But since I'm a nerd, I think of it as such: Our brains are a system with a certain response function, call it h(t). This function has been warped by the images that surround us in popular culture so that, when x(t), the input (i.e. visual signals) are modified by h(t), they are convoluted with this external notions of attractiveness (by the way, convolutions are actually a term in signal processing, indicated by x(t)*h(t)). Now again, there is nothing wrong with being fit, in shape, six-pack abs and so on, but why does this have to be the only anticipated output, when not every person fits this mold?
I think it's worth looking at how our response functions filter out certain people based on appearance. Or even based on how stupidly we (read: I) flirt with others (or unknowingly flirt). Sometimes there are mixed signals or visual signals, but intertwined with those signals is superimposed information that's worth knowing.