The Photomone Theory

KEVIN FREEMAN

August 17, 1993|By KEVIN FREEMAN

It was 6 p.m. on a Friday. I was among the last to leave the PTC building. I got on the elevator on the 15th floor. It was empty.

At the 12th floor, two guys got on. They seemed not to know each other. Each of us was, I am sure, self-consciously aware of the others in the strained social setting of what is essentially a traveling closet. Eye contact is avoided after the first moment; the peripheral view takes precedence over the direct view. One looks at the floor or door, feigns reading or mindlessly watches the changing floor numbers.

At the 10th floor another man got on. We moved to accommodate the newcomer and adjust our personal spaces.

All of us were wearing business suits and carrying briefcases or other business-related materials. We were all within 10 years of age of each other, mostly young, trim, good looking.

The elevator continued down-- 9th floor, 8th floor, 7th floor -- and it seemed the trip would last only a few more seconds. But no. At the 6th floor it stopped again. God, what now? Another guy in business uniform? Maybe a small crowd? Are we going to stop at every floor the rest of the way down?

The door opened. A woman, alone, young, also in business clothes but carrying a purse instead of a briefcase. Her suit was cut in a way that made it easy to imagine the contours under the fabric. That shape, that female shape. There it was, in the elevator with four men.

Moods can shift at the speed of light. What had been discomfort over a long ride until the door opened changed within milliseconds to regret that only six rather than a thousand floors remained.

I was standing against the back wall of the elevator. Two men were to my right, one to my left. The woman came aboard, her eyes averted downward, having already seen and assessed the all-male society in the elevator as the door opened.

We moved to accommodate her, and once again to adjust our personal spaces. She took a position in the middle of the elevator. The door closed. She was three feet in front of me, facing the door. My view was unblocked, and I took advantage.

The biological effect induced by such a change of scene happens fast. The heartbeat hastens, glands move into action; the drawing in of breath -- through the nose -- is reflexive, as is the drawing in of previously relaxed abdominal muscles.

In my peripheral view, I could see the other guys adjust their postures, and I could see each of them, nearly simultaneously with me, run their eyes over that female shape in the typical quarter-second instinctual gathering up of such primally important visual information.

That shape, that female shape. A young woman. Young socially, that is; the material of her body is old indeed, and her shape, too, is a unique variation on a theme that dates back to prehistory. Amid the steel and plastic of a piece of technology barely a century old, four civilized men in business suits were enthralled by chemical processes whose origins precede the beginning of geologic time.

Were it not for the female shape, men would not build cities. Were women suddenly to disappear from the world, we men would find no purpose in anything. We would wander off into the woods on separate paths, possibly skirmishing along the way but probably not even that, since there would be no point, no women to impress. That ancient shape. Sex is vital to the continuity of our species; it is also the binding force of human society.

Biologists say that certain animals make use of a class of airborne chemicals called pheromones, which provoke hormonal responses in others of the same species. Some researchers suggest that humans also are affected by pheromones.

Pheromones may or may not have odor -- indeed, according to the pheromone theory, odor is not necessary to the operation of pheromones. The molecules need only be inhaled and then conveyed to the bloodstream to trigger secondary and tertiary hormonal responses. It is an interesting theory, but evidence that pheromones operate in humans is ambiguous at best.

Less ambiguous is the photomone theory. Photomones work like this: A man walks down the street at noon. Sunlight falls on the scene and is reflected by certain surfaces and shapes, such as those of cars, buildings and female bodies. The reflected light carrying this information enters the eye and is processed by the brain, which provokes a hormonal response.

On that Friday evening when the woman got on the elevator, we men, being human and supposedly civilized, did not get down on all fours like dogs to smell the female.

We humans sniff with our eyes. Photomones enter through our eyes and provoke instinctual, hormonal responses.

The human ability to sniff with the eyes is important to the kind of society we have. Our ability to be provoked by photomones is independent of wind direction and has greater range than do the hypothetical pheromones. Photomones can also be conveyed by TV, movies, photographs. They can be digitized, transmitted, stored and retrieved.

The rest of the elevator ride to the lobby was nonstop. As we got off, I watched the lady with the nice photomones, and I watched the other guys watching her.

And that is why our world began when someone had the bright idea of saying, ''Let there be light!''

Kevin Freeman is a Baltimore writer.

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