Department of Parliamentary Services security staff need to identify Parliament House visitors by face – but how?

I’m watching a lot of discussion about the Abbott Government’s embarrassing reversal of the controversial “burqa ban” regarding visitors to the Australian federal parliament in Canberra. Media reports state that all visitors will be required to reveal their faces temporarily to security staff, but there is no proper explanation of why. Why do people need to show their faces to staff, unless their faces are being photographed, recorded or memorized using some kind of technology or human ability, or are being screened in a systematic way by a human or technological system that is based on a suitably comprehensive library of stored or memorized facial images? I have my doubts that any of these things are actually happening. I’ve read nothing to indicate that human super-recognizers or a technological substitute for this kind of face recognition ability is being used by police or security services in Australia, even though there is a large collection of media and scientific reports of human and computerized facial recognition being used in the UK and USA. Another question that I’ve not seen addressed in recent media reports is the question of who is going to be targeted by the new requirement of facial inspection, and what are the criteria for adequate facial disclosure. I believe passport photos require no glasses to be worn and a neutral facial expression, and this certainly makes sense in terms of human facial recognition. Will the same rules apply at Parliament House, or will men be allowed to walk into Parliament without removing any element of the “bogan disguise” of sunglasses, goatee beard and baseball cap? I wonder, are visitors routinely asked to remove hats and hoodies in Parliament House? Why haven’t we had calls for a ban on dark sunglasses in Parliament House? Dark sunnies are clearly used very commonly by Australians of all ethnic backgrounds as a facial concealment. They are very popular among police and also dodgy people. It is pretty obvious to me that racism has played a large role in this hoo-haa over faces and identity and security, because the hypocrisy is obvious.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/controversial-parliament-house-burqa-ban-dumped-20141020-118j5h.html

Too exciting! Nobel Prize awarded for research on stuff that I’ve been writing about here

Visual recognition of places or scenes, mental navigation, a sense of place and the normal mental memory function that is the basis for the “method of loci” memory technique are some of the interesting psychological subjects that I have written about here, and it appears that my interests very much overlap with the areas of research pioneered by John O’Keefe and May-Britt and Edvard Moser, all winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Medicine. This team spent a great part of their careers doing research on rats, and their discoveries include grid cells and “place cells” which are nerve cells in the hippocampus that only activate when the rat is in a specific physical location. I’m not clear whether the grid cells and the place cells are the same thing or not. Read about their fascinating and important research here.

I’m feeling very frustrated right now as I am sure that somewhere in this blog I’ve written a description of an experience that I occasionally have while travelling in a train in unfamiliar lines or at night, in which it appears that two different mental navigational systems in my brain go “out of sync” causing a temporary sense of confusion about where I am. One of these navigational systems is based on visual perception of scenes while the other is based on a body-centred, visceral, embodied, spatial, sense of direction, and the common language “spoken” between these two systems is the visual memory of scenes, (which is of interest in my case because this function is encoded in pretty-much the same part of the brain as face memory, and I’m a super-recognizer). Normally the visual perception of scenes system informs and regularly updates the directional sense system, and the directional system accesses a sequentially-encoded system of visual memories of places and then sends predictions about expected scenery back to the visual system. Sometimes when visual scene recognition operates at the edges of ability and fails to provide input to or misinforms the directional system, the directional system works in an uncertain and speculative way, and at times is confronted with input of visual scenes that do not fit the predictions of expected scenery sent from the scene memory bank. This is the “spin-out” moment. Following this head-spinning moment of confusion is a sense of “Where the f*** are we?”, and my sense of navigation will either be reset from a combination of conscious knowledge of direction combined with visual memories of scenes or fresh comprehensible visual input. This is my interpretation of these types of experiences, which I believe are interesting and can inform us about normal mental navigation. I am very conscious of visual memories of scenes because I experience a number of types of synaesthesia in which these memories are either inducers or concurrents. I believe I am the first person in the world who has taken the time to write and publish full descriptions of these experiences, here at this blog. I have asserted that one of these types of synaesthesia is the same or very similar to the very powerful and ancient method of loci memory technique, which involves activation of a number of parts of the human brain, including the hippocampus.

Australian study finds evidence suggesting that use of recreational drug ecstasy will damage face perception ability

White, Claire, Edwards, Mark, Brown, John and Bell, Jason The impact of recreational MDMA ‘ecstasy’ use on global form processing. Journal of Psychopharmacology. August 20, 2014

Published online before print August 20, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0269881114546709

http://jop.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/08/18/0269881114546709.abstract?rss=1

 

Yeang, Lily Ecstasy use affects ability to detect faces, shapes and patterns. ScienceNetwork Western Australia.

http://www.sciencewa.net.au//topics/health-a-medicine/item/3085-ecstasy-use-affects-ability-to-detect-faces-shapes-and-patterns

 

One should bear in mind that this study only used a small number of long-term ecstasy users as subjects (6) and these people also used other drugs, which could have had an influence, and it appears that actual faces or images of faces were not a part of the study, which tested the type of visual processing of which face processing is apparently one example. The full text of the study is behind a paywall, so I’ve not yet read it in full. The study is certainly interesting, as it displays internal consistency in the findings which are also apparently compatible with the findings of other studies.

This study is just another good reason why the testing of visual processing, including abilities such as face memory and global form processing, should ideally be an element of the job recruitment selection process for many jobs. “If global form processing is damaged or deficient then our speed and accuracy in recognizing objects in the environment, and our ability to navigate amongst those objects, will be impaired.” So does that mean that long-term ecstasy users aren’t OK to operate heavy machinery or to drive? I think it is anyone’s guess, and there is no law enforcement or job screening process that I am aware of that is likely to detect people with this kind of visual processing disability, until they have a crash. If you know otherwise, please leave a comment and we we’ll all be the wiser.

The Scottish independence referendum has put some new faces on my TV screen

I’m not sure if ever seen the face of Alex Salmond on TV before, because while his face does look very familiar, that could be because he is a bit of a doppleganger of Perth, Western Australia’s most famous Scotsman, Max Kay.

The face of Lesley Riddoch is another one that isn’t usually featured in Australian TV screens. She lives in Perth, but not our Perth, the other Perth. She is a commentator and a writer and she has expressed support for ‘yes’ case in the referendum, but being a super-recognizer I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her face. To my eye her face is so much the same face and personality as a woman I have known well in the past, except for her jawline and neck, which display definite differences. Riddoch’s lively mind and the spark of intelligence in her eyes are there for all to observe, and I swear are in some non-trivial way the same those of the person from my past, who clearly inherited her long, flat face and sense of humour from her British parent.

Another eureka moment

On Sunday I had one of those fabulous moments of scientific insight as I saw the connections between scientific observations from different sources. It was more exciting than it sounds. Details later if I find the time and motivation for more blogging.

Would you like to follow these steps?

First go the the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine):  https://archive.org/

Then copy and paste the web address of this blog into the search form that you will find there, removing the beginning bit, and click on “BROWSE HISTORY”:   http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/

The results screen that comes up will show you how many times this blog has been archived by the Internet Archive over the years.

Click on the year 2012, then click on the date June 21st 2012.

The Internet Archive will display to you their archived record of the home page of this blog as recorded on June 21st 2012. You will see a blog coloured in green and blue with stories featuring photos of some sculptures seen around Perth, but the thing that you might (or might not) find interesting is the blog post that is third down the page which was first published on June 7th 2012. This is the blog post where I briefly but clearly published my ideas suggesting causal relationships between the human immune system and synaesthesia, and low levels of some of the complement immune chemicals and synaesthesia, all related to the regulation of developmental synaptic pruning and synaptic plasticity involving the activity of microglia, and in this post I also restated my previously-published speculation that the variety of dementia known as Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy could be regarded as the opposite of developmental synaesthesia associated with special abilities in visual perception such as super-recognition ability and exceptional reading ability, a cluster of traits that appears to run in at least one family. Got that? The point I’m trying to make is that I published this stuff in June 2012, I thought of these ideas independently and as far as I can tell no one else had previously published these ideas anywhere, including in scientific journals.

Now take a look at this paper in a neuroscience journal which was published in 2013 and was received by the journal as a draft or manuscript on July 31st 2013:  http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00563/full

Do any of the themes in the paper seem familiar? Does my blog or myself receive any credit or acknowledgement in the paper? Hmm.

Regardless of any issues related to originality or acknowledgement, the important point in all of this is that here we have some ideas about a type of dementia which could conceivably have some medical or scientific use or value. My idea of linking synaesthesia with the immune system is nice but just a step in a possibly much more important sequence of ideas. I’d like to give those ideas another airing, while also restating that I thought of them a long time ago independently and claim all due credit. I hope you don’t mind.

Will a super-recognizer identify the British man who murdered American journalist James Foley?

A number of names have been put forward by the press:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11049953/Net-closes-on-Jihadi-John-as-London-pair-probed.html

Poor Kenny

If you have ever doubted that simply looking at faces can be used to identify genetic disorders, consider case of Kenny the (very inbred) white tiger. Even though he is an entirely different species than us, we can tell just by looking at his face that something is seriously amiss. http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/kenny-white-tiger-reveals-price-inbreeding

Report on the MONA synaesthesia show on Australian public broadcaster television

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-19/synaesthesia-festival-brings-classical-music-to-light-in-hobart/5681584

Synaesthesia-related current and upcoming arts events in Australia

MONA in Tasmania will be revisiting the theme of synaesthesia in Synaesthesia+, a musical, visual and gustatory festival of the psychological phenomenon. It is happening this weekend and tickets will set you back quite a lot.

In Perth, Western Australia PICA have been hosting an exhibition of sound art, What I See When I Look at Sound, featuring the works of artists Lyndon Blue, Lauren Brown, Matthew Gingold, Cat Hope and Kynan Tan. This show will be on until the end of this month and it is free, or at least we didn’t get charged when we went to look and listen to it a while ago.

You might think from considering the title of the exhibition that it might have the theme of synaesthesia, and indeed the works are described each as a “synaesthetic offering”, but actually I believe that the theme of the exhibition, “the relationship between looking and hearing” is actually about binding, which is a broader term that can encompass normal or average sensory perception and also some types of synaesthesia that are similar to or more consciously-experienced variants of normal mental sensory perception. I think this exhibition is about binding more than it is about synaesthesia. If a multi-sensory arts event was “about synaesthesia” I’d expect to see lots of colour and hear music and maybe see or feel letters of the alphabet, or see calendars suspended in space, and maybe even experience smells and flavours. I might look at a “synaesthesia art” painting and as a direct result “feel” motion or “hear” rhythms.The painting Upward by synaesthete artist Vassily Kandinskii or the painting Broadway Boogie Woogie by probable synaesthete artist Piet Mondrian are both pretty clear examples of what I mean by synaesthesia art. I have written about both artists previously in posts at this blog.

Binding is a term used in psychology, the philosophy of mind, neuroscience and cognitive science. It is certainly related to synaesthesia and is central to scientific understanding of synaesthesia as a phenomenon in neuroscience, but it isn’t the same thing. As far as I understand binding is about the perception of the many different sensory characteristics of an object or an event as a unified thing or event. A clear example would be the installation Filament Orkestra by Matthew Gingold. It grabs and holds attention and causes reflection even though the idea is no more complicated than (simple) sound and (plain white) light being presented (or not presented) both at the same points in time. I found the effect to be quite reminiscent of flamenco dancing and tap dancing, which I guess shows how the sensory binding of sight and sound is an engaging effect that is used in a diverse range of art forms, high arts and popular arts, modern and traditional, even including firework displays. Have you ever had the experience of viewing from an elevated location a fireworks display that is happening a distance away, and the wind is blowing in such a direction that the sound waves never reach where you are standing, so that the sight has no soundtrack? It’s the strangest thing to see (and not hear).

According to some online festival programs, tomorrow (Saturday August 16th 2014), as a part of the Perth Science Festival which is a part of National Science Week there will be a free event in the Central Galleries at PICA titled Sounds Symbols and Science at 1.00pm, which will be “a special live concert of “Cat Hope’s End of Abe Sade in the What I See When I Look at Sound exhibition”” and this will somehow involve digital graphic notation, which is a concept that very much overlaps with many synaesthetes’ experiences of listening to music, including my own at times, so I’m happy to categorize this planned event as synaesthetic, which is more than enough to provoke my curiosity.

http://www.pica.org.au/view/Sounds%2C+Symbols+and+Science/1891/

https://www.facebook.com/events/686307634740051/

http://www.scienceweek.net.au/perth-science-festival/

http://www.scitech.org.au/events/1583-perth-science-festival

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