This astounding neuroscience rediscovery could be a central piece of the puzzle

Some bold and persistent researchers have rediscovered an unusual bundle of nerve fibres or a “major white-matter fascicle” in the human brain. Nice work! It is now called the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF). This discovery could be an important new piece in the puzzle in researching and exploring ideas that I’m looking at in this blog, such as the relationship between the many different varieties of synaesthesia and face recognition or face memory and also reading ability. I think this discovery could be highly relevant because the rediscovered structure is a pathway of white matter that connects the occipital lobe at the rear of the brain, where visual processing happens, to other areas of the brain, and there is speculation that information carried by this pathway could play a role in face recognition and reading. I have proposed that synaesthesia might be linked to superiority in face recognition (super-recognition) and superiority in reading, citing myself and close kin as examples. I have also described and written about types of synaesthesia that involve faces or other complex memories of images as the concurrent or the inducer or both. Researchers have found that grapheme-colour synaesthesia is characterized by greater coherence in the white matter network in the brain, and that would presumably include the rediscovered VOF. I have identified the rear of the brain, the right hemisphere of the brain and the fusiform gyrus as the parts of my brain that are most likely be the locations of the events that give rise to my super-recognition and synaesthesia and related interesting goings-on, so this white matter highway at the back of the brain  is very likely involved in these processes.

I’m amazed by the story of how this brain pathway came to be forgotten or discredited by science. Apparently because it was unusual in it’s orientation its very existence conflicted with established thinking at the time, so it became non-existent in the eyes of science. I’m sure that many scientists and neuroscience enthusiasts will be surprised that dogmatic thinking in science can create an important “blind spot” in scientific knowledge, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve seen too much misbehaviour, bias and simple ignorance in neuroscience to believe that the fairy-tale accounts of science as an automatically self-correcting enterprise apply to this corner of the world of science.

http://www.iflscience.com/brain/brain-pathway-rediscovered-after-100-years

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/11/13/1418503111

http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/11/17/major-brain-pathway-rediscovered-after-century-old-confusion-controversy/

Is there a relationship between prosopagnosia and Capgras syndrome?

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429944.700-imposter-disorder-explains-how-mans-wife-was-stolen.html#.VGQ5rfmUd8E

Finding confirmation of my beliefs and ideas, as you do

A closely related family member of mine recently scored a perfect mark on an adult literacy test geared to normal adults (which was true to form) , and another closely related family member in mid-childhood recently explained that they perceive motor vehicles as having faces and they categorize cars, utes and 4WDs into genders, square old 4WDs being male. I can see how that makes sense, but all the same I’ve never been that much of a car personifier. Ever since I was a child I’ve personified numbers and alphabet letters in great detail, along with perceiving them as essentially associated with very specific colours, and the shapes and motions of cars often make me think of hunting animals in some deeply instinctive way, but unlike my young relative and the many Australians who decorate their own motor vehicles with oversized curly eyelashes or giant imitation testes, I don’t see motor vehicles as male or female.

On the surface most people seem pretty-much normal and average, but if you make the most superficial investigation by testing or speaking with people about their thoughts and perceptions, you might find that there is an interesting and sometimes significant range of differences in the way our minds work. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia, personifying synaesthesia and elite and precocious levels of ability in reading, spelling and general literacy are just some of the interesting things that run in my family and are also experienced by me, and I am also a super-recognizer. A super-recognizer is a person who has an elite level of ability in recognizing faces or face memory, and typically can achieve perfect or near-perfect scores on tests of face memory. I believe that this co-occurrence of synaesthesia and elite abilities in face memory and literacy are no coincidence. I believe all of these things are based on hyper-connectivity or hyper-development in the rear parts of the brain including the fusiform gyrus, and also in the right hemisphere of the brain. I believe the genetic basis of this development might be linked to genes that code for particular variations in the functioning of the immune system, possibly involving the complement chemicals, microglia and synaptic pruning. I’m fascinated by the possibility that research work that has been done in the last decade linking immunology and neuropsychology can inform us about the origins of synaesthesia and also specific gifts and deficits in memory and cognition, and maybe also inform us about some types of dementia. In 2012 at this blog I explicitly identified research on the immune system, complement, microglia and synaptic pruning done by Dr Beth Stevens as a possible explanation for the origins of developmental synaesthesia, an idea that was so good that some synaesthesia researchers made it the basis of a speculative paper that was published in a peer-reviewed journal last year (they forgot to acknowledge me as the first to publish this idea). Work done on MHC1 (part of the immune system) and the brain by Carla Shatz is another area of scientific research that I find tremendously exciting, and I believe that the general area of research on the relationships between brain structure and the immune system is of such originality and importance that it should attract one or more Nobel Prizes.

Psychedelic experiences are associated with hyper-connectedness in the brain – who would have thought?

An fMRI study of people taking magic mushrooms or psilocybin has apparently found that the drug makes the brain behave in a way that is more connected than usual (temporarily? permanently?), along with the sensory fun and games that are  well-known to science and drug enthusiasts. This state is in important and interesting ways like synaesthesia, but it is not the same, and I would like to make it very clear that synaesthetes like myself are not synaesthetes because of past or current use of illegal drugs, and in contrast with users of psilocybin, our colour perception is as far as I know, superior, not impaired.The vast majority of synaesthetes are developmental synaesthetes, which means it develops in childhood and is known to be the result of genetics, possibly in combination with other influences in the child’s intellectual life.

http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/11/101/20140873.full?sid=4a467aa7-c886-4160-8546-b1f4376bc992

http://www.livescience.com/48502-magic-mushrooms-change-brain-networks.html?adbid=10152352118361761&adbpl=fb&adbpr=30478646760&cmpid=514627_20141029_34618187

The more important posts in this blog

Go nuts.

A Most Peculiar Experience (my description of The Strange Phenomenon) http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites? http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/is-synaesthesia-caused-by-low-levels-of-complement-is-bensons-syndrome-caused-by-too-much-complement-c3/

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014 http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/some-ideas-that-id-like-to-explicitly-lay-claim-to-right-now-in-2014/

Have my ideas been plagiarized in a paper published in a neuroscience journal? I believe they have. http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/when-researchers-steal-your-ideas-i-guess-at-least-thats-some-form-of-validation/

Super-recognizer jobs? (This is the most popular post at this blog) http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/super-recognizer-jobs/

Other cases of synaesthesia involving face perception – I’m certainly not the only one http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/other-cases-of-synaesthesia-involving-face-perception-im-certainly-not-the-only-one/

Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that? http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/involuntary-method-of-loci-memorization-imlm-%e2%80%93-what-the-heck-is-that/

The Opposite of Benson’s Syndrome? http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-opposite-of-bensons-syndrome/

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/report-on-my-fine-motor-task-visual-place-memory-synaesthesia/

My Brain Put to the Test http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/my-brain-put-to-the-test/

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%e2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

A type of synaesthesia which I experience in which non-food words or names automatically evoke the concepts of particular foods: is lexical-gustatory synaesthesia an evolutionary adaptation? http://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/a-type-of-synaesthesia-which-i-experience-in-which-words-or-names-automatically-evoke-the-concepts-of-particular-foods/

What happened yesterday?

I’m guessing that yesterday a news story or documentary was broadcast on TV in the UK about super-recognizers and the testing of super-recognizers?

I hope you will forgive me if I don’t look into it. These days I have little time or motivation for blogging or scientific interests. Do have a look at my list of links; there’s a goldmine of interesting and credible info there covering the range of topics covered in this blog in the past. There are also years of archived blog articles to rifle through, as you do.

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.

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