I wish, I wish…

I’d love to be reading and writing about fascinating and largely unexplored topics in neuroscience and psychology such as superagers, super-visualisers and aphantasia, but Christmas and all the associated this and that, and the everyday business of parenting in the summer holidays and housekeeping takes up my time.

Interesting to read that aphantasia was apparently first identified by Sir Francis Galton in 1880, even though it has only recently been given the name aphantasia and come to the attention of contemporary researchers. Galton was also one of the earliest researchers to describe various varieties of synaesthesia, before they were all named as such. Galton was one hell of a scientist, back in the days when a man of means could spend his days exploring vast unknown territories of psychology. Is research so different these days? Science is now a bit more open to women researchers, and there’s still much to explore.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541673/

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2112820-superagers-with-amazing-memories-have-alzheimers-brain-plaques/

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2104221-superagers-with-amazing-memories-have-shrink-resistant-brains/new

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054

Zeman, A., Dewar, M., & Della Sala, S. Lives without imagery–Congenital aphantasia. Cortex, 3.
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Adam_Zeman/publication/279234629_Lives_without_imagery_-_Congenital_aphantasia/links/573612f208ae9f741b29cd33.pdf

 

Interesting questions and serious concerns

Revell, Timothy Concerns as face recognition tech used to ‘identify’ criminals. New Scientist. December 1st 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2114900-concerns-as-face-recognition-tech-used-to-identify-criminals/

Garvie, Clare, Bedoya, Alvaro and Frankle, Jonathan The perpetual line-up: unregulated police face recognition in America. Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. OCTOBER 18th 2016.

https://www.perpetuallineup.org/

Is there really a criminal face? I don’t think the research discussed in the New Scientist article settles the debate by any means, but at least the controversial idea is opened up for investigation. If there is one my guess is that it is a look that coincides with the Australian face (every race and nation has a distinctive averaged facial type, apparently). European colonisation of Australia began as a penal colony and thus a good part of the white genetics of Australians arrived in this country through people identified as criminals. My best guess is that the crim face has a large straight nose, thin lips and puffy, small eyes. I’d guess this unattractive face could in itself be a social and economic disadvantage, or could be symptomatic of a phenotype that includes some degree of intellectual impairment. I think if there is a crim face it might have little to do with personality but a lot to do with disadvantage, but this is all speculation.

I think it is worth noting that claims made in the print version of this article about supposed advantages of AI over humans in face recognition skills such as identifying age, gender, ethnicity and tiredness by looking at faces presumably only apply to humans of average face recognition ability who maybe are not as exhaustively trained in these skills as the AI systems have been. One cannot compare human ability with AI in face recognition until appropriately trained super-recognizers (representing the top end of human ability) have been pitted against machines. I’m guessing this hasn’t been done.

Perhaps the most important part of this article is right at the end; “…the majority of US police departments using face recognition do little to ensure that the software is accurate.” That certainly is not good enough. Human super-recognizers have abilities that have been proven in scientific testing and also in practice in policing in the UK. Why do so many people persist in the assumption that machines must be better than humans in visual processing, in the face of an abundance of evidence? The link in the New Scientist article to the website of the researchers who have criticized the use of face recognition technology in law enforcement in the United States of America is worth a look for sure.

Faces get all the attention but we are misled by them?

Eagerly anticipating this counter-intuitive book:

Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions
Alexander Todorov
Hardcover | May 2017

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10923.html

 

Surprising explanation for why face recognition matures unusually late in human development!

I didn’t expect to be reading this but I can recognize that this discovery seems to explain why face recognition is human cognitive ability that hits its peak surprisingly late in human development, and I’m now wondering how this fits into my theories about the relationship between my super-recognition and my synaesthesia, and that includes wondering how this discovery fits with my immune hypothesis of synaesthesia (which is all about pruning rather than proliferation), and of course I’m wondering how this fits in with what is known about super-recognizers. I guess I should just calm down and read the full text.

Coghlan, Andy Brain’s face recognition area grows much bigger as we get older. New Scientist. January 5th 2017.
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2117259-brains-face-recognition-area-grows-much-bigger-as-we-get-older/

Jesse Gomez, Michael A. Barnett, Vaidehi Natu, Aviv Mezer, Nicola Palomero-Gallagher, Kevin S. Weiner, Katrin Amunts, Karl Zilles, Kalanit Grill-Spector Microstructural proliferation in human cortex is coupled with the development of face processing. Science. January 6th 2017.

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6320/68

 

Wouldn’t say it’s a positive or a negative experience

The experience of being a super-recognizer is often interesting. I wouldn’t say it is necessarily a positive experience or a negative experience. Like most human abilities it adds a layer of complexity to my life. There are occasionally some strange moments, like the time when I was chatting about our favourite hobby with a kind and humble foreign lady who I’d never met before and probably wont ever meet again, who had almost but not quite the same dentition as my late mother, who has been gone for something like four decades. And just the other day I was striding out of Kmart with an armful of unnecessary items and in the corner of my eye spotted a doppelganger of my late father. When I turned my head for a second glance the old buzzard wriggled uncomfortably in just the same way that Dad used to. We are all nothing more than twigs of the great tree of humanity. Please be kind and please be good in 2017.

Chinese technology company using facial recognition technology

I think it is worth noting that this article and a similar one in a November issue of New Scientist have announced the commencement of use of this technology, rather than reviewing the performance of it or reporting the proven effectiveness of it. I’m skeptical.

Vincent , James Baidu swaps tickets for facial recognition in historic Chinese ‘water town’. Verge. November 17th 2016.
http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/17/13663084/baidu-facial-recognition-park-wuzhen

 

True that skulls can be used to create recognizable faces

Wardrop, Ian and Neave, Richard I know that face. New Scientist. No 3101 November 26th 2016.
https://www.newscientist.com/topic/lastword/i-know-that-face/

 

Sound married to vision is the completely normal and sometimes entertaining way of perceiving the world

I’ve got to laugh on the odd time that I read a description of synaesthesia that makes it sound like some kind of mental disorder or abnormality of sensory perception. Sure enough, synaesthesia concurrents are perceptions of sensory experiences that are not triggered by things happening outside of the mind. They are experiences (not always sensory) triggered by activity happening within the mind (just like the meanderings of your normal constant train of thought). A synaesthete can experience sound as a synaesthesia concurrent triggered by a visual experience (the synaesthesia inducer), and might also experience a visual concurrent triggered by a sound inducer. Coloured music and visual animations that make sound are commonly-reported experiences in people who are, to borrow a phrase from Galton, “sane persons”. It might sound psychedelic to a non-synaesthete, but it is not far at all from normal perception, because life is full of events in which movement or some other visual stimuli is accompanied by a sound sensory stimuli: clapping hands, wind that rustles leaves, lips that speak, impacts that bang, or an explosion that is huge visually, sonically and physically. This pairing of sound and sight is so much a part of normal perception (in humans and other creatures) that it is commonly exploited in live entertainment.

I’ve had the opportunity to work in the past in the live entertainment industry and I also recently enjoyed the rehearsals of the Arcadia musical and special effects spectacular show currently at Elizabeth Quay in Perth. I know that there is a most startling loud roaring sound through the stage speakers that is typically created to coincide with a visual effect of an explosion of flames. It’s like some bloke presses a button somewhere and all hell breaks loose for a second or two. Arcadia uses this flame-roar sound to add sonic spectacle to the flame-thrower, and in the past while working I’ve also heard that sound used in complete isolation from music in a sound check of another spectacular stage show. At the risk of ruining the magic, I’m revealing that the sound that goes with the flames is an artistic artifice. I guess that any real sound that the flame effect makes has been judged to be not sufficiently loud and spectacular enough, and a suitably awesome sound (a recording of what I can only guess) was created to go along with the visual effect of flames from hell. I think this shows just how important crossmodal experiences are to live entertainment shows that are based on spectacular sensory experiences. The sound must equal the visual spectacle.

There are also many other ways in which sound and sight are linked in stage shows and special effects in entertainment. Musicolour lighting effects have been around since my Dad created disco equipment in our lounge using it back in the 1970s, and similar but much more developed lighting effects can be seen in the body of the Arcadia spider. Technology is not always required to artificially marry lighting and sound, as the amazing red and blue man electricity show features electrical discharges that look like tamed lightning that naturally give off a crackling sound along with the white light. But then again, I’m now wondering whether that sound is for real. Anyway, it’s wonderful, mad, sensory fun. I love it!

Postscript January 2017

I think the phenomenon of “quiet fireworks” adds more support to my point that spectacular public entertainment special effects often include the deliberate timing of sound and visual effects to happen at the same time to create a form of artistic synaesthesia, because while fireworks typically have bangs and flashes at the same time, the bang part of the spectacle is not essential or inseparable.

Arcadia Spider

Red man and blue man

Flaming Spider

This bloke is the real thing

I’m amazed by two aspects of this interesting news story about an international competition run by the highly original author Douglas Coupland to find the world’s closest lookalike to the late great epileptic painter Vincent van Gogh. I’m amazed at how closely the British actor Daniel Baker in the photo shown visually resembles van Gogh in his face but also in so many other distinctive visible features. I can’t help wondering how closely the British man is like the legendary artist in his personality, talents and behaviour, if at all, and I’m also left wondering how far back the two might be related (all humans are related if you go back far enough), but all that is of course none of my business. This super-recognizer gives her seal of approval to the idea that Baker looks a heck of a lot like van Gogh. I am truly impressed, because I usually find celebrity lookalikes and lookalike competitions to be laughable due to the glaring differences between the faces of the “lookalike” and the real celebrity.

The other thing that I’m amazed about is the fact that all those other pictured men thought themselves as possible winners of the competition, when so many don’t really have faces or heads that look much like self-portraits of the artist (which we can assume were good likenesses). Being a van Gogh double requires more than having short ginger hair and beard and being a white man of similar age, with an intense look on your face. The face is the thing, and the shape of the head, the shape of the hairline and also the shape of the natural beardline, even the shape of the outline and the inner lines and the size of your ears (which may number one or two). I think it is interesting that it appears that the winner of the competition was not self-selected. It shows how little judgement some people apparently have into how visually close in resemblance one person is to another, which I guess is the result in a spectrum of person visual recognition ability.

I’m going to be really annoyed if in his acting career Baker never gets the chance to play van Gogh. It would be such a waste!

Van Gogh lookalike competition won by Dorset man. BBC News. November 25th 2016.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-dorset-38101522

 

Ramachandran notes the connection between synaesthesia and embodied cognition

Just what I’ve been writing about for yonks now.

Thomson, Helen Synaesthetes who ‘see’ calendar hint how our brains handle time. New Scientist. November 16th 2016.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2113063-synaesthetes-who-see-calendar-hint-how-our-brains-handle-time/