I’ve just been having a quick look at the abstract of a journal paper about agnosia for scenes, which is apparently an inability to recognize and learn scenes lacking salient landmarks. It seems to be related to prosopagnosia, which is an inability to recognize faces. The link between these disabilities is easily understood when one thinks with one’s mind’s eye. A face is like a landscape. Have you ever heard of the term “pretty as a picture”? One could take that literally. Some noses are hills, and others are more like mountains. Some people have noses like a great dividing range, a great long thing continuous with the brow.
If there really is a close relationship between prosopagnosia and agnosia for scenes, then it seems clear that agnosia for scenes is not much to do with landmarks. It is surely about the whole picture, the entire landscape, a thing that wraps around one, a reality that one can almost feel through one’s back and upper arms. I’m sure there is something unusual about the way I percieve faces and the way I experience scenes. I believe I enjoy “encoding” both types of things more than most people. When I am a tourist it is all about discovering new vistas, experiencing and remembering new places. I am the ultimate rubberneck, and I don’t much care if it looks a bit odd or a bit unsophisticated. When I visit a home that I have never seen before, I can’t help looking around a lot, even though I have little interest in interior decoration. If your home has the same floorplan as another home that I’ve been inside, it won’t take long for me to detect that.
My memory for places does have limits. In case you are wondering if I am a savant who can draw incredibly detailed scenes from memory, like Stephen Wiltshire and other autistic savants, you will be disappionted. I think I was pretty good at art when I was a high school student. My art teacher seemed to take a special interest in my work, even though I was never the star of the class. I tried to draw what I actually saw, which other students didn’t seem to be doing much, and I tried to be a bit original, but I wasn’t a human camera, and art has never been a major interest of mine.
Mendez, MF, Cherrier, MM Agnosia for scenes in topographagnosia. Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(10):1387-95. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12757910