Monthly Archives: September 2012

Feature article on super-recognition in New Scientist magazine, and more interesting bits and bobs

(I’m going to finish writing this post later)

Unfortunately the interesting new article by Caroline Williams about super-recognizers is mostly behind a paywall, which we’ve got to expect. I like Ms Williams’ work. I’ve just finished reading her other recent feature article for New Scientist about Von Economo neurons, which are found in the anterior cingulate cortex and the fronto-insular cortex. I think one type of synaesthesia which I have experienced rarely and for a limited period might have involved Von Economo neurons. I refer to the time when I used to experience a pleasant flavour when being hugged by one of our kids, when they were little and sweet and cute and had a big smile. Kids grow up and they can turn quite sour in their teens. That’s life I guess. It looks like Williams’ interest in face recognition goes back a long way, as an article by her that appears to be about prosopagnosia from 2006 can be found in the archives of New Scientist.

Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that today’s TV news has included a national and a state news story about riot investigations in which Australian police and security forces are using face recognition, perhaps super-recognizers, to try to identify participants or offenders. The riots were in some ways very different – one Sydney riot that broke out over the controversial Muslim-baiting movie, and the other riot was in some outer suburb of Perth with another teenage party that got out of control with the help of Facebook. No doubt both riots included many young and alienated people. In the report at the ABC’s 7.30 program linked to below at around 3.30 into the clip there’s a bit that seems to be hinting about police super-recognizers. On the Perth Seven News story there is a warning that the police will be painstakingly reviewing hours of footage or the riots to try to identify people. They’ll need to have a super-recognizer handy.

Williams, Caroline Face savers. New Scientist. 15 September 2012 no.2882 pages 36-39.   online title: ‘Super-recognisers’ have amazing memory for faces.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528821.500-superrecognisers-have-amazing-memory-for-faces.html

Coghlan, Andy Police could create image of suspect’s face from DNA. New Scientist. 14 September 2012.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22271-police-could-create-image-of-suspects-face-from-dna.html

Williams, Caroline Are these the brain cells that give us consciousness? New Scientist. 23 July 2012. no. 2874. p.33-35. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528741.600-are-these-the-brain-cells-that-give-us-consciousness.html

Williams, Caroline Living in a world without faces. New Scientist. 24 November 2006. no. 2579.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19225791.600-living-in-a-world-without-faces.html

Cooper, Hayden Text messages and terror connections inflame Muslim protests. 7.30. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Broadcast: 17/09/2012.  http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3592083.htm

Party riot fears. Seven News. 18 September 2012. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/video/watch/d5538a22-a563-3239-9429-e330f7c58aab/party-riot-fears/

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A very lippy gash, things with personalities, animals who are people and a man who is a lion….very strange

How many personified inanimate objects can you count in the TV show linked to below; Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy? There’s the screwed-up chocolate stick soldier/teacher, the French signer made of croissants, the verbally abusive wound in the arm of Sgt Raymond Boombox (my personal favourite), the misunderstood mountains who go tisk tisk, the thing with a conch shell for a head, etc. And how many animals can you count that behave like people? There’s a  ruthless and deadly WWI flying ace dolphin, Dondylion, his disturbing animal companion, a spoon snake, and no doubt many more. There even seems to be an example of a real person being seen as having the characteristics of an animal; “David Lee Roth, King of the Lions”. I can see that – Roth (lead singer of Van Halen) did once have a mane and had a King of the Jungle sort of attitude, with great physical confidence. He was on the prowl. He was covered in fur.

What is psychedelia? What is psychedelic television? If it is a creative collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, presented in a surreal, striking and colourful visual style, then Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy must be the only example of the genre that I’m aware of. That’s interesting – synaesthesia is also a collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, and it is often very colourful, surreal and striking, and most types of synaesthesia seem to involve the sense of vision. There’s a belief that synaesthesia and creativity are linked. Psychedelic television and synaesthesia appear to have a collection of characteristics in common. What are we to make of this? The hyper-awareness of colour manifested in this television series is equal to the hyper-awareness of colour that I found in the autobiography of the synaesthete author Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory. Colour doesn’t mean this much to non-synaesthetes, not quite.

I’m reminded of the most psychedelic neuroscience journal paper that I’ve read this year – the one comparing auras in mysticism and synaesthesia, by Spanish researchers, which was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. These researchers described a number of most interesting synaesthetes who had some interesting types of synaesthesia, including one person who experiences people-animal synaesthesia, in which a person might be seen by the synaesthete as having “the face of a bird of lion”. What’s the betting that this synaesthete would see in an instant David Lee Roth’s lion-like characteristics? I don’t know how anyone could miss it really. Does one need to be a synaesthete to see how much some people resemble animals? Noses can be beaks, people can be pigs and some of us do look horsey, or bug-eyed.

After very much enjoying the whole first series of Noel Fielding’s extraordinary TV series, (and keenly anticipating the next one), I can’t help feeling that personification and personality-related synaesthesia in general must have been one of the main ingredients that went into the creation of this strange psychedelic treat. The personification of inanimate objects and other forms of fusion or confusion of supposedly different states of being are themes that pop up constantly in this TV series. So many aspects of the series remind me of synaesthesia, in its various forms. Is it the creation of a synaesthete mind? What goes on inside Noel Fielding’s brain? Many people have wondered.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy http://youtu.be/u-HaEEv2p_o

E.G. Milán, O. Iborra, M. Hochel, M.A. Rodríguez Artacho, L.C. Delgado-Pastor, E. Salazar, A. González-Hernández Auras in mysticism and synaesthesia: A comparison. Consciousness and Cognition.  Volume 21 Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 258–268. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810011002868  (This paper is clearly a translation and difficult reading in parts)

Van Halen Panama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-NshzYK9y0

Prosopagnosia to be featured on popular Australian current affairs show?

It looks like there will be a story on face-blindness on The Project on Channel Ten next week.
http://theprojecttv.com.au/home.htm