Monthly Archives: February 2013

An app that doesn’t apply itself to the task?

“I want my money back please. This app did not recognize any faces in any of the over 200 pics I tried. A blind person could find the faces easier than your app.”

This is a customer review of one of those app things which is supposed to do face recognition I gather. Fail.

I’d like to point out that the author of that review is not me.

Perception Deception exhibition at Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre finishes March 3rd

I’ve been hoping to find the time to write a review of the Perception Deception exhibition currently open at the City of Wanneroo’s flash new cultural centre, which also houses their library and museum and a restaurant that looks popular. Sadly, I’ve not found the time to write about this interesting exhibition, with a modest entry fee. One thing that I’d point out is that it probably isn’t suited to younger children, because it is above their level intellectually. I would recommend it for interested grown-ups, high school students with an interest in psychology and nerdy senior-years primary school kids. When I went along I recognized the exhibition attendant from many years ago, but that person didn’t recognize me. That’s how it goes, being a super-recognizer.


So does that mean everyone is really a synaesthete (but most don’t know it)?

Lawrence D. Rosenblum has written a book and also a recently-published article in Scientific American about a new model of how the brain works, with the senses working together intimately, not running in isolated ways in isolated sections of the brain.

Rosenblum’s book See What I’m Saying was reviewed by the synaesthesia researcher Richard Cytowic in New Scientist:

See What I’m Saying demonstrates that the five senses do not travel along separate channels, but interact to a degree few scientists would have believed only a decade ago. After reading Rosenblum’s captivating book, you will be surprised at how much your senses are capable of.

Cytowic wrote that this is not a book about synaesthesia. He’s right. There are important and testable differences between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but it is my opinion that Rosenblum’s ideas possibly have implications for synaesthetes. I believe it is time to discard the misleading and silly notion that synaesthetes have “mixed up” or “cross-wired” senses, because every person’s senses work together. The McGurk effect is just one striking example. I believe we should instead be describing synaesthesia as a variation charcterized by hyperconnectivity in the brain, not abnormal connectivity or mistaken connectivity. We are a sizable minority in the human race, so it doesn’t make sense to write us off as freaks or abnormalities.

Extraordinary secrets of our linked-up senses
26 April 2010

Ashton Foley’s mugshots – a minor mystery

A collection of old mugshots of Ashton Foley from her misadventures in the USA were published in Saturday’s West. I’m still left wondering why in one of them her skin looks markedly darker and the overall effect in that shot was of an African-American look, while I didn’t get that impression from the other photos, neither from a fairly recent Australian interview video of Foley that can be seen on the internet. One clue is that the brown-skinned mugshot was taken not long after she had given birth to twins. I considered whether melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy” might have been the cause of her darker skin, but from what I’ve read about it. it manifests as brown blotches, not an overall darker complexion. Perhaps she just got a tan. What I find interesting is how a slight change of skin tone changed the way I would describe her race. I think this shows how much of a red herring eyewitness categorizations of race can be, if they can be altered by small changes in the skin tone of individuals.

Synaesthesia, right?

Dizzee Rascal is cheerfully addicted to “big, dirty stinkin’ bass”. So, would that be a bad smell? I’m sure it wouldn’t be a floral smell, or a light-coloured one either.


Catherine de Lange wrote last year in New Scientist that red is sweet, crisps are crisper when they make a lot of sound and cheese tastes sharper after one is visually “primed” with pointy shapes. So, does that mean that everyone is a synaesthete?

That sounds like a good idea

This is a quote about Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville of London’s Metropolitan Police, from the article about super-recognizers by Caroline Williams published in New Scientist magazine last year:

“He also wants there to be a formal qualification that super-recognisers can be awarded so that their evidence is taken more seriously in court…”

An internationally-recognized formal certification of super-recognizers based on testing with the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) and any other relevant and scientifically validated test of face memory would not only be useful for policing and law enforcement, it would also be useful for non-police super-recognizers who would like to have their special ability recognized in the workplace or in any area of life. I don’t see why this should be such an impossible thing to organize. Unfortunately, it appears that the goal of having this useful skill tested has become less, not more available, as it appears that the CFMT is no longer freely available for people to attempt as subjects in academic research. Potential super-recognizers or suspected prosopagnosics shouldn’t have to volunteer as subjects in research studies to be able to access face memory testing and their own test results. One could question how representative such populations of study subjects are of the general population. People who suspect that their face memory ability is beyond the norm also shouldn’t have to shop around to try to find some expensive private psychologist who has ever heard of face recognition testing and is able to grant access to relevant tests. It’s time that psychology researchers realized that their relationship with research subjects and the general public isn’t just a one-way street. Anyone should be able to access a piece of paper certifying their level of face memory ability, without cost or hassle. It’s not a big thing to ask.

Yes, the photos were of the same woman

She doesn’t have a doctorate in business, but I recommend she be awarded an honorary doctorate in bulls@#$ology. I also recommend that the pen-pushing bozos who hired her as a CEO without first checking her credentials be awarded the sack.

Faces of the same woman?

There’s a compelling bit of forensic face recognition on the front page of today’s West. Unfortunately the photos of the faces of whistleblower Ashton Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be is not shown in the online version of the news story. Do you think they are photos of the same person? I can only pick a few differences, none of which definitely rules out a match. I think the photo on the left is of a younger, slimmer, more miserable or tired woman, perhaps with darker skin. I get a feeling of African-American racial identity from the face on the left but not the one on the right. Why is unclear, and it could be based on stereotyping. The photo on the left is, I presume, a mugshot, the one on the right apparently not. Perhaps the cues that a photo is a mugshot make me unconsciously associate it with African-Americans. Psychology research finds that most people operate on racist stereotypes even if we aren’t consciously racist.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that the one on the left has eyes that seem darker. This difference in the eyes could possibly be a result of lighting, because the eye is a three-dimensional thing, and when we look at an eye we literally look into an eye, at the pupil and the iris, which are inside the structure of the eye. I’ve been perplexed when viewing video of people who have light-coloured eyes and there are moments when one or both eyes seem to darken or pupils seem to enlarge greatly, giving a scary effect, but what’s really happening is that the angle of the light changes and the eye is becoming insufficiently lit to display their light-coloured irises.

The hair, hairline, ear profile, shoulder slope and most aspects of the faces seem to match. I would very much like to see profile shots of Ms Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be, to see if the ear shape matches. Ear shape is apparently as unique and identifiable as the face. Ear shape was an important factor in trying to solve the fascinating Taman Shud case in Adelaide.

As Ms Foley suggests, fingerprints need to be checked, even though the forensic science of fingerprints has been seriously bought into question. As a super-recognizer I don’t have a strong intuition or feeling of recognition about the question of identity. I can’t rule out a match, but that doesn’t prove a match.

Unusual experiences that perhaps do not have proper names

Wakewisdom – If you wake up “feeling” a particular opinion about some question or matter in your life, do consider it very seriously, because it is a message from your unconscious mind which is more coldly objective than one’s daytime mind, which has a dangerous bias towards optimism and self-delusion. The one single thought sitting inside your head when you wake up is well worth noting, should you wake with one.

Midmorningkeynote – Whatever one is thinking, feeling, experiencing, doing or listening to at 10 o’clock in the morning sets the tone for the whole day, and might reverberate through one’s thoughts at later times of the day. Music enjoyed at this time of day could develop into an earworm.

Drowsyloudness – Do sounds suddenly sound louder and somehow closer or interior when you feel tired, drowsy or are half-asleep? Does a sense of the timing of sounds disappear, making sounds seem somehow isolated or freed in time? Does it feel as though some barrier between you and sounds around you fails when you are sleepy? No? That’s a pity, because it can be quite a trippy thing if you choose to listen to an epic piece of music while half asleep, and there’s no need to dabble in dangerous and expensive drugs. Might I suggest listening to “A Canyon” by Philip Glass when you are half-way to the land of nod? Thank me later.

Necksqueak – Being able to hear the sounds of the internal workings of one’s body, like the squeak of tendons rubbing when I move my neck, or the sound of blood pulsing through small blood vessels inside ears, is a bad thing for me, because for me it means a bad headache is on the way.

Sightbliss – I suspect that this one is also associated with headaches. It doesn’t happen often. Hard to describe and subtle. Yesterday I experienced a brief moment of it (and it is typically an effect that lasts only moments) while we were walking back from the beach just after sunset. I had a bit of a headache at the time, but not severe. The trigger seems to be an abrupt decrease in outdoor light levels, as typically happens after sunset, and could possibly be triggered by the addition of cloud-cover. I can’t point to any way in which the eyesight clearly alters, it is more like an awareness of seeing or an openness to visual stimuli abruptly increases. Sometimes it feels like the eyes are suddenly flooded with vision, and in hindsight it seems as though eyesight was previously inferior by comparison. My theory is that it is an unknown adaptation to night-time vision, or a point of abrupt transition between a more neurologically-guarded mode for daytime vision, to a less defensive and more sensitive mode of nocturnal visual processing. I don’t think it is as simple as an opening of the pupils, because the openness of the pupils changes all the time, but this experience is quite rare.

Earwormmessages – Next time you have a piece of music that won’t stop going round and round in your mind, consider the lyrics or the title of the piece of music. Is it a wise reflection on things that are currently happening in your life, or is it just a very catchy tune, or both? I’d like to make it clear that this is not “hearing voices”. It is the involuntary experience of having a tune in one’s head which just happens to have lyrics that seem to be a commentary on the current events in one’s life.