Monthly Archives: November 2013

More thoughts on Somerton Man

I’ve written about this mysterious Australian crime case before at this blog, and I’ve just started watching an online video of Sunday’s 60 Minutes story about this case, and I’ve got some observations about the appearance of the body shown in photos in the 60 Minutes (Australia) story.

He did have odd-looking ears and I don’t doubt the idea that this trait would be genetic and could be traced in a descendant, as I’ve read somewhere. The ears could certainly be useful for identification of the body.

I don’t know if he was a spy for the Ruskies back in the Cold War era, but I doubt that he was of Russian stock. I feel that he had a very Australian-looking face. I feel that it is the face typical of a race of people founded mostly by British convicts. He’s got that street-smart look, that Aussie look, that normal look. I don’t feel that he looks like a foreigner.

Lastly, I wouldn’t speculate one way or another whether the potential grand-daughter of Somerton Man is actually his descendant, based on their ears and faces, except that I think it is possible.

Did grandpa have prosopagnosia or any of the other things that can impair face memory?

Grandpa Picks Up Wrong Girl From School, No One Notices. Huffpost Live. Originally aired on October 8, 2013. Hosted by Alyona Minkovski.

The judgmental tone of this reporter could in fact be a very unfair framing of this story. The experience of picking up or nearly picking up the wrong child from school or childcare has been reported many times by prosopagnosics, and it is very unfair to judge people who have a genuine disability in face memory/face recognition. See below for just a few of the many anecdotes that can be found that recount this type of experience linked to prosopagnosia:

Do you suffer from face blindness? Seven signs and symptoms of prosopagnosia. Human Uniqueness. Posted on May 8, 2012 by Laura–Two-women-condition-explain-common-think.html

Just added an important link to a cognitive test website

I’ve just added a new link to an important online resource to my large and well-considered collection of links at this blog. This online website is TestMyBrain from the Vision Lab at Harvard University. It is a place where researchers offer a group or battery of cognitive tests to the online public free of charge. It is my understanding that your test scores are collected and stored and are available to you to look at, in a “Brain Profile”, but remember to take a screen-shot of your results immediately because this data isn’t stored there permanently. Researchers haven’t just created this website out of the goodness of their hearts, it is my understanding that they use it to collect data for their studies. At the moment there is one face recognition or face memory test included in the collection of tests at TestMyBrain, which could be of value to anyone who suspects that they have a special gift or an impairment in face recognition or face memory. There’s also another tests that looks like it tests face matching ability, which is not quite the same thing as face memory. I haven’t done that test (yet). I consider that the best face memory test available today is the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which comes in a short and also a long version. In the past this test was available to the public through this website, but it isn’t there at the moment. Researchers appear to be reserving this test for use only in their private research studies, which I think is wrong, because people shouldn’t have to find a study to participate in in order to find out whether they have prosopagnosia or are a super-recognizer. Please note that the CFMT is an actual test. It is not just a questionnaire which asks subject whether or not they think they have good or bad face recognition or asks them about their experiences. The only way to find out a person’s real level of ability is to test it, so you need to do a test, and it needs to be a properly designed test. The only people who are likely to design such a test are researchers from a psychology department of some university. A person’s beliefs and impressions can be wildly wrong or uninformed, so questionnaires are pretty much a waste of everyone’s time. Test My Brain is the most reliable place on the internet that I know of for accessing face memory testing free of charge and with your own score freely available to you, so this is an important resource.

The “Bloody Mary Illusion” from New Scientist    Have you tried it? What did you “see”?

The Bloody Mary Illusion seems to be in some ways similar to another face perception illusion that was evoked by a video which I wrote about at this blog quite a while ago. Here’s links to some versions of the Ugly Face Illusion or the Flashed Face Distortion Effect from New Scientist:  and here’s another YouTube video not from another source:

I wonder, do some people experience face perception distortion illusions more readily or quickly than others? Could this possibly explain why some people, including some of the people on the autistic spectrum, appear to avoid eye contact? I also wonder whether there is any relationship between face memory or face recognition ability, or facial expression reading ability and a person’s potential to experience face perception illusions. There you go academics! There’s some more ideas of mine to steal. Don’t thank me! (I’m sure the thought wouldn’t enter your heads anyway).

I’m not sure how these facial perception illusions work, but I suspect that they work on a similar principle to an auditory illusion that I’ve read about and heard, in which muted, ambiguous or perceptually confusing stimuli provoke the brain into interpreting the sounds as words. This sound illusion was apparently discovered by Diana Deutsch, a professor of psychology who studies interesting stuff like the psychology f music and perfect pitch ability. Her Phantom Words illusion can be found here:

Just for fun, here’s a link to Jamie Frater’s Top 10 Incredible Sound Illusions: