Monthly Archives: December 2013

They are developing tests for recruiting super-recognizers into the police in the UK, but don’t ask me what’s happening here

Phillips, Mark London police using crime-fighting “super recognizers” official. CBS News, Dailymotion. Publications date November 12th 2013.

This is an American report from CBS News published in November 2013 on the use of super-recognizers in London policing. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville explains how inadequate computer facial recognition was found to be compared with results from police supers. PC Gary Collins and researcher Dr Josh Davis are also interviewed, and super-recognizer police doing identification work are shown. It is revealed that tests are being developed for recruiting super-recognizers into a police force in London. My guess is that this would mean recruiting supers into the police force because they are supers, in addition to their existing policy of finding and utilizing the many supers that they already have serving in this large police force.

Barone, Tayissa Council’s eyes guide long arm of the law. West Australian. September 7th-8th 3013, p.20-21 news.

“The Met” continue to be leaders in the use of human facial super-recognition in policing, but what is happening here in Western Australia with regard to human face recognition and CCTV and policing? As far as I can tell, not a lot. As far as I know there is no testing of any kind of face recognition or face memory ability in police recruitment, and I’ve not read anything about use of supers in any Australian police force. In September 2013 the Weekend West had an article in it about operators at the City of Perth’s surveillance centre working with and beside members of the WA Police to keep things under control in the city streets. The journalist wrote about the tens of millions of dollars that the City of Perth has spent on their CCTV camera network, the “unique” skill set of the surveillance centre operators, their intuitive understanding of body language, their eye for detail, multitasking ability, the keen competition for their jobs and some rigorous battery of testing in which only one out of 160 applicants met the required standard, but not a single mention of face recognition or visual memory.

Western Australia Police Service reduces crime through intelligence-led policing with ABM. ABM United Kingdom Limited. 2012.

A webpage of a software company ABM boasts that it provides the WA Police with facial recognition technology for use on photos and other static images of offenders, which will probably impress the “boys who love toys” technophile set, but it fails to impress me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there appears to be good evidence that the most able humans can vastly out-perform contemporary facial recognition technology, and secondly, the identification of people from still images of faces or entire bodies is inherently limited. It does not use the wealth of information that one can glean from looking at a moving image. Faces are unique and so are the ways that people move. A moving image is essentially richer and more complete and more natural than looking at a single still image. Study of interviews of super-recognizers yields many clues that supers recognize people, not images and not just faces. Supers can identify people from photos, but it seems likely that the memorization process works best if it is based on watching people, not looking at photos. I am not aware of any face recognition technology that works off moving images, but that might just be a mark of my ignorance. I remain skeptical.

The idea that technology must beat humans in face recognition is a popular one, I think based on some major misconceptions about human psychology and artificial intelligence. I think a lot of people assume that if tasks like visual identification or walking or recognizing voices are effortless for humans then they must be even more easy for a computer system to perform. This shows an ignorance of the millions of years of biological evolution that gave humans and even the most humble animals sensory perception, and the sensory and movement systems of muscles and nerves that give rise to the power of voluntary movement. These processes involve brains as much as they involve sensory organs and muscles. The fact that we are able to do these things without thinking much about them is no indication at all that they are simple. It is just an indication that some of the really clever tasks in cognition are too complex and important to be exposed to the interference of conscious thinking. Attempting to recapitulate the kind of design complexity that is found in biological sensory perception and biological movement with technology and computers would surely keep a designer occupied for a very long time. Good luck with that.

Here goes…..

I’m going to make a valiant attempt to clear out my drafts file before the end of the year.

Are these forms of synesthesia?

Synesthesia, at and near its borders. Lawrence Marks and Catherine Mulvenna Frontiers in Psychology. 2013; 4: 651. Published online 2013 September 26. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00651

I would say a definite “yes”  that SENSORY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORY or the PROUST PHENOMENON described in this paper is related to synaesthesia, in fact I would say it is a type of synaesthesia. Just look at how it works; there is a trigger and a triggered experience like in synaesthesia, both are highly specific and can be highly idiosyncratic, there is a set connection between the both, the phenomenon is involuntary and automatic, and the Proust phenomenon is considered to be a type of memory and many of my observations at this blog have demonstrated that synaesthesia can involve memory, is an element of the “method of loci” memory technique and I would argue operates like memory. Yes, Yes, Yes, the Proust Phenomenon is a close relative of synaesthesia. I would even speculate that synaesthetes might experience the Proust Phenomenon more often than others and some people who aren’t synaesthetes maybe never experience the Proust Phenomenon.

Shaunacy Being In Love Makes Water Taste Sweeter. Australian Popular Science. 17 Oct 2013.

I was stunned when I first read this article about a set of studies (details below) that could be regarded as investigations of flavoured emotion synaesthesia experienced by study subjects who are not known to be synaesthetes. I was stunned because the effect of hightened experiencing of the taste of sweetness when primed to be thinking about of experiencing love described in this article seems to be very similar to my own rare experiences of white chocolate flavoured hugs, from the time when one of our kids was an incredibly cute preschooler. All money is on the theory that my anterior cingulate cortex was being activated at that moment, in a big way.

Chan, Kai Qin; Tong, Eddie M. W.; Tan, Deborah H.; Koh, Alethea H. Q. What do love and jealousy taste like? Emotion. Vol 13(6), Dec 2013, 1142-1149.

Salvador Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces

Looking through our new calendar for the year 2014, a calendar featuring the art of the famous surrealist Salvador Dali, I noticed some works featuring images of faces embedded in paintings that are not of faces. I guess you might call it art designed to give rise to the human perceptual distortion that is known by the term pareidolia. Later we were browsing a fantastic illustrated book about visual illusions, and inside more bizarre creations of Dali could be found that featured hidden faces, along with plenty of other items of visual art by other artists that play with human face perception. Unfortunately, the description in this book of a work of Dali’s is incorrect. In the book there is a photo of a room at the Dali Museum in Figueres in Spain which is incorrectly identified as a portrait of the late blonde American actress Marilyn Monroe. I think it is actually a portrait of the late blonde American actress Mae West, cleverly constructed out of items in a room. The Dali painting Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire is another example of a Dali hidden face, and many more can be found among his prolific works. Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces, or pareidolia. He even wrote a novel titled “Hidden Faces”. Dali is not the only artist to play with pareidolia. The Wikipedia has a fascinating article about this artistic theme.

Sarcone, Gianni A. and Waeber, Marie-Jo Amazing visual illusions. Arcturus Publishing Ltd, 2011.

Wikipedia contributors Hidden faces. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Dali, Salvador Hidden faces. London: Owen, 1973.

Mae West Room. Figueres Dali Theatre-Museum.

Wikipedia contributors Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fascinating Reddit conversation from last year

MyNameIs BrookeToo I am a faceblind girl dating a super-recognizer. AUsA. Reddit. Discussion started March 25th 2012. 

This is a fascinating and long discussion in which a prosopagnosic lady using the name MyNameIsBrookeToo and her super-recognizer boyfriend using the name Shandog answer many questions. Does Facebook discriminate against people who have prosopagnosia? The aspect of this question and answer session which I find the most interesting is the way Shandog describes the actual experience of super-recognition. The way he describes it, it sounds a lot like synaesthesia, particularly two types of synaesthesia experienced by myself (a super-recognizer who also experiences many different types of synaesthesia) of which I believe I was the first person to ever write and publish descriptions; domino-effect synaesthesia and The Strange Phenomenon. I suggest that you use the “find” button on your browser to look through this Reddit conversation and find the two instances in which the word “trigger” is used (by Shandog). The word “trigger” is of course often used in descriptions of the experience of synaesthesia, because that is basically what synaesthesia is, the triggering of one experience by another, in unexpected ways. In synaesthesia the triggering experience is called an inducer and the triggered unexpected or idiosyncratic experience is called a concurrent. I think Shandog’s descriptions support the assertion that I made years ago that my super-recognition is connected or caused by my synaesthesia, and this could well be the case for other supers, but I guess we should also consider that Shandog’s comments and ideas might have been influenced by reading this blog.

Another type of thing that can be recognized visually, with useful applications

Do I have this right? The daughter who had been callously abandoned by the Englishman who migrated to Australia and became the Chief Librarian at the Reid Library at the University of Western Australia discovered a letter that was supposed to have been written by herself, but she knew she hadn’t written it, and she recognized the handwriting as that of her father’s second wife, who was the Perth literary identity and celebrated Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley? Well, I guess if I have that right it proves the personal importance and the forensic and historical utility of another type of visual recognition and visual memory – handwriting recognition. I doubt that personality can be read in handwriting, but it certainly gives a good clue to the identity of the writer.

I was once a student at UWA and I’ve spent many a happy hour reading at the Reid Library. I’ve also volunteered as a study subject a number of times at “U-dub”. I also studied at the institution of higher learning which produced the calendar shown behind Elizabeth Jolley in a photo shown in the Australian Story episode linked to below. In the 1980s I lived next door to people who knew Jolley as a friend and who celebrated her literary career. Am I shocked or surprised that a hero of 1980s Perth had a definitely sinister side? Nope. I’m also old enough to remember watching friends and family waving and cheering on the footpath on a bend of Stirling Highway in Cottesloe, some time in the 1980s, as an open car was driven past carrying a group of local heroes. I can still see Alan Bond’s smiling face like it was yesterday. Was Brian Burke also in that car? Perth has always been one crooked town.

If I could justify the time……

If I had more time I would write a post about what I think is wrong with Dr Karl’s new book, which will probably sell like hot cakes this Christmas, but has one chapter which is seriously incomplete and out of date. If I could justify spending the time writing this blog for no financial return I might also write lengthy posts explaining more of my scientific ideas about synaesthesia, cognition and memory. But sadly, this blog has no funding and no sponsor and not much of a future. But you will always be able to read about Paris Hilton and Kim Karwhatshername on the internet.

Warning to readers

If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, ideas or descriptions found at this blog and presenting it as your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and my objection will be well publicized. If you want to make reference to this blog or any of the ideas in it, please make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about the ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this blog be sure to cite the post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog.

I started this blog with the primary intention of bringing interesting and fresh observations and ideas to the worlds of psychology, neuroscience and science in general. I want the stuff that I write about here to be discussed and noticed and cited by researchers. I enjoy noticing what appears to be my influence on the output of researchers. But I object to having my stuff plundered without acknowledgement of me and my blog. In a recent case of what I believe is plagiarism of some of my ideas, I believe the proper situation would have been for me to have been included as a third author of that paper, so fundamental was one of the allegedly plagiarized ideas to the main theme of that paper. You couldn’t expect anyone to be happy or satisfied about such a situation. You have been warned.

Advertisement featuring personification of an inanimate object

Wine advertisement featuring the personification of an inanimate object

Advertisement featuring the personification of an inanimate object

When I look at this ad I can’t help thinking about the letter Y. He is such a happy and friendly personality. Here he is playing with some dogs in a park:

Sculpture in a public place that looks like synaesthesia

The letter Y frolicks with two lavender-coloured dogs at Piney Lakes playground

A super-recognizer moment

I’ve been looking at stuff from the WA Museum and Lost Perth on Facebook, and there was a photo of the Perth fashion designer Aurelio Costarella taken with a department store Santa Claus when Mr Costarella was seven years old. The instant I saw the photo I recognized the santa (or the Father Christmas as we would have said back then) as the same one who was in a old Santa’s knee shot taken of me when I was around ten years old. I always thought of this santa as looking a bit too much like the character Zachary Smith in the 1960s TV show Lost in Space. I think that is what we might call a super-recognizer moment. Lost Perth also featured a photo of the old Bairds department store which was in the Perth CBD. I can still remember the interior of that store like I was there yesterday, and I think that might be related to the fact that it is one of the many memories of scenes that I experience as synaesthesia concurrents evoked by thinking about specific concepts. There’s nothing like an old photo, and a sometimes-photographic memory, to bring the past alive.