Monthly Archives: March 2014

Nothing simple about dyspraxia

A case of dyspraxia with possible prosopagnosia and significant issues with fine motor skills such as using zips and buttons and handwriting, but Victoria Biggs was also a precocious reader and an academically very high achiever as an adult. Fascinating! This case is evidence against my idea that reading, face memory and fine motor skills should cluster at similar levels of ability; high in my case and low in people who have Benson’s syndrome. But I think it is interesting that in Ms Biggs’ case she is at the extremes of levels of ability in all three. In the radio show other issues mentioned include finding one’s way through streets (suggestive of topographical disorientation or DTD), poor ability to plan including planning motor tasks, difficulty reading facial expressions and as a result difficulty reading social situations, and also displaying odd facial expressions. I’m amazed that the term “autism” didn’t come up once in this story, because there seems to be so much in Ms Biggs’ story that overlaps with countless accounts of autism or Asperger syndrome, not that I think autism would be an appropriate label. I don’t. I’d love to know whether Ms Biggs is a left-hander.

Victoria Biggs is the author of Caged in Chaos—A Dyspraxic’s Guide to Breaking Free.

Living with dyspraxia. presenter Amanda Smith

The Body Sphere. ABC Radio National.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Thank you PubPeer

Thank you PubPeer for (after some fussing about) giving me a place on the internet that is recognized by scientists to publish my objection to some researchers publishing a highly original idea that I had thought of independently and had published at this blog over a year before their draft paper was received by their publisher. I’m certain that this is a case of plagiarism, but other people object to my use of that word, so the only place you will see the word plagiarism used in relation to that matter is here at this blog.

I have already published a very full account of my side of the story at this blog, but unfortunately this blog isn’t recognized as a part of the ecosystem of commentators attached to the world of science, the people and organizations in the league of science journalists, science magazine bloggers and internet services that are supposed to review the science literature but actually appear to be automatically-generated content. PubPeer isn’t like that; it appears to be run by people, but who they are is a mystery. I can completely understand why they wish to remain anonymous. Exposing the many ways in which peer review in science publishing is broken is a pastime that I am sure could be harmful to one’s career in science.

I believe that I can make a greater contribution to science as a blogger who has no job that is in any way connected to any university or any research institution, because I don’t have to deal with career-building and politics that goes with having that kind of career, and as a result I have more “mental bandwidth” free to devote to thinking about actual science. I am not expected to teach half-interested university students or organize conferences or write full-sized published papers or book chapters, and I’m not expected to know my proper place in the scheme of things. Very ordinary physical activities that I do in my everyday domesticated life automatically activate regions of my brain that deal with conceptual thinking and memory, and as a result I am often bombarded by novel ideas resulting from a boundless miscellany of concepts flashing onto the centre stage of my mind and colliding in a quite haphazard manner. I guarantee this kind of involuntary mental activity wouldn’t happen if I spent my days comfortably sedentary inside an airless office, staring at a wall or a dusty old painting. I’ve had jobs like that in the past, and years of study at an austere and ugly university which was also pretty much the staring at a wall lifestyle. I find it ironic that study at a university can offer an environment that has an effect on thought that must surely compare with a lobotomy.

Being a nobody to the world of science has many up-sides. I don’t feel a lot of need to consciously or unconsciously self-censor my ideas and publications to fit in with the beliefs and fashions of researcher peers (whether they make sense or not), and I don’t limit my thoughts to my job description, because I have no job description (and I also unfortunately have no salary, pay or financial benefit of any kind). Having no identity in the world of science means I also have no specialization or niche, leaving me free to see and write about a completely obvious connection between synaesthesia, an area of science typically researched by research psychologists and non-clinical neuroscience/psychiatry researchers, and the human immune system, an area of science that has I guess typically been researched by practicing medical doctors in the specialties of immunology or rheumatology. For sure there have been in the last ten years or so a group of pioneering and original researchers who have researched the incredibly complex ways in which the human immune system impacts on brain development, but I don’t think any of them have linked their work with synaesthesia or any particular type of dementia, as I have.  I’m guessing that they haven’t written about synaesthesia because they feel that it is too trivial a matter for them to bother with, which is probably a defensible point of view, as synaesthesia isn’t a disorder and I’ve never heard of a synaesthete who is looking for a cure. I feel free to write about concepts such as dementia, the complement immune chemicals and synaesthesia that are areas that are beyond my expertise, because I have no recognized area of scientific expertise or any recognized career in science. A lot of words have been written about the concept of intellectual freedom in academia, but I have found that being a non-entity outside of all that is a state that offers the most intellectual freedom. It’s a bit like being the invisible man; you can get up to all kinds of stuff but you can’t hope for recognition, because you have no face and no identity.

Being nobody is a state of freedom but it certainly has it’s frustrations, like having no income as reward for any of the work I put into this blog and the ideas published in it, and having no recognition, not even on the internet, but the most frustrating thing is the way that my most important idea has had no apparent impact in science. I’m not referring to my idea linking the immune system with synaesthesia, which was just an amusing step in my journey to the much more important idea that one particular type of dementia, known by the names Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA, could be caused by an excess of one or more of the complement immune chemicals. Surely this is an idea that could be researched. Surely this is an idea that could lead to a number of different ideas for therapies if it turns out to have some value. Surely this is an idea worth at least checking, for if it reflects reality it surely has the potential to save minds and brains and lives. HELLO! Is anybody listening?

P.S. Late last month an Australian biotechnology company plunged on the stock market following the announcement of the failure of their drug aimed at treating Alzheimer’s dementia during a stage of a study. After years of hoopla and hype about drug companies finding a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, and anyone’s guess how much money spent on studies, all they can offer is symptomatic treatments. The story has been one failure after another. Benson’s syndrome is considered by some to be a variant of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it is or not, maybe it is high time for researchers to stop obsessing about plaques in the brain and look at the immune system and the brain. My money is on C3 and C4 as concepts to focus on in a search for an understanding and cure for dementia. Would it kill you dementia researchers to accept some advice from a Perth blogger who is nobody in particular, and put my name on your research paper if my idea works out?

If this is some kind of test…..

…I honestly don’t see how anyone could fail it. Seriously?

Facebook almost as good as humans at recognizing faces, but how would it compare with super-recognizers?

The thing that you’ve got to remember when reading headlines like this is that human super-recognizers can recognize (recently and non-recently) familiar faces at a level of performance that is very much higher than the human norm in face recognition or face memory performance. So the technology might be closing in on human face recognition ability, but how far is it from outperforming the best humans, the super-recognizers who have been estimated as one in a hundred people? My guess is that the technology isn’t even in the same postcode as supers.

Facebook almost as good as humans at recognising faces.
by Hal Hodson
New Scientist. 18 March 2014 Issue 2961.

Embodied within sculptures made of metal

I’m regretting that I never found the time to write about the works displayed at Sculpture by the Sea 2012 at Cottesloe because I know I had in mind to try to explain why Highness by the Iraqi Australian sculptor Ayad Alqaragholli had such an immediate impact on the viewer and appeal. The sculpture reached high into the clear blue summer sky and sea air, depicting a scene of human acrobatic performance with a joyful mood. I noticed that our young child felt compelled to perform handstands on the grass near the sculpture after viewing the piece of art, and I wondered whether there was something deeply psychological about the way it is typically received by people, perhaps evoking some kind of mirror-neuron activity. I was also fascinated by the way in which the emotion of joy had been depicted in the piece using body-related metaphors of reaching, expansion and elevation. The emotion of joy had been embodied in the sculpture, so was this sculpture something to do with embodied cognition? I felt that it must have. Regardless of the theory that might be read into the scuplture, it was my personal favourite for that year. I just liked it. We enjoyed it.

Not long ago I spotted this local newspaper article by Tanya MacNaughton about Ayad Alqaragholli and another one of his works, Embrace, which is exhibited in this year’s Cottesloe outdoor exhibition:

and his new sculpture seems to have a similar theme, and once again I thought it was clear that there is some kind of metaphorical thinking in his work which I feel is similar to embodied cognition:

“There’s so much freedom for young people even when they’re just walking down the street; I like to have people flying in my artwork to show how happy they are.”

Flying = happy

up = happy

down = sad

freedom = flying

repression = trapped

imprisonment = held down

This is a scheme connecting emotional states with spatial locations, and social situations and feelings with physical situations. It seems to be one or two kinds of synaesthesia, but could also be interpreted as embodied cognition because after all, it is human bodies that are depicted in Mr Alqaragholli’s sculptures.

I can’t wait to get to Cott Main Beach to see the exhibition. Can’t wait to see all the sculptures! Can’t wait to have a dip too and take some photos and see the sunset over the sea and hear the noise of the feral rainbow lorikeets roosting in the tall pine trees. I love summer in Perth!


Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Super-recognizers? Why bother?

The world must be amazed and horrified by the recent disappearance of a jet plane full of passengers in Asia, with no trace of evidence to confirm what has happened to the flight. At least two things are remarkable about the disappearance of MH370; the lack of evidence of the whereabouts of the plane or wreckage, and the revelation of the lack of care commonly practiced in many countries in checking passports.

I don’t travel much, but it is my understanding that passports have photos in them that border-control staff are supposed to check against the appearance of the person presenting the passport as theirs, to see if the person in the photo is the same person claiming to own the passport. Clearly, it would be a good idea to hire super-recognizers to work in this role. But this idea seems almost comical when one considers that there is such a lax degree of border control practiced at many airports that it is reportedly a common thing for people to travel on passports that have been reported as stolen and are entered on an international database of suspect passports. The fact that two of the people on the missing place were travelling on stolen passports is therefore now seen as not such a big deal, and is not considered to be solid evidence of terrorist activity. While border control and security is such a low priority and so poorly done, we can hardly expect that organizations responsible for these functions will show much interest in recruiting super-recognizers.

Visual memory of chore – concept of true story synaesthesia

As I opened the lid of the clear plastic seed-sprouter at my kitchen sink and saw the just-sprouting greenish mung beans, the unpleasant memory of the facts of the story covered by last night’s Four Corners current affairs television show jumped into my mind unbidden. Last night I had been picking out dead brown non-sprouting mung beans from the healthy beans after they had been soaking for hours to start the sprouting process, the kind of dull and repetitive chore that I often try to make less boring by listening to the television or radio while I’m working. In the process of performing this chore last night the content of the television show that I had listened to had become wedded with the visual image of the sprouting beans laying on the tray of the seed sprouter. I think the neuroscience term for this might be “binding”. The fact that these two logically unrelated experiences had become permanently connected in my brain and my mind was unknown to me until the sight of the beans in the sprouter was seen again this afternoon, involuntarily and instantly triggering a complex concept in my mind that has nothing to do with beans or sprouting. The way this variety of synaesthesia operates has similarities with the operation of a number of other varieties of synaesthesia that I have previously written about at this blog: the Proust Phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, concepts associated with visual memories of scenes, involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) and arguably The Strange Phenomenon. This type or a similar type of synaesthesia has been experienced by me many times in the past after the synaesthesia associations have been formed while I was doing handcrafts while listening to television shows or radio. An example would be my remembering one year’s winner of the Eurovision Song Contest when I look at the hand-made quilt on our child’s bed which I worked on while we were tuned into the song contest finals on TV. Turkey should win more often – they always make interesting music with a great beat.

Personification everywhere

I’ve been watching a repeat of the series Secrets of the Superbrands, a TV series about marketing of global mega-brands, and the host of the series was visiting a laboratory that creates flavourings and fragrances for super-brands. They spoke about creating flavourings that match the “personality” of the brand, citing a list of emotional attributes that can be embodied “serious”, “playful” etc. How is the different to the varieties of synaesthesia that personify concepts such as numbers and letters, or the varieties of synaesthesia that personify objects such as house plants, fruits and cutlery?

Later a researcher in South London, Prof. Gemma Calvert of the Neurosense Group, at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, was shown doing a study with an MRI brain scanner, putting people into the scanner while they were shown photos of the faces of people in their immediate family, and also shown photos of the products, featuring familiar product logos and labelling and packaging design, that they are personally familiar with. Apparently the photos of faces and products triggered similar patterns of brain activation, activiating a “reward centre”, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and also the face recognition areas at the back of the brain. This could be interpreted as evidence that advertising and marketing and brand packaging design produces the effect of personifiying products in ordinary people, so I think it follows that one does not need to be a personifying synaesthete to perceive objects as though they are faces or people. Perhaps personifying synaesthetes are more consciously aware of this effect, or perhaps we are more open to being manipulated in this way, but it shows that we aren’t really that special or different.

Cambridge Face Memory Test- how long is it?

The original short standard version had 72 items or questions in it and the long version had 102, but I have recently read that new versions have been created, and I don’t know anything about them. There is also a children’s version.

This is a link to the journal paper that introduced the concept of the super-recognizer, and you can read about the use of both original versions of the CFMT in this paper:

Just discovered that there are psychologists who study involuntary autobiographical memories (IAMs)

Involuntary autobiographical memories are of special interest to me because I experience visual memories of scenes, a face, complete personalities of real people from my past and autobiographical memories of learning about specific concepts as synaesthesia concurrents, which means that when I encounter experiences that trigger these synaesthesias I involuntarily experience one of these types of IAMs. So, one could say that at least for me the IAM experience is just another broad category of synaesthesia that I experience. So does that mean that the IAM experiences of people thought to not be synaesthetes are in fact also synaesthesia, or are the resemblances between our experiences just superficial? At this blog I have previously described types of synaesthesia experienced by me that are triggered by performing over-learned fine motor movements (housework and grooming manual chores) which have concurrents that are visual memories of scenes of locations or learned concepts. I have also noted that my random uncontrolled thoughts become more creative and fluent with greater accessibility to concepts and memories while I am performing spatial-movement tasks such as showering or driving or walking. So I was rather astounded when I read this in a paper about IAMs from The Psychologist from a year ago:

“IAMs occur spontaneously without any deliberate intention to recall anything. In fact they are most likely to occur when individuals are engaged in regular, automatic activities that are not attentionally demanding, such as walking, driving or eating.”

Actually, these activities are attentionally demanding, but maybe not demanding on the conscious, verbal parts of the brain. I think the thing that really matters about these tasks are that they are spatial-motor tasks which activate the parietal lobe, which just also happens to be a region of the brain that plays a central role in many cases of synaesthesia. My theory is that there is a category of IAMs which are a subtype of synaesthesia in which experiences that are obviously autobiographical memories are the synaesthesia concurrents and motor-spatial processes are the synaesthesia inducers. I have also previoiusly put forward the theory that synaesthesia concurrents are actually memories of one or another type, rather than randomly and mysteriously generated experiences or sensory experiences.

I believe that IAMs cannot be studied or understood without the study and knowledge of synaesthesia, because many instances of IAMs are synaesthesia of one type or another, and the whole IAM phenomenon is very similar to synaesthesia in the way it works. Despite my observations, in the paper in The Psychologist by Bradley, Moulin and Kvavilashvili I could find no mention of synaesthesia at all. I think there is a lot of work to be done in this area of research.

Rosemary J. Bradley, Chris J.A. Moulin and Lia Kvavilashvili Involuntary autobiographical memories. Psychologist. March 2013 Volume 26 Part 3 p.190-193.