Monthly Archives: May 2014

Oops, I followed a wrong turn in the path of scientific progress

There I was getting excited about research into embodied cognition and I was observing how much it seemed to resemble types of synaesthesia that I experience which are triggered by spatial experience or movement, and I read a book about embodied cognition and was very impressed, but then I read the below article in Science about projects with the aim of replicating some influential studies in psychology and social psychology, some of them about embodied cognition, and apparently a number of studies that were thought to demonstrate embodied cognition and also behaviour priming were re-studied but the findings were not replicated. These recent studies attempting to replicate classic studies in social psychology were published in the latest issue of the journal Social Psychology. Even worse, one pioneer in the area of embodied cogniton is facing accusations of research misconduct, according to the Science article. Could the field of embodied cognition be saved from oblivion by looking for effects that can be replicated, and then considering them a possible variants of synaesthesia?

Bohannon, John Replication effort provokes praise—and ‘bullying’ charges. Science. 23 May 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6186 pp. 788-789
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6186.788

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6186/788.summary

Nosek, Brian A. and  Lakens, Daniël (guest editors) Social Psychology. Volume 45 Number 3 2014.

http://www.psycontent.com/content/l67413865317/?p=f8e32838636f4d7f919632933be3178d&pi=0

 

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Illusions and natural hallucinations from IFLS

http://www.iflscience.com/brain/five-cool-ways-trick-your-brain

Disappearing face illusion from New Scientist magazine

 

 

Another fascinating addition to the Mindscapes series

Mindscapes is a series of articles by Helen Thomson at New Scientist magazine on neuro-psychological topics that often overlap with the kinds of things that I write about here. The latest in the series is an article about Sharon whose condition is developmental topographical disorientation (DTD). For a long time I’ve included within this blog’s large and useful link list a link to a useful researchers’ website about this type of disability or problem because it appears to coincide with prosopagnosia in some people, and extreme variation in face memory ability is one of the main themes of this blog. That researcher’s website is Getting Lost.ca and it is run by people at the NeuroLab which is directed by Dr. Giuseppe Iaria and is located in the Department of Psychology of the University of Calgary. Sharon in this article was diagnosed by Dr Iaria.

Without knowing it, I have already written about the type of experience that Sharon feels when she becomes geographically disoriented (but this is possibly a piece of writing I never published). On the odd occasion I’ve had similar experiences while riding trains in low light conditions or on unfamiliar train lines. For a moment or two I will struggle to make sense of where I am in relation to Perth’s geography, nothing will feel familiar and will feel as though I might have mistakenly got on a train heading in the wrong direction. There is no sensory alteration associated with this kind of brief experience, just the loss of a sense of certainty and a feeling of familiarity. My theory is that this experience is caused by two different systems in the brain (visual and spatial) which both contribute towards navigation going out of sync, disconnecting or one operating in  the absence of the other. I believe the basic problem is a loss of a sense of the four directions, or in my case, more specifically a loss of the sense of where the sea is (west). Nothing in navigation makes sense if you don’t know the directions, which is why maps all have a north-pointing arrow (should point west in my opinion). I think Dr Iaria’s team’s  idea of a therapy using a belt with tactile stimulation to indicate north is a great idea, but they might want to consider if some “patients” might find some other direction more personally and emotionally  meaningful.

I think it is interesting that the researchers have found that people who experience DTD have “decreased communication between two brain areas”. You could call this hypoconnectivity, and this fact fits in neatly with the well-supported theory that prosopagnosia is characterized by hypoconnectivity. At this blog I have put forward the theory that super-recognition, which is elite ability in face memory and the opposite of prosopagnosia, is the result of hyperconnectivity, a theory that is supported by the fact that I’m a super-recognizer and I also experience many different varieties of synaesthesia, a harmless neuro-cognitive variation which a number of research studies have found to be associated with hyperconnectivity. At this blog I have also theorized that there are clusters of interesting neuro-cognitive conditions that could be seen as opposites because they are either characterized by high ability and hyperconnectivity or impaired ability and hypoconnectivity. In the “hyper” camp I place super-recognition, synaesthesia, precocious reading, a heightened visual and spatial sense of place (manifest by walking, outdoor photography and creating navigational computer simulations as favoured pastimes) and giftedness in literacy skills such as reading, spelling and writing (which runs in my family which has included a number of specialist English teachers, a librarian and a university student of literature). In the “hypo” camp I’d place DTD, dyslexia and poor reading fluency and prosopagnosia. My scheme of clusters raises a couple of interesting questions. Is there a condition that is the opposite of synaesthesia? How would it manifest in experiences or behaviour? Might it manifest as an inability to comprehend metaphorical speech or thinking, such as the statements “I’d like to try a sharp cheese” or “What a cheeky little car the Volkswagen Beetle was”. Might it manifest as a lived experience in which colours are not a big thing or a huge pleasure or a distraction? Might it manifest as a calm and logical disposition in which ideas are only thrown together after fully conscious and logical consideration? We must always take into consideration that synaesthesia appears to be a stable and ubiquitous feature of the human race, but synaesthetes are always naturally a minority group. If it is so fantastic being hyperconnected, with good reading skills and top face memory, why hasn’t evolution selected this trait for all or most of humanity? This brings us to the second question that follows from my cluster theory. If a group of disabilities is characterized by hypoconnectivity, and being a “hypo” runs in families (as it does), then why does nature keep giving us “hypo” people? My intuition about evolution and bell curves tells me that there must be either a negative side to being a “hyper” or a positive side to being a “hypo”. Being average and normal must have a lot going for it too I guess. Do “hypo” people have some special gift? Are they good at sport or perhaps unusually calm or focused? Some people believe dyslexia in some way promotes entrepreneurial ability, citing names like Sir Richard Branson and Kerry Packer as examples. More research needed!

An afterthought; synaesthete readers – do you have colours for the four directions? Are they based on the colours of the first letters of the names of the directions, or are they unique colours? Do you experience images for any of the directions?

Backs up my ideas

I was reading through back issues of New Scientist, and I found a brief article about the work of researcher Sophie Scott and other researchers, written by Simon Makin. This article is about one theory of dyslexia winning out over another. The theory that seems to be the most compatible with recent research findings is the theory of dyslexia as a “disconnection syndrome” resulting from poor connections between particular regions in the brain. The competing theory of dyslexia as a disability stemming from subtle problems with hearing speech sounds is apparently being debunked.

What relevance does this have for my theories and ideas about synaesthesia and visual perception? The theory of dyslexia as a problem of hypoconnectivity in the brain is not new, but it is nice to see it winning favour among researchers because it fits well with observations that I made years ago at this blog that there seems to be a cluster of phenomena linked to grapheme-colour synaesthesia in my family, and some of those phenomena are exceptional gifts in specific areas of literacy, including spelling, writing and reading, identified by professional and independent testing for selective school entry, as well as precocious reading and one case of superior face memory (a super-recognizer). A few years ago at this blog I contrasted this combination of literacy and visual memory gifts found along with synaesthesia (a sensory-perception phenomenon that researchers have found is caused by greater than average connectivity in the brain) with what I have argued is the opposite condition of a type of dementia named Benson’s syndrome which has loss of ability to read, spell and recognize faces as symptoms of atrophy at the back of the brain, the general area of the brain that I theorized is hyper-developed or hyper-connected in some members of my family, including myself. Although dyslexia isn’t the same thing as Benson’s I think the evidence about dyslexia fits in nicely with my ideas. If a reading disability is caused by hypoconnectivity in the brain, that does seem to support my idea that reading superiority can be caused by the same difference that makes a brain a synaesthete brain, that difference being hyperconnectivity. The hypoconnected dyslexic looks like the opposite of the hyperconnected synaesthete who has always been ahead of his or her peers in reading and writing, and perhaps even taught him or herself to read before grade one.

The more important posts in this blog – May 2014

Listed below are what I believe are the most notable posts at this blog, including the very first post at this blog from 2010, which is my description of an interesting phenomenon experienced by myself. This phenomenon, which was clearly related to face recognition and synaesthesia, sparked my curiosity and inspired this blog as a search for a convincing and full scientific explanation. I am so glad that I let curiosity get the best of me, and that I took the time to put my thoughts into words and share them with the world, because this has been a journey of discovery and intellectual adventure.

Like most things on the internet, this blog appears to be pretty-much archived by the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine), so feel free to use it to check and verify the content of these posts at various times in the past.

There have been a number of very interesting comments from readers at this blog, some noting their own experiences of types of synaesthesia previously undescribed by science which are similar to my experiences, and even one other apparent super-recognizer synaesthete. I have also been fortunate to receive some comments from people who are notable within the world of human facial recognition research. I have given posts that have attracted interesting comments the tag “Comments”, so if you click on the tag in this post, that will show you posts that have comments.

The more important posts:

A Most Peculiar Experience (my description of The Strange Phenomenon) https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/is-synaesthesia-caused-by-low-levels-of-complement-is-bensons-syndrome-caused-by-too-much-complement-c3/

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/some-ideas-that-id-like-to-explicitly-lay-claim-to-right-now-in-2014/

Have my ideas been plagiarized in a paper published in a neuroscience journal? I believe they have.  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/when-researchers-steal-your-ideas-i-guess-at-least-thats-some-form-of-validation/

Super-recognizer jobs? (This is the most popular post at this blog)  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/super-recognizer-jobs/

Other cases of synaesthesia involving face perception – I’m certainly not the only one https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/other-cases-of-synaesthesia-involving-face-perception-im-certainly-not-the-only-one/

Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/involuntary-method-of-loci-memorization-imlm-%e2%80%93-what-the-heck-is-that/

The Opposite of Benson’s Syndrome? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-opposite-of-bensons-syndrome/

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/report-on-my-fine-motor-task-visual-place-memory-synaesthesia/

My Brain Put to the Test https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/my-brain-put-to-the-test/

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%e2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

A type of synaesthesia which I experience in which non-food words or names automatically evoke the concepts of particular foods: is lexical-gustatory synaesthesia an evolutionary adaptation? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/a-type-of-synaesthesia-which-i-experience-in-which-words-or-names-automatically-evoke-the-concepts-of-particular-foods/

 

What I think of when I look at the Eurovision winner

When I look at Conchita Wurst I can’t help but be reminded of a kitschy Catholic image of Jesus. Congratulations Conchita!

 

Action-packed YouTube video clip

Immune cell in the brain swallows synapses to sculpt neurons during development.

Posted by NIHNINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) at YouTube on May 22, 2012.

http://youtu.be/wb8UAyf8Nhw

The green thing is a mouse’s microglial cell. The movie is “courtesy Dorothy Schafer, Ph.D. and Beth Stevens, Ph.D. at Boston Children’s Hospital.” At this blog I have speculated that the kind of process shown in this brief video clip possibly happens less often in the brains of some people because they have lower levels of some of the complement chemicals that are a part of the immune system, with the result being the development of, or the retaining of, childhood or developmental synaesthesia. Some of the complement chemicals mark out synapses for destruction, I believe.

For people who love colour as much as I do…

http://matadornetwork.com/trips/75-places-so-colorful-its-hard-to-believe-theyre-real-pics/?utm_source=tab&utm_medium=pd&utm_content=thehuffingtonpost&utm_campaign=paidpromo