Monthly Archives: July 2014

Do you have a trustworthy nose?

University of Western Australia researchers’ model of face gender published in PLoS ONE

Garland, Carys Face ‘model’ accurately weighs gender points. ScienceNetwork WA. July 6th 2014.

The mathematical model of face gender that these UWA researchers have come up with seems like a sensible enough idea to me (and who am I to criticise?) but I’m very doubtful of just about everything stated about face gender and its relation to autism that is written in the Science Network article.

Gilani SZ, Rooney K, Shafait F, Walters M, Mian A (2014) Geometric Facial Gender Scoring: Objectivity of Perception. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99483. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099483


Personification at the heart of imagination in stories loved by children

The Thomas the Tank Engine stories, with railway stock who have faces and voices and dialogue and relationships and dramas, and the Wizard of Oz story, with a tin-man and a living scarecrow and curmudgeonly apple trees are just two examples of classic children’s fiction which translated very successfully to popular family screen entertainment, and both are full of objects that are personified. Many synaesthetes like myself have naturally and mysteriously developed conceptions of letters of the alphabet and numbers as having personal characteristics such as genders and personalities, as well as individual and specific colours. These synaesthetic ways of thinking formed in childhood and has become embedded in the structure of the brain. It is possible that all people once experienced synaesthetic thinking as children, but synaptic pruning did away with all that fanciful nonsense for most of us. Perhaps we were all personifying synaesthetes when we were little kids, and perhaps that explains why object personification pops up so often in children’s entertainment. To complement the winter school holidays one of our TV channels is broadcasting The Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure if I’ve ever sat and viewed the whole thing and forgotten half of it, but there was some familiarity in the deep and gruff sound of the voice of one of the apple trees. Could any grown tree have a voice that is not dark and resonant? I doubt it. Irrational as it is, object personification operates according to psychological rules and relationships, and big dark brown things tend to have deep voices.

I’m sure I’m not the first to observe that popular movies are full of psychology, and the Wizard of Oz is as good an example as any. There’s the object personification in many of the characters. There’s also some interesting psychology in the way that Dorothy feels that she has known her three strange new friends for a long time, but also logically knows that can’t be true (the story is set in a dream with bizarre characters which Dorothy’s sleeping mind has created out of memories of real people in Dorothy’s real life). “Oh, you’re the best friends anybody ever had. And it’s funny, but I feel as if I’d known you all the time, but I couldn’t have, could I?” Would face processing researchers call that “implicit familiarity” or “covert recognition”? It is actually person recognition, not just face recognition, but then again, I’ve been arguing at this blog that face recognition cannot be separated from person recognition. Faces are only memorable because they are the front windows of minds. I think Dorothy’s strange and unexplained feeling of familiarity is a nice illustration of the way that person recognition is swifter and more emotional than the verbal labeling of people with personal names and place names that we are able to do once we are able to figure out where that person fits into our autobiographical memory bank. That memory bank is quite a thing to search, so it can take a while. I like the way that the Dunning-Kruger Effect or something like it is woven into the centre of the narrative of The Wizard of Oz, the tin man not understanding his own emotional dimension, the scarecrow suddenly spouting a bit of geometrical wisdom once told he does have a brain, and the lion needing to be told how brave he actually is even though he had been through so much. There’s also a message about the possibilities of human development, effort and experience changing what we are, if we care to give it a red-hot go. That could have something to do with synapses. Of course, this story has a lot to say about the psychology of quacks, con-artists, fame and inflated authority figures, but the odd thing is, despite the many decades of popularity of this book and the Hollywood movie, great hordes of educated people in America and other English-speaking countries continue to be conned and robbed by quacks, con-artists, famous people and inflated authority figures. Yes, I’m no genius for pointing out the main message of the story of The Wizard of Oz, but if it is such an obvious message, then why does it appear to be so seldom heeded?

A friendly face in a pile of rubbish

A child noticed this during a visit to Wolf Lane in the city to look at street art murals:

A section of a discarded box looks like a smiling face

a smiling face in a pile of rubbish



News on facial recognition technology of the last week

I briefly noticed a news story on TV a few days ago which featured a piece of facial recognition technology worn as glasses (like Google Glass) which included big claims about being able to identify a face from a database of thousands of persons of interest. I think the news story linked to above is that story, about X6 spy glasses, Osterhout Design Group, Defense Intelligence Agency (USA Govt) and Dr Brian Lovell, a professor at the University of Queensland and CTO at Imagus Pty Ltd. Dr Lovell has a very impressive CV but all the same I was not impressed in 2012 with the way he lightly dismissed the capabilities of human face recognition in an appearance on the Catalyst science TV show from the ABC. I’ll be impressed by the X6 technology when it is used and tested in real life applications. The period of time that human facial recognition capabilities have been used and tested in real life applications is measured in millions of years, so I think the artificial versions of facial recognition might have a bit of catching up to do.

On a similar theme I have found some interesting recent news stories comparing the facial recognition databases of Facebook and the FBI. It looks like Facebook’s DeepFace is superior in important ways compared to the FBI’s Next Generation Identification. I think it is important to consider the value of such databases, as well as human face recognition, as tools in the investigative process rather than as producers of forensic evidence, and for sure these technological facial recognition databases can use (memorize?) huge volumes of images. But regarding the actual process of face recognition, I’m still to be convinced that there is any technology that can do what humans, including human super-recognizers, can do. As Russell Brandom wrote in The Verge “While there are plenty of contractors who are willing to promise “near-human” recognition capabilities, real facial recognition is much harder than the industry lets on.”

Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia investigation as a form of psychotherapy?

I’m wondering why both of the words “morning” and “program” or as it was spelled when I was young “programme” always elicit a subtle taste experience of bland sloppy breakfast cereal (probably Weet Bix) softened to pap with milk. The whole experience reeks of boredom and ordinariness and mediocrity. I suspect that these synaesthesia associations are based on memories from my early school years, memories of eating a cheap and convenient and inferior breakfast (better than none I guess) and then being sent to primary school to listen to an unforgivably boring school assembly while being made to stand still in the cold morning air while singing along with one of those dreary songs from the 1970s about the morning (that one by Cat Stevens and there was another, some folk tune). I’m not sure how the word “program” fits into this picture, but I know that it is a word often used in a bland and meaningless way by administrators and bureaucrats and teachers to describe things that turn out to be less exciting than they appeared; “We are going to listen to a radio program this morning children” “If you do your best you will be allowed to take part in a special sport program”. How I hate programs! How I hate mornings! How I hated being made to drink plain milk from a little glass bottle in the morning at school! And how I hate eating nothing but wholegrain slop as a meal to start my day! I just want to to stay up late and watch Mrs Brown’s Boys and get up after 10 and eat bacon, eggs and ripe sweet red grilled tomatoes for breakfast, on crunchy toast with plenty of butter! No I do not want to get with the program!