Monthly Archives: June 2015

In New Scientist

Face recognition row over right to identify you in the street

15:41 19 June 2015 by Hal Hodson

Many of the clever face recognition tasks done by technology described here could be done by an experienced super-recognizer employee, and commentators concerned about privacy can go have a big cry over the things that supers can do, because you can’t legislate that people such as super-recognizers should refrain from using natural talents.

And more…..

Facebook can recognise you in photos even if you’re not looking

15:27 22 June 2015 by Aviva Rutkin

Recent online articles about super recognizers, and a link to a test

Madhumita Venkataramanan’s article for the BBC (third down) is well worth your reading time. I wonder whether Madhumita might have read my tips for acing or gunning tests of face memory?

UK Cops Using Gifted ‘Super Recognizers’ to Fight Crime

Cathy Burke

‘Super recognisers’ used by the police to identify criminals and spot offenders in crowds

Alexandra Sims

The superpower police now use to tackle crime.

Madhumita Venkataramanan

Are You a Super Recognizer? Test Tells If You’re One of Elite Few Who Never Forgets a Face

Korin Miller

This Fun Memory Quiz Will Tell You If You Are a ‘Super Recognizer’

Christina Oehler

Testa dig: Hur bra är du på att känna igen ansikten?
Fredrik Claesson

Are YOU a ‘super recogniser’? Take the test to see if you are one of an elite group of people who never forget a face

Ellie Zolfagharifard

Could you be a super-recogniser? (test)

University of Greenwich


A memory walk through Cottesloe of the past

I never miss reading Robert Drewe’s column The Other Side in the Westweekend liftout of Saturday’s West Australian newspaper every week, because I have come to love the city that I grew up in and live in, and Drew’s pieces either provide a good laugh or an insight into the history of Perth, often both.

I couldn’t help noticing that in last week’s piece (June 13th 2015), Drewe describes some experiences that are a version of the method of loci memory technique. He writes of experiencing visual memories of past scenes of now-demolished Perth landmarks as he travels past the locations where they once served the people of Perth. Hamburger vendors on Mounts Bay Road and the Cottesloe foreshore are some examples given. I’m sure such experiences are common, and this is why anyone is able to exploit this type of memory experience using this ancient technique for memorizing a sequence of items encoded as visual memories. I have a special interest in the method of loci as I was I believe the first to describe, at this blog, a spontaneous experience experienced by myself and synaesthete kin in which we spontanously encode synaesthesia-like associations between concepts and visual memories of scenes, in a way that is similar to, but not the same as, the method of loci. My theory is that us synaesthetes have a greater tendency to memorize than most people, to the degree that we encode very robust long-term memories unintentionally and spontanously, just from being a passenger in a moving vehicle vacantly looking at passing scenery while listening to interesting news or stories on the car radio.

Drewe’s column unearths lost memories for readers week after week, which accounts for it’s appeal, so it is no surprise that his writing strikes a resonance with a piece that I wrote for this blog a while ago, detailing my inner visions of past year’s displays overlaying the current year’s display at specific well-used display sites at the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe Beach. Like Drewe, I can’t be at that spot on the Cottesloe foreshore without “seeing” Van Eileen’s hamburger joint, with the semi-circular deeply sandy and untidy carpark area surrounding it. The odd thing is that my memory of how that spot is currently landscaped does not come to mind with any ease. Even if I was there, at that very spot, right now, I suspect that the green and well-tended vista would not seem quite as real as the memory, with associated sand in my shoes. It isn’t the real Cottesloe.

What’s going on?

I’ve noticed an major upswing in interest in this blog, possibly the result of some TV show in the UK about testing for super-recognition.

Definitely synaesthesia, including mirror-touch synaesthesia, something to do with this

I’d never heard of autonomous sensory meridian response until a few moments ago when I was half-watching the arts tv show The Mix, with a story on it about an upcoming show Blacklist by SuppleFox scheduled for the Dark Mofo arts festival at Tasmania’s always-interesting MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Synaesthesia is a theme that has already been explored at MONA.

I definitely think some of this ASMR bizzo is one or another type of synaesthesia, and I’m also sure there are folks out there who will insist it impinges on the territory of the various sensory hyper-sensitivity conditions identified by some OTs, and also the controversial territory of autism. I do wonder what the point is, of trying to make art out of neurologically-based phenomena that are highly individualised. Most people are not synaesthetic, at least to the degree that they could score a passing grade in the Synaesthesia Battery, so I’ve got to wonder what all those non-syanesthetes get out of art that explores or uses synaesthesia. If most people do not experience touch sensations in response to watching people running fingers through hair or suffering injuries, and most people get no particular thrill from listening to whispering (which is white and whispy in appearance), then I suspect that art based on these effects will have a limited appeal. It’s quite a conversation-starter, nevertheless.

I find it interesting that in the ABC story about Blacklist video of a person buttering toast is shown, because when I butter toast or scones that triggers a type of synaesthesia in which I “see” in my mind’s eye scenes of places that I have not visited for many years or decades, just as I saw them then. I suspect that for these ASMR people their trigger would be the sound of toast being scraped, while for me the trigger is definitely the performance of the fine-motor movements involved in buttering, with a specificity to such a fine degree that buttering crumbly scones triggers a different set of scenes than buttering toast.

I also find it interesting that one scene in the story, in which a woman lies in a tank of water holding her breath, reminds me of some scenes from one of my absolute favourite films, Mad Detective, in which the main character who is labelled as mad is subversively depicted in the film as strangley gifted with extraordinary powers of perception and insight into the characters and motivations of others (he “sees” their “inner selves”). The mad detective creates experiences for himself that simulate the experiences of murder victims, with the aim of triggering some kind of supernatural shared memory or insight into the facts of the crime. In one scene he has himself rolled down stairs in a suitcase and in another he gets a colleague to bury him in a forrest. The relationship between experiential or sensory triggers and evoked memories or experiences is interestingly similar to the way many of my more interesting varieties of synaesthesia operate, and as a super-recognizer, I’ve got to be fascinated by a protagonist in a movie who has a rare gift of special knowledge about other people. The plot of the movies seems to be very much based on an insight that only a synaesthete would truly understand; that the only way to experience a synaesthesia concurrent (which is usually clearly some kind of memory) is to trigger it by experiencing, first-hand, the exact and specific synaesthesia inducer. It cannot be imagined. It cannot be triggered by any other means. It cannot be experienced by a non-synaesthete, or by a synaesthete who does not have exactly the same synaesthesia association. When the mad detective places himself into extreme situations, he seems to be operating under the same rule; that only the exact same experience can unlock a memory or an insight through perception. I can’t believe that this movie was made without a major contribution from a synaesthete. Another big hint that the main character is some kind of synaesthete is the thing at the start of the film with the highly spontaneous self-amputation of an ear. I hasten to point out that this is not a common behaviour among synaesthetes, and the millions of synaesthetes in the world are generally pretty sane people, but there is one famous person from the past who was unhinged and also one of us. There is plenty of evidence in the archived correspondences of Vincent van Gogh that he was a synaestete. He was always writing about concepts or experiences corresponding with colours. You can’t claim to know the arts without knowing a thing or two about synaesthesia, and synaesthetes.  (story about Blacklist at around 5.30)

Wow, this is interesting

Scientists Find Vessels That Connect Immune System And Brain. June 3, 2015 | by Stephen Luntz. IFL Science.

Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels

Antoine Louveau, Igor Smirnov, Timothy J. Keyes, Jacob D. Eccles, Sherin J. Rouhani, J. David Peske, Noel C. Derecki, David Castle, James W. Mandell, Kevin S. Lee, Tajie H. Harris & Jonathan Kipnis
Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14432
Received 30 October 2014 Accepted 20 March 2015 Published online 01 June 2015

I find this most interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the discovery showing that the human brain has functional lymphatic vessels connecting the brain with the immune system adds to a growing collection of evidence that the immune system plays important roles within the brain, which is an apparent partial violation of the long-held concept of the “blood-brain barrier” (as was described in a dated and inadequate chapter by Dr Karl in his 2013 pop science book Game of Knowns). In 2012 I was apparently the first person in the world, at this blog, to publish the ideas that high or low levels of the “component” immune chemicals at various points in development could be the cause of conditions of the brain such as developmental synaesthesia and Benson’s syndrome or PCA. My ideas were inspired by the very exciting research in areas such as microglia, complement, synaptic pruning and MHC1 molecules.

Another reason why this new discovery linking the central nervous system with the lymphatic and immune systems by researchers from the University of Virginia is so exciting is the fact that it is an unexpected discovery, as one might have thought that human anatomy would have already been thoroughly researched and discovered through the history of medical science to date, but then again, surprising new discoveries in human anatomy have not been unknown in recent years, with discoveries of new features in the human eye, knee and clitoris, the rediscovery last year of a major white matter tract (the vertical occipital fasciculus) at the rear of the brain that could play a central role in skills such as reading, and a new shape of neuron discovered in mouse brains. These new discoveries are exciting and also rather unsettling; exciting because it appears that important new discoveries in human neuroscience and anatomy are still possible, and unsettling because genuinely surprising new discoveries in science seem to indicate that science is not a steady accumulation of knowledge and a path of upward progress, as many believe. This may or may not be surprising to you, depending on which theory in the philosophy of science you favour. I think the discoveries of the VOF and the collection of discoveries about the roles and anatomy of the immune system in the human brain could be interpreted as evidence showing how incorrect ideas in science can become widely-accepted and widely-taught and could also have delayed the progress of new discoveries in neuroscience. How much further might we have come by now in our understanding of the human brain and mind if not for the popularity of the idea that the human brain is quarantined from the immune system? Which other influential ideas about the human brain are holding us back from a clearer understanding of the brain’s workings and diseases?