And another politician/celebrity doppelganger pair

Where have I seen that slightly unhinged, cheesy, sometimes grimacing smile? Oh oui!


Looks like I’m not the only librarian

who has been screwed-over by Frontiers:

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back


Mind the hype about AI and machine learning

I’m an advocate of the use and hiring of super-recognizers in various work roles and tasks that involve face memory or face recognition, but there are lots of people, some with personal interests and some without, who believe that technology can or will do a better job than humans can. The interesting articles below are probably worth a read if you have an interest in new technology relevant to face processing.

Hooker, Giles Machine learning: What journalists need to know. Sense About Science USA. March 22 2017.

Reese, Hope Top 10 AI failures of 2016. TechRepublic. December 2, 2016.


Does fascinating advice from a super-polyglot utilize a psychological effect unknown to science?

Tell me about your key technique for learning a new language, and how it works

I call it shadowing. I shadow the audio of the target language by listening to it through earphones and speaking along with it as fast as I possibly can. I’ve found the best way to do this is while walking outdoors as swiftly as possible, maintaining a perfectly upright posture and speaking loudly. [and he goes on to further discuss]

Hooper, Rowan You had me at halla. New Scientist. Issue 3110 January 28 2017 p.42-43.

This is advice from Alexander Arguelles, who can speak around 50 languages, so it is definitely advice to take seriously. The part of the advice that interests me is the walking fast with an upright posture. This implies that bodily perceptions or perceptions of the position/location of the body in space, and movement, are important in boosting learning. This part of the advice fits in nicely with a phenomenon that I’ve described in at least one previous post in this blog, years ago, in which vection or actual physical bodily movement through space (in the form of walking outdoors while looking around) seems to evoke a cascade of thought, or somehow add fluency or speed to the normal train of thought (which could be described as the stream of consciousness or daydreaming). This effect is important to me (a super-recognizer synaesthete in a family that seems to have a gene for ease of learning languages and spelling) because I’ve found that when walking or driving a vehicle I get useful and creative and novel ideas that don’t happen when I’m not doing such activities. I also find that taking a shower (indoors!) has a similar effect, and I think the link to the outdoor activities is that parts of the brain that deal with bodily movement and visual-spatial perception are activated. I’ve observed that outdoor visual perception of movement through space or actual movement seem to promote thought or creativity, while it appears that Mr Arguelles has observed that this kind of experience promotes learning. As I’m a synaesthete who is interested in synaesthesia (specifically types involving visual memory and links between visual memory and conceptual thinking) I’ve suggested that this is actually a type of synaesthesia – experiences as one type of stimuli (visual-spatial) triggering or promoting, inside the brain, experiences of a very different type (language learning, combining discrete abstract concepts in thought). I don’t adhere to the idea that there’s a very sharp demarcation between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but nevertheless, I’d be very interested to know whether Mr Arguelles is a synaesthete. Certainly there’s lots of evidence linking synaesthesia with superior memory, which a super-learner such as Mr Arguelles must surely possess.

Is the effect that I’ve identified and described embodied cognition? Is it a type of synaesthesia, enjoyed only by a minority of the population? Is it both? Neither? Has it already been described and named in the scientific literature? I don’t know. Does it need a name of it’s own? Visual-spatial stimuli-boosted cognition?

New Statesman article about supers from last year

Rice, Xan The super-recognisers of Scotland Yard. New Statesman. August 2 2016.


Lorde and other top musicians see music in colour

Yes, it is synaesthesia. No it ISN’T a disorder, or bizarre, or cross-wiring, or an affliction…..

The New Daily  journalist does indeed very much deserve to have his article bombarded by angry comments from offended synaesthetes. It isn’t clear why he is reporting this story now as it appears that Lorde having synaesthesia is old news from 2015. Interesting anyway.



Openness personality trait linked to interesting variant of visual perception

I feel as though they are talking about me (and no that isn’t paranoia).


Another pair of famous doppelgangers

Former Foreign Minister of Australia Gareth Evans and the stodgy male character in those annoying Kleenheat ads.

But I find the latter much more likeable.

On Nine tonight

Finding My Twin Stranger


Is there any particular reason why prosopagnosics are Australia’s favourite popularizers of science?

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is a prosopagnosic, and apparently so is Robyn Williams, who has been the hosting The Science Show on Australian public radio since the last ice age with intelligence and grace and a pleasantly smart but mild English accent. They both work for the ABC in both TV and radio. They have both written many popular science books. They both come across as likable and enthusiastic. Is this just coincidence? Looking overseas, other highly successful popularisers of science, such as Oliver Sacks and Jane Goodall have also been identified as prosopagnosics. In his role as host of QI, actor Stephen Fry has done a lot to educate and popularise science and other types of knowledge. He’s one too. Strange coincidence that this particular type of fame seems to go with a very particular inability to recognize or memorise faces more often that it should for a characteristic that affects around 1 in 50 people? Maybe it is just more likely that a person who is very interested in science is more likely to identify their self as a scientific curiosity? I could contrast this group of people with famous people who have identified as synaesthetes. Synaesthesia, like prosopagnosia is a psychological-neurological characteristic that is uncommon but not rare. and quite interesting but definitely not obvious. Unlike celebrity prosopagnosics, it seems as though famous figures who claim synaesthesia tend to be more into the arts than the sciences. So what gives?

I found out about Robyn Williams and prosopagnosia reading part of the transcript of an upcoming episode of the radio show Ockham’s Razor which is hosted by Williams. The guest of the show is scientist Len Fisher, and guess what? Another prosopagnosic. He’s made the claim that apophenia is the opposite of prosopagnosia. I can see the logic behind this claim but “No”. Super-recognition is the opposite of prosopagnosia, because face recognition is a type of memory ability, and it is also highly specific to visual memory of faces. The concept of super-recognition is a mirror-image of the concept of prosopagnosia, and both specifically relate to the visual memory of faces. In contrast, apophenia is a very loose and general concept; the tendency of humans to perceive meaningful patterns within stimuli or data that are actually random. Apophenia is not specific to faces or to visual stimuli, and it is a more general term than pareidolia, which I’ve previously written about at this blog. The concept of apophenia seems to me to be too vague a concept to have any scientific utility or meaning, rather like the concept of autism. That’s my opinion, but I’m open to good arguments against it.

Another objection that I have to the idea of apophenia as the opposite of prosopagnosia is the apparent assumption that nature cannot create a biological system of face recognition that is accurate and doesn’t have a tendency towards either false positives (type I error or identifying unfamiliar faces as familiar) or false negatives (type II error or identifying familiar faces as unfamiliar). The source of this type of erroneous thinking about face recognition is the common (among scientists and non-scientists) miscategorisation of face recognition as a form of sensory perception rather than a form of visual memory. As far as I know there’s not anything necessarily amiss about the way prosopagnosics see or perceive faces. They don’t see faces as blurs or blanks. They just don’t remember them. And there’s no reason to think that supers have anything super about the way we see faces. There’s nothing super-human about my eyesight acuity or my ability to identify facial expressions. There’s also nothing in my face recognition ability that looks like any trend towards false positives. As I’ve explained in the first post in this blog, I’m not prone to incorrectly identifying strangers as familiar people, as has been observed in some stroke patients. Very occasionally I’ve had interaction between synaesthesia and face recognition, but this doesn’t affect accuracy.

There’s no reason for skepticism of the proposition that evolution can design a visual memory system that is amazingly swift and accurate and operates unconsciously and automatically. This is simply how visual perception works, for humans and for animals that are seen as much less cerebral than humans. Apparently there’s evidence that the humble pigeon can recognize human faces, and other bird species appear to have evolved the ability to visually recognize the difference between the speckles of their own eggs and those of similar eggs laid by the parasitic cuckoo bird. Evolution can achieve accuracy in systems, if there is a need for such systems to evolve, but it is also plausible that such abilities might be uneven in levels within populations, as variation within populations is completely normal and necessary in biological systems.