Tag Archives: Biography

British former police detective and writer also a super-recognizer?

“I’ve been told I have a photographic memory. I’m not sure that such a condition exists, but it is true that I never needed to refer to my notebook in court, made interviews a nightmare for suspects and could not forget a face, crime or clue. Badge numbers, car registrations, court cases, names and faces are all stored neatly on my mind’s infinite box of index cards and I usually have little trouble recovering them when needed.”

This passage on page 12 brings to mind the famous memory genius discovered by the Russian neuro-psychologist Alexander Luria, the synaesthete newspaper reporter whose memory gift was discovered by his boss after he explained why he never needed to take notes in a notebook. Luria gave him the name of S in the book that he wrote about the case; Mind of a Mnemonist. A couple of questions also come to mind on reading the above passage. Is it true? Who can tell? The author of the passage, which is an excerpt from the beginning of the book The Crime Factory, goes by the anonymous pen-name of Officer A, so checking the truth or probability of these quite extraordinary claims would have to be difficult. Another question – if Officer A’s memory really is as amazing as claimed, did it get that way by a natural gift or by training or a combination of both? One final question – is Officer A a synaesthete like the amazing S? I’ll have to continue reading to see whether any of my questions are answered. One thing that I can say about the book is that the bit about treating a case of severe bleeding in the leg utterly contradicts what I was taught in St John Ambulance first aid classes, so I think there is at least some dodgy information in the book.

I’ve found more interesting stuff on page 53. in which the author explains the pros and cons of having a “photographic memory”, and it it clear that it can cause a condition that is perhaps related to post-traumatic stress disorder in which ordinary visual stimuli can “trigger” the involuntary retrieval of visual memories of unpleasant scenes experienced in his work as a police officer. An example given is the sight of a stainless steel draining board triggering a visual memory of a dead baby after a post-mortem examination. I think I’ve written on the subject of PTSD before when reviewing the book The Shaking Woman by synesthete novelist Siri Hustvedt, and I recall that I speculated that PTSD might be connected to PTSD. After reading this book I’m all the more convinced, because the involuntary recall of traumatic visual memories described by the policeman seems to operate in the same way as synaesthesia, and is in many ways similar to my many experiences of having non-traumatic visual memories of scenes or faces evoked by visual or other cognitive triggers, which I have argued are a less-known types of synaesthesia. I’m not the least surprised that an extraordinary visual memory can have great advantages and disadvantages.

Don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is a book about neuro-psychology. It is basically an action-packed autobiography of a British detective who has worked in England and also in Perth, Western Australia. Western Australian readers will no doubt be shocked by the ugly picture that the anonymous author has painted of the police in Perth.

Amazon UK page for the book  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crime-Factory-Shocking-Front-Line-Detective/dp/1780575254

Sunday Times (WA) article by Anthony DeCeglie about the book and accusations made in it about WA police  http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/cop-spills-all-on-wa-police/story-e6frg13u-1226532858410

Cached text-only version of quite shocking April 2012 article from People magazine by Douglas Wight that is based on the book’s introduction  http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.people.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/2012/04/15/the-filth-explosive-revelations-of-police-officers-crimes-hushed-up-to-save-embarrassment-102039-23825713/&hl=en&tbo=d&strip=1

Listening to Heather Sellers’ autobiography

I’ve been listening to the interesting autobiography by prosopagnosic Heather Sellers, titled You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, in a compact disc format. I had wanted to borrow the book from the public library, but for some reason or another they decided to order it in a spoken word form. Perhaps they thought that face-blindness is a sub-set of ordinary blindness, and the readers who would be interested in the autobiography would have visual impairments or dyslexia. Actually, I’d like to know if there is any link between dyslexia and prosopagnosia, but I know for sure that there are plenty of prosopagnosics who do not report any issues with vision or reading at all.

I’ll admit that I haven’t found the time to listen to all nine discs. The content of disc number seven was particularly of interest to me, covering Ms Sellers’ discovery of her own prosopagnosia, the dreadful way that she was treated during the process of getting professionally diagnosed, in the time when prosopagnosia was thought of as a rare effect of stroke affecting mostly middle-aged men, and speculation about any possible link between her prosopagnosia and her mother’s mental illness. Some useful resources that Ms Sellers wrote about discovering were an academic reserch book by Andrew W. Young and the website Faceblind.org, which is still a very important resource about prosopagnosia. Ms Sellers contacted the face recognition researcher Brad Duchaine and also discovered an online community of prosopagnosics, mostly developmental cases who often saw prosopagnosia in family members, and some acting in the role of disability activist. Different approaches to disclosing prosopagnosia as a disability are touched upon. It’s interesting stuff for sure, and I thank Ms Sellers for sharing her story.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that as I listened to the CDs of Ms Sellers’ autobiography, as visual illustration of the story in my mind’s eye, my mind automatically retrieved some old visual memories from my past in Perth, Western Australia as settings for the story, even though they were probably not a close fit to the real settings of the real events described by the author Sellers from the US. For scenes set in the university in which Sellers was a student, my mind used my visual memories of the Joondalup Campus of the Edith Curtin University, specifically the lunch bar area next to a stairway. For scenes of the story that were set in residential areas my mind used old memories of old and run-down unrenovated two-story blocks of flats in Subiaco (which have probably been fixed up or demolished by now), and for interior shots of the author’s university residence my mind came up with some imagined spaces. Perhaps this effortless, involuntary and unconscious visualization while listening to a story is completely typical of the way all people listen to stories. Whether it is or not, it shows how visual memories are involuntarily and centrally involved with thinking processes that aren’t explicitly remembering or memory-related. Visual memory is not just a isolated function summoned up when we want to remember what something looked like. Visual memory is in the guts of cognition, it is more than a record of past sensory experiences, and this is why I am not surprised that visual memories come up so often (in my own experience) as synaesthesia inducers and concurrents associated with other cognitive functions that appear to have little relation with visual memory, such as fine-motor learned skills and thinking about very abstract concepts. The automatic use of visual memories when I am thinking about a story that I’m listening to shows that visual memory is not just a narrow function of the mind, and I think it also shows that there is little point in trying to make a distinction between memory and imagination, as both appear to be functions that are beyond conscious control, at least in some situations.