Tag Archives: Carla Shatz

Finding confirmation of my beliefs and ideas, as you do

A closely related family member of mine recently scored a perfect mark on an adult literacy test geared to normal adults (which was true to form) , and another closely related family member in mid-childhood recently explained that they perceive motor vehicles as having faces and they categorize cars, utes and 4WDs into genders, square old 4WDs being male. I can see how that makes sense, but all the same I’ve never been that much of a car personifier. Ever since I was a child I’ve personified numbers and alphabet letters in great detail, along with perceiving them as essentially associated with very specific colours, and the shapes and motions of cars often make me think of hunting animals in some deeply instinctive way, but unlike my young relative and the many Australians who decorate their own motor vehicles with oversized curly eyelashes or giant imitation testes, I don’t see motor vehicles as male or female.

On the surface most people seem pretty-much normal and average, but if you make the most superficial investigation by testing or speaking with people about their thoughts and perceptions, you might find that there is an interesting and sometimes significant range of differences in the way our minds work. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia, personifying synaesthesia and elite and precocious levels of ability in reading, spelling and general literacy are just some of the interesting things that run in my family and are also experienced by me, and I am also a super-recognizer. A super-recognizer is a person who has an elite level of ability in recognizing faces or face memory, and typically can achieve perfect or near-perfect scores on tests of face memory. I believe that this co-occurrence of synaesthesia and elite abilities in face memory and literacy are no coincidence. I believe all of these things are based on hyper-connectivity or hyper-development in the rear parts of the brain including the fusiform gyrus, and also in the right hemisphere of the brain. I believe the genetic basis of this development might be linked to genes that code for particular variations in the functioning of the immune system, possibly involving the complement chemicals, microglia and synaptic pruning. I’m fascinated by the possibility that research work that has been done in the last decade linking immunology and neuropsychology can inform us about the origins of synaesthesia and also specific gifts and deficits in memory and cognition, and maybe also inform us about some types of dementia. In 2012 at this blog I explicitly identified research on the immune system, complement, microglia and synaptic pruning done by Dr Beth Stevens as a possible explanation for the origins of developmental synaesthesia, an idea that was so good that some synaesthesia researchers made it the basis of a speculative paper that was published in a peer-reviewed journal last year (they forgot to acknowledge me as the first to publish this idea). Work done on MHC1 (part of the immune system) and the brain by Carla Shatz is another area of scientific research that I find tremendously exciting, and I believe that the general area of research on the relationships between brain structure and the immune system is of such originality and importance that it should attract one or more Nobel Prizes.

There’s a back-story to my theory

I can show data dating back to the year 2000 that supports my theory that low levels of complement proteins, which are a part of the human immune system, specifically C3, C4 and most likely C1q, are the biological cause of the development of inherited synaesthesia (at least in some cases). Before I had thought of the idea of a link between the immune system and synaesthesia I had, at the blog, published a theory that synaesthesia is in some way the neurological opposite of a variety of dementia named Benson’s syndrome (aka PCA, posterior cortical atrophy), based on my observations and reading. I had speculated that there could be some “magical chemical” that regulated the brain in some way and that oppositely extreme levels of this magical chemical could be the biological basis of both synaesthesia and Benson’s syndrome. Back in 2012 I read a small article in New Scientist magazine that blew my mind, because it appeared that it gave me some major clues about what that magical chemical could be. The article was about the exciting work of Dr Beth Stevens on microglial pruning in the brain and the immune system’s complement proteins. The term “pruning” was familiar to me from all of my reading about synaesthesia, which is a fun heritable brain-based phenomenon which I share with some of my first-degree relatives, along with specific gifts in literacy skills. The term “complement” in the context of the immune system, and the individual names of complement proteins were also familiar to me.

Being a super-recognizer, I’m pretty good at recognizing patterns, and I recognized that all these elements of information fitted together into an important and original multi-faceted theory. I was so excited that I published a brief outline of my theory at this blog in 2012. In 2013 I was shocked to discover that a prominent synaesthesia researcher and her co-author had published a theoretical journal paper titled “The immune hypothesis of synesthesia” which even included speculation that the “complement system” could be the element of the immune system responsible for the development of synaesthesia. I found no credit given in that paper to me or my blog. As I had published my theory first I believe I should have been fully acknowledged. I never thought that this could have been a case of two separate parties thinking of the same idea independently. I read their paper through and I looked into the educational and research background of both authors and their previous publications and found no study or writing about the immune system and no indication or explanation of why they might have suddenly had their own insight linking synaesthesia with some of the many elements of the incredibly complex immune system that only an immunologist would find interesting. 

This Easter I’d like to pose the question; can Simner and Carmichael offer data dating back to the year 2000 as the basis of their published version of “the immune hypothesis of synesthesia”? I can, and I would be willing to share my data with serious medical researchers.

A while ago I was sorting through some piles of old papers that I had stowed away years ago without sorting through them. These things happen during a busy family life. These piles had been sitting around for years, some of it photocopies of articles from New Scientist magazine that had struck me as interesting but which I hadn’t always had the time to read through properly. I was amused to find that I had stowed away an article from the March 1st 2008 issue titled “Thought control” by Bijal Trivedi. It was all about exciting research by the likes of Carla Shatz, Ben Barres, Simon John, Staffan Cullheim, Eliezer Masliah, Robert Terry and Lisa Boulanger about synapse loss in dementia and the interesting things that elements of the immune system appeared to be doing in the brain, contrary to the received wisdom that there is a thing called the blood-brain barrier that keeps the immune system out of the brain. I’m not sure whether or not I had read the article back then, but I can understand why it had sparked my interest. Back then it wasn’t enough of a spark to give me the idea of a link between the immune system and synaesthesia, because back then I hadn’t even heard of the terms “super-recognizer” or “Benson’s syndrome”, in fact the concept and the term of “super-recognizer” hadn’t yet been published. Back then I had not the slightest inkling that I had better than average ability in face recognition, so I hadn’t started thinking about whether it was more than a coincidence that I was both a synaesthete and a super, and which parts of the brain might be atypical in both. I hadn’t read the human interest story in The West about a Perth citizen who had been diagnosed with Benson’s, and felt curious about how the description of that type of dementia sounded like the opposite of skills that were superior or associated with synaesthesia in myself and kin. I must have forgotten about the content of the 2008 New Scientist article, if I had ever read it at all, because it would have been the ribbon which I could have used to wrap up my package of ideas neatly. Curiosity can be rewarded, even if it takes a couple of coins before the penny drops.

 

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014

A note of warning – If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, ideas or descriptions in this post or using it in your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and my objection will be well publicized. If you believe that you published any of these ideas before I did, please let me know the details in a comment on this article. If you want to make reference to this blog post or any of the ideas in it make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about these ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this post be sure to cite this post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog. Thank you.

The idea that Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA, a variety of dementia, is caused or develops in a way that can be seen as the opposite of the synaesthesia linked with exceptional visual memory and literacy skills that runs in my family (this idea has been explored previously in this blog).

The idea that the above cited states develop or are caused in a way that makes them seem like opposites because they both affect the same or similar areas of the brain, but in opposite ways.

The idea that the above described process happens because Benson’s syndrome and our variety of synaesthesia are both mediated by the same or similar natural chemical or cells or biological agent in the brain, one caused by high levels of the mystery substance and the other caused by low levels (a hypothesis that I briefly suggested in January 2011).

The idea that one of the many known or unknown elements of the immune system that impact brain development is the mystery substance referred to above (a hypothesis that I briefly outlined in 2012).

The (implied in above ideas) idea of the immune hypothesis of synaesthesia. (This idea was first published by me in 2012 in a blog post archived here, was I believe plagiarized in 2013 here, and was the subject of my plagiarism claim here.)

The idea that one or more of the complement immune chemicals is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that the C3 complement immune chemical  is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that synaesthesia is linked with one or maybe more immune diseases or conditions caused by low levels of complement.

The idea that genes for synaesthesia stay quite common in the gene pool because of some associated cognitive advantage (probably superior memory) that balances out any disadvantages caused by deficiencies in the immune system.

The idea that some or many people unintentionally experience a memory process that operates in a similar way to the method of loci memory technique in their everyday lives, unintentionally forming long-term associations between individual learned concepts and individual visual memories of scenes (I have named this phenomenon Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization or IMLM).

The idea that IMLM operates in such a similar way to synaesthesia that one could argue that it is a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes are more likely to experience IMLM than non-synaesthetes.

The (implied) idea that the method of loci memory technique is similar to or a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes might have a natural advantage in using the method of loci because the method of loci is similar to or is a type of  synaesthesia. This idea that seems likely in light of the case of “S” the Russian memory performer with many types of synaesthesia described by Luria. 

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span and can thus be used as an indicator of which synaesthetes are synaesthetes due to enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span rather than other possible causes of synaesthesia. Support for this idea comes from the fact that IMLM appears to be a non-developmental variety of synaesthesia that can form new long-term associations in adolescence and adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by the unusual possession of levels of synaptic plasticity typical of a young child, during adolescence or adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is caused or enhanced by some characteristic of the immune system that affects the functioning of the brain. Many different elements of the incredibly complex immune system are thought to affect the functioning or development of the brain, and could thus be involved in IMLM, including the complement system, microglia and the MHC class I molecules. Researchers such as Beth Stevens and Carla Shatz have investigated this exciting area of neuroscience. In 2012 I hypothesized at this blog that synaesthesia could be caused by low levels of complement, this idea implying that the immune system is directly involved in synaesthesia (or at least some cases of synaesthesia). I believe these ideas were plagiarized in a paper published in 2013.

The idea that IMLM is similar to the “Proust phenomenon” in that it is very similar to synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia and involves episodic or autobiographical memory as a concurrent.

The idea that phonics as a foundational reading skill is similar to or is arguably a type of synaesthesia in that it involves the involuntary association of individual speech sounds with individual printed letters or combinations of letters, as the result of learning in early to mid childhood.

The idea that at least one type of dyslexia is like a deficiency of synaesthesia.

The implied idea that if synaesthesia has as it’s basis hyperconnectivity in the white matter of the brain, dyslexia as an opposite of synaesthesia or a deficiency of synaesthesia is or could be caused by hypoconnectivity in the white matter of the brain (I suspect there might be existing research evidence that supports this idea).

The implied idea that in at least one cluster or grouping of cases synaesthesia is associated with superiority in literacy or reading skill.

The idea that synaesthesia can happen in different regions of the brain, and because of this the experience of various types of synaesthesia can vary in detectable ways because of the influence on the synaesthesia of the varied ways that different areas of the brain operate. This can mean that one synaesthete can experience different types of synaesthesia that operate in very different ways, for example, some types of synaesthesia more rare or spontaneous or intrusive than other types. (I am not completely sure of the originality or the novelty of all of this idea.)

The idea that there is an association between synaesthesia and super-recognition that is not merely coincidental.

The idea that synaesthesia is a type of memory or learning. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact).

The idea that synaesthesia concurrents are re-experienced memories, or re-activated “learnings” of concepts, not perceptions. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact). In support of this idea I can assert that synaesthesia is like face recognition in that both are visual memory-based phenomena which are subject to the Verbal Overshadowing Effect or something very similar. My assertion that synaesthesia is subject to the verbal overshadowing effect is based on my own observations (outlined elsewhere in this post).

The idea that super-recognizers should or could be trained and employed as expert consultants in the practice of medical genetics.

The idea that medical geneticists and all types of medical specialists need to have a super-recognizer level of face memory or face recognition ability, so that they can intuitively and quickly recognize medical facies.

The idea that there is no clear point of distinction between medical facies or faces associated with genetic syndromes and normal faces.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify blood relatives of a person or persons.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify the specific ethnicity of a person.

(below ideas added January 28th 2014)

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could develop as the result of an unusual level of fascination with the visual appearance of landscapes or scenes, rather than from a fascination with faces, and thus be a side-effect hyper-development of a part of the brain that serves two similar functions.

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could, at least  in some cases, develop as the result of a general hyper-development of the visual sense to compensate for problems in the auditory sense during childhood such as temporary deafness, recurrent ear infections, glue ear or poor auditory processing.

(below idea added February 1st 2014)

The idea that lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is an exaggerated form of some kind of evolutionary adaptation in the brain that biologically primes the mind to attend to or react to speech on the subject of food (this idea was discussed at this blog in a post dated January 27th 2011, with more consideration in a later post).

(below ideas added February 6th 2014)

The idea that creativity might be immediately enhanced during and only during the duration of physical or visual-spatial activity because the activity activates areas of the brain associated with movement and in turn these areas activate other areas of the brain including those that give rise to conceptual thinking, and the increased activation makes novel associations between diverse thoughts and concepts more likely, and that this process is like synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia, and the types of physical activity that are the most effective inducers of this effect might be highly specific, highly specific in effects, highly varied between individuals and highly idiosyncratic, as is typical of synaesthesia inducers and concurrents. Driving a car can act as an inducer of this effect. (I have gone some way to exploring this idea in past posts.)

The idea that mental flexibility might be immediately enhanced by the above effect, which I will name “movement – thought-flexibility synaesthesia”.

The idea that thinking might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that memory might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that the above effect is similar to embodied cognition or is a type of embodied cognition.

(below ideas added February 14th  and  February 20th 2014)

The idea that synaesthesia is like the process of face recognition (and vice versa), because they both

– are subject to the verbal overshadowing effect or something similar

– are automatic

– are involuntary

– have a sensory inducer, in face recognition always visual, in synaesthesia I think most frequently visual

– have or can have a concurrent that could be described as a memory, a concept or a personality (I’m comparing face recognition with personification synaesthesias and the synaesthesias that I have described at this blog which have visual memories of scenes as concurrents)

– are or can be visual in both the inducer and concurrent

– typically involve the fusiform gyrus

– involve set pairings of inducers and concurrents (same person’s face seen before then recognized later)

– involve set parings of highly specific inducers and concurrents (I recognize that an employee at my local supermarket has a sister who has just started working there too, as their faces and bodies and hair are near-identical, but for the extra acne and the more receding chin of the new employee. They are very similar in appearance but my discrimination is highly specific, just as I can recognize that the green wall on the lower floor of a public library is close to but not quite the same colour as Tuesday.)

– both can have, but do not always have an actual face as an inducer (we can recognize the faces of celebrities in photos, caricatures and art, even seeing Marilyn Monroe’s face in a pattern of brown coffee cups stuck to the wall at the coffee shop at the art gallery.)

(below idea added February 17th 2014)

“My particular interest in personification is my own theory that personification synaesthesia (as experienced by myself) or something like it gives rise to superiority in face memory (or being a super-recognizer) by naturally making the faces of unknown people more memorable and interesting”

The above is a quote from an article that was published at the blog in October 2013.

(below ideas added February 19th 2014)

The idea that the synaesthesia brain is the result of the developmental influence or shaping from, or the adaptation to, the behavioural phenomenon of “flow” as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The idea that synaesthesia, intellectual giftedness or high IQ and autism or Asperger syndrome seem to coincide more often than chance because gifted and autistic kids are more likely to experience “flow” and this in turn can influence the developing brain in a way that gives rise to synaesthesia.

(below ideas added February 20th 2014)

The idea that the genuine conscious awareness of synaesthesia is a threshold phenomenon that operates in conflict or competition with conscious thinking, meaning that consciously thinking about synaesthesia can inferfere with the perception of concurrents, and synaesthesia must reach a particular level of intensity before it interrupts the experience of consciousness and becomes itself the subject of conscious awareness. I think that the idea that thinking about synaesthesia can interfere with the perception of synaesthesia might be related to the “verbal overshadowing” effect which has been described and debated about by researchers. In fairness I should point out that Mark C. Price speculated in the recently published (2013) Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia that synaesthesia could be subject to the verbal overshadowing effect. My own ideas were arrived upon independently from Price’s writing or work.  I base the ideas of synaesthesia being a threshold phenomenon which can also be interfered with by conscious thinking on a number of my own observations. In direct contradiction to what I had expected to find, my scores for accuracy for individual letters and numbers in The Synesthesia Battery (a scientifically-validated online test of synaesthesia) were lower for the numbers and letters that have colours that I find beautiful and which I have thought about to some degree, while my best accuracy was for the numbers and letters that have the dull and ugly colours. It seems the less I think about the concurrents the more accurately I can percieve them when they are evoked. I have also noticed that most of the types of synaesthesia that I experience I was not consciously aware of before I started to think about and examine the idea of synaesthesia. I never realised that I had complete stability in the colours I associate with months and days of the week till I tested myself. While I had a dim awareness of colour colouring my thoughts, I’d not realised that this worked like synaesthesia till I went looking for a pattern using simple testing. My fine motor movement-visual memories of scenes synaesthesia evokes concurrents that are so fleetingly and subtly experienced that they just feel like random thoughts, and indeed I now believe it is possible that the random thoughts of many or even all people are in fact synaesthesia of various types. I have also observed that there are some very unsubtle and intrusive types of syn that I experience, and they are typically rarely experienced and are associated with people, emotions, faces, singing voices or music that I find striking or novel as inducers. Because of the circumstances of these examples of synaesthesia, I think some kind of threshold is being breached when these types of synaesthesia are experienced by me.

The idea that one of the established defining criteria for synaesthesia, that it gives rise to perceptions or concurrents which are “consistent and generic (i.e., simple rather than pictorial)”, is wrong, and specific categories of memories of complex visual images such as faces and scenes, which are processed in the fusiform gyrus, can also be experienced as genuine synaesthesia concurrents. I base this assertion on the fact that I often involuntarily experience synesthesia concurrents of this type, and I have written about such experiences right from the first post in this blog which was published in 2010. I have also named types of synesthesia that have complex visual memories as concurrents: the strange phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, involuntary method of loci memorization, etc. There are also many accounts or scientific observations of synaesthesia with complex visual concurrents in the scientific literature on synaesthesia.

The two most exciting science magazine articles of 2013 (far as I’m concerned)

The most exciting blogging moment of 2013 for me was probably when I discovered that my idea about linking synaesthesia with the immune system, and idea which I published in the winter of 2012 at the blog, had been recycled without my permission in a paper that was published in October 2013 in a journal that is apparently peer reviewed and all that fancy stuff. Of course, the big excitement of 2012 was thinking of this idea along with a suite of more important and related ideas, and the excitement continued this year as I read more about the work of researchers such as Carla Shatz, Ben Barres, Beth Stevens and Marie-Eve Tremblay who are busy pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge about the complex relationship between elements of the immune system and elements of the brain. It’s a wide open and potentially very important new area of scientific discovery, and below are the details of some  items that you can read if you wish to find out what the excitement is about. Have an exciting new year.

Miller, Kenneth Brain benders. Discover. October 2013. p. 30-37.  http://discovermagazine.com/2013/oct/12-brain-benders#.UsL_B_QW18E  (disregard the guff in this article about autism and schizophrenia)

Costandi, Moheb The mind minders. New Scientist. Issue 2938 October 12th 2013. p. 45-47.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029381.000-the-mind-minders-meet-our-brains-maintenance-workers.html

One thing in the world of popular science writing that hasn’t been so inspiring and exciting in 2013 is the famous Dr Karl Kruszelnicki’s latest pop science book on the 2013 Christmas gift book market, titled Game of Knowns. The book has a chapter in it about the blood-brain barrier. The concept of a blood-brain barrier is an established and accepted idea in medicine, but I think that the new area of research about the varied and important roles in brain development and brain maintenance of cells and chemicals that were previously thought to be limited to playing roles in the immune system are very important exceptions to the old notion that the brain is normally quarantined from the immune system by the blood-brain barrier. I’ve had a quick look at Dr Karl’s new book, and it appears to me that the chapter about the blood-brain barrier fails to mention the role of these immune cells and chemicals in the brain, things such as microglia, MHC1 and complement system proteins. It appears to me that the chapter in Dr Karl’s book is dated and seriously incomplete, and missing some exciting material. Even for a populariser of science, I expect more.