Tag Archives: Episodic Memory

The Brain documentary series reaches Australia

I’ve started watching the TV series The Brain featuring the accomplished American neuroscientist Dr David Eagleman, who has made major contributions to synaesthesia research and many more areas of neuroscience. Face recognition and synaesthesia are some of the many topics mentioned in the first episode, which has already been broadcast on SBS.


Are these forms of synesthesia?

Synesthesia, at and near its borders. Lawrence Marks and Catherine Mulvenna Frontiers in Psychology. 2013; 4: 651. Published online 2013 September 26. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00651



I would say a definite “yes”  that SENSORY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORY or the PROUST PHENOMENON described in this paper is related to synaesthesia, in fact I would say it is a type of synaesthesia. Just look at how it works; there is a trigger and a triggered experience like in synaesthesia, both are highly specific and can be highly idiosyncratic, there is a set connection between the both, the phenomenon is involuntary and automatic, and the Proust phenomenon is considered to be a type of memory and many of my observations at this blog have demonstrated that synaesthesia can involve memory, is an element of the “method of loci” memory technique and I would argue operates like memory. Yes, Yes, Yes, the Proust Phenomenon is a close relative of synaesthesia. I would even speculate that synaesthetes might experience the Proust Phenomenon more often than others and some people who aren’t synaesthetes maybe never experience the Proust Phenomenon.

Shaunacy Being In Love Makes Water Taste Sweeter. Australian Popular Science. 17 Oct 2013.


I was stunned when I first read this article about a set of studies (details below) that could be regarded as investigations of flavoured emotion synaesthesia experienced by study subjects who are not known to be synaesthetes. I was stunned because the effect of hightened experiencing of the taste of sweetness when primed to be thinking about of experiencing love described in this article seems to be very similar to my own rare experiences of white chocolate flavoured hugs, from the time when one of our kids was an incredibly cute preschooler. All money is on the theory that my anterior cingulate cortex was being activated at that moment, in a big way.

Chan, Kai Qin; Tong, Eddie M. W.; Tan, Deborah H.; Koh, Alethea H. Q. What do love and jealousy taste like? Emotion. Vol 13(6), Dec 2013, 1142-1149.


Another type of thing that can be recognized visually, with useful applications

Do I have this right? The daughter who had been callously abandoned by the Englishman who migrated to Australia and became the Chief Librarian at the Reid Library at the University of Western Australia discovered a letter that was supposed to have been written by herself, but she knew she hadn’t written it, and she recognized the handwriting as that of her father’s second wife, who was the Perth literary identity and celebrated Australian writer Elizabeth Jolley? Well, I guess if I have that right it proves the personal importance and the forensic and historical utility of another type of visual recognition and visual memory – handwriting recognition. I doubt that personality can be read in handwriting, but it certainly gives a good clue to the identity of the writer.

I was once a student at UWA and I’ve spent many a happy hour reading at the Reid Library. I’ve also volunteered as a study subject a number of times at “U-dub”. I also studied at the institution of higher learning which produced the calendar shown behind Elizabeth Jolley in a photo shown in the Australian Story episode linked to below. In the 1980s I lived next door to people who knew Jolley as a friend and who celebrated her literary career. Am I shocked or surprised that a hero of 1980s Perth had a definitely sinister side? Nope. I’m also old enough to remember watching friends and family waving and cheering on the footpath on a bend of Stirling Highway in Cottesloe, some time in the 1980s, as an open car was driven past carrying a group of local heroes. I can still see Alan Bond’s smiling face like it was yesterday. Was Brian Burke also in that car? Perth has always been one crooked town.


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