Tag Archives: Jean

I had no idea

I guess I should have suspected that the term “indigo child” comes from synaesthesia. The truth is that mystical new age stuff is one of those areas of life, like sport, religion and Hollywood gossip, which I do my very best to ignore, and that’s probably why I’d never given it a single thought.

Are the indigo children really so fascinating or are they just spoiled brats? It’s those beige adults that I wonder about, people like Jean and John. What makes them so special and successful, and why are they so beige in colour and also in behaviour? Does society reward beigeness, or are they exceptional or radical in disguise? Are they as happy with being beige as the seem to be, or do they secretly long to be scarlet or even indigo? Were they indigo when they were kids and changed colour, like birds who drop their old feathers and old colouration?

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Indigo children’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 February 2014, 10:58 UTC, [accessed 18 February 2014]


Someone else who looks like Jean

Gladys in this story on last night’s 60 Minutes has a face that reminds me so much of Jean, the Jean whose face is the synaesthesia concurrent in The Strange Phenomenon. Funny thing is that the photos shown in this story of Gladys as a young lady with smooth skin and dark hair don’t remind me much of Jean. The older Gladys without the dark hair and dark brows dominating the look of her face, but with the pattern of wrinkles that form a radiating pattern at the tops of her eyes, does look to my eye like Jean, in a way that’s just uncanny. I think the resemblance is uncanny because it seems to go beyond the facial appearance to include expressions as well. Old or young, Gladys has a pleasant face that catches the eye.


A new generation of those people?

I’m sure that I’ve met Jean’s daughter or maybe her niece. She’s a dead-ringer for Jean*, except for a slightly different hair colour and no glasses. She has exactly the same job as Jean, but a different employer. Even her first name is similar to Jean’s. Who are these people? Who are these intelligent almost-clones?

*not her real name

It’s a bit like that science fiction movie with the blonde children

In the course of my normal internet and print reading, I’ve come across a photo of an accomplished lady who has a career that encompasses technology, science and narratives. She has straight pale blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s clearly very smart. She has a surname that originated from one of those nice, neat little Baltic nations. She is also a dead-ringer for Jean (not her real name).

A 100% certain sighting – what makes a face interesting?

I have had the unexpected opportunity to see Jean properly at close range for the first time in something like ten years, and I’m thoroughtly disgusted that she doesn’t look any older. There’s no doubt that I’ve changed for the worse. I’d like to know her secret. Jean is notable because her face, and to be completely correct, her personality as manifested in her face and voice and typical expressions, is the concurrent in a particularly interesting type of synaesthesia which I experienced on a few occasions over a period of a few months a couple of years ago. It was an interesting type of synesthesia because it appears to be a mixture of synaesthesia and face recognition, experienced by a person (me) who gets face memory test scores in the range consistent with being a super-recognizer. I believe I am the first and the only person in the world to describe such an experience, which I gave the title of The Strange Phenomenon. Jean is working in pretty-much the same job for the same large organization that she was working in ten-odd years ago. Maybe she had always been doing shifts here and there somewhere. The day I met her was a chance deviation from my usual routine in my usual neighbourhood.

This sighting has given me the opportunity to answer a few questions about Jean’s appearance and The Strange Phenomenon that have been unanswered for a couple of years. Firstly, Jean does have a face that has many features that look the same as John’s face (John’s face is the inducer or trigger of the particular type of synaesthesia). Jean’s colouring, nose, lips and ears do look similar to John’s. Both wear glasses and short hair all the time and both have uninteresting, drab eyes. John is always clean-shaven. Despite these similarities, she isn’t John’s female double, as I think their faces have quite different shapes. When I saw Jean I didn’t think “Wow, looks like John!”, I thought “Wow, it’s Jean, and the ***** hasn’t aged!” The sight of Jean’s face did not trigger any type of synaesthesia, and it did not trigger any memory or vision of John’s face. I can’t completely rule out the possibility that The Strange Phenomenon might work as a two-way type of synaesthesia, because I didn’t stare at Jean’s face for long, and I think The Strange Phenomenon takes some time to be set off. It requires a quite focused attention, which is I think pretty typical of synaesthesia.

I now think it is plausible that The Strange Phenomenon happens solely because from a certain angle Jean and John’s faces look similar in a sufficient number of ways that it triggers some critical threshold of visual recognition (and be reminded that it only happened when John’s face was viewed under specific conditions from a 45 degree angle). Perhaps there is more to it than that, because there is still the question of why my mind would retain a visual memory for several years (with amazing clarity) of the face and manner of a woman who was nothing more to me than a person occasionally seen at the other side of a service desk. I’ve previously explained that I find John’s face more interesting than most and it holds my attention, and I’d say the same about Jean’s. She is one of the many quite unfortunate people who are born with facial features that can subtly give the false impression of a particular mood by virtue of the innate shape of one or more features. Sometimes people with heavy or oddly-shaped eyebrows have a look of gravity that isn’t really a reflection of their true mood or personality. Jean happens to have a nose and mouth that give her face a somewhat mean or angry look about it, and I think this aspect of her face frequently unconsciously draws attention from the parts of the brain that monitor facial expressions, and then it is up to the conscious mind to correct the feeling that I might be in the presence of a person in an unsympathetic mood. I think there are some faces which play merry hell with the various face processing modules in the brain, playing one off against the other, creating ambiguity and uncertainty, and I think this might be why some faces are so much more interesting than others. Well, I find them interesting.

Never again?

It must have been something like two years since I last experienced The Strange Phenomenon. Will the coincidence of all of the social and visual situations required to give rise to this phenomenon ever happen again? I think it is unlikely, but at this point of time not completely impossible. The man whose face when viewed under very specific conditions evoked The Strange Phenomenon leads a different life these days and those conditions don’t happen any more. The woman whose face was the triggered image in The Strange Phenomenon is still a person from my distant past. I’ve not made any certain sightings of her for several years. Time moves on.

Not quite the Strange Phenomenon, but so close

It has been many months since I last experienced the Strange Phenomenon, which I described in excruciating detail in the very first post in this blog. I hope to sometime find the time to fully explore the possible reasons why the Strange Phenomenon has ceased. The short and obvious explanation is that the Strange Phenomenon is a very fussy phenomenon, and the exact conditions in which it manifests have not all been present for many months. I had been wondering if the underlying neurological structures in my brain that made the Strange Phenomenon possible might have altered, causing the extinction of the Strange Phenomenon, but something that I have seen recently has made me think again.

It has been a long time since I’ve been in a position to view John’s face in the exact conditions under which the Strange Phenomenon operates, but I recently noticed a photograph of John that was taken not too long ago. The photograph did not evoke the Strange Phenomenon, but it did give me a strong jolt of recognition as I saw elements of Jean’s face in John’s facial features in the picture. It is an interesting image, not a flattering shot at all. John looks pretty terrible because it is one of those unfortunate images that catch a person in the midst of an animated expression. The unnatural capturing of one moment of a moving face can look grotesque. What this photo lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in information. The photo captures a lot of the uniqueness and expression of John’s face. Just like the conditions required for the Strange Phenomenon this photo is a view of John’s face from around a 45 degree angle, the type of angle which displays the most comprehensive view of any face, and this viewpoint also minimizes the width of John’s face, which is a masculine feature of his face which prevents it from looking too much like Jean’s female face. So what you get from this 45 degree view is the best sample of the character of a face while minimizing one element of gender difference in faces.

This photo is also remarkable in that it gives a fantastic view of John’s wrinkles. He is not a particularly wrinkly person, but this shot was taken in just the right lighting conditions (natural light) to draw out the most fine details in a face. Like the conditions required for the Strange Phenomenon, this photo was an outdoor view. Wrinkles age a person, but they also draw out the character and expression and uniqueness in a face. This is why botoxed and fillered old ladies have faces that are devoid of expression. Without lines and wrinkles faces look like stupid lumps of cheese. This photo comes as close as a photograph possibly could to the conditions that would evoke the Strange Phenomenon. The Strange Phenomenon requires a view of John’s face that displays a comprehensive view, defining lines, a sense of moving expression and the least view possible of gender-defining characteristics. This picture comes pretty darn close.

A full description of The Strange Phenomenon can be found here:

A Most Peculiar Experience    https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/


I thought I saw Jean* today. To my knowledge I’ve not seen this woman, who I never really knew, for seven or so years. Jean’s face is one of the two faces that are involved with “the strange phenomenon”, which I have described in detail in the first post of this blog.

I didn’t speak to this lady who I spotted today, and I didn’t get such a great look at her face, (it is rude to stare, you know), but I do think that her nose did not look exactly the same as John’s nose. Her nose looked (at a glance) more pointy and less downturned than John’s. If this lady was indeed Jean, then the strange phenomenon does not operate on the basis of John and Jean having near-identical faces. So is face recognition really the engine that makes the strange phenomenon work? Perhaps it is recognition of something more general than faces?

In what way did this lady look Jean-like? She had the same general shape and colouring, a face that looked pretty much the same, and exactly the same hairstyle and type of clothing that Jean wore all those years ago. I have got to consider the possibility that I’ve only identified this woman as Jean based on superficial similarities in the way they look, and I’ve got to consider how likely it is that any woman would stick to the same hairstyle and fashion style for seven-odd years. It seems unlikely, but then again, I think we all know people who are fashion dinosaurs or conscientious objectors to fashion, people who find a hairstyle or brand of clothing that they really like or that feels comfortable, and they stick to it forever regardless of the changing seasons of haute couture.

Was this Jean or not-Jean? Unlikely as it seems, my gut instinct tells me that this was Jean. I’m glad that this lady is still alive, because it would indeed be creepy to think that all this time I had been receiving “visions” of the face of a dead woman. Long live Jean, whoever she is.

* Jean and John are not their real names.

I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks’ new book The Mind’s Eye

After I read much of Oliver Sacks’ previous book about the mind and music Musicophilia, which has within it a very good chapter about synaesthesia, I expected that Sacks’ newest book would certainly be worth a look. The Mind’s Eye is about the processing of vision in the brain and visual disorders/disabilities, so it is exactly the right Oliver Sacks book for the moment for me, as I have recently stumbled into a keen interest in matters of the brain and visual images. For a period of over a year I have been experiencing a strange visual/memory phenomenon, which I have named “the strange phenomenon”, and although I have consulted academics, university researchers and experts from all around the world for an opinion on this (without divulging the identities of the people whose faces are involved with the strange phenomenon), as is often the case, I have been left to figure it out myself, which hasn’t been all that bad because this has been a very interesting period of discovery and I’ve always had a keen interest in the life sciences.

The Mind’s Eye is a book that has lived up to my expectations. It has a chapter about a case of Benson’s syndrome (Sacks favours the alternative term for it “posterior cortical atrophy” or PCA). As I have already explained in this blog, in my family there seems to be a gene that gives people a profile of superior abilities that could be described as the opposite of Benson’s syndrome. Benson’s syndrome is degenerative disease that can have as its first symptom the loss of the ability to read.

The book also has a chapter about prosopagnosia (face-blindness) which is an extended version of the interesting magazine article “Face-Blind” that Sacks wrote for New Yorker magazine on this subject. Sacks described his own quite severe inherited developmental prosopagnosia which is accompanied with agnosia for scenes (Sacks favours the alternative term for this “topographical agnosia”). This chapter also mentions super-recognizers. I was quite struck by descriptions in this book of the many ways in which people, including psychiatrists, have misunderstood and misinterpreted the effects of prosopagnosia. Sacks exposes an unpardonable level of ignorance of this disability among medical professionals.

I’ve enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to others.

Another one?

FFS. I was just watching an episode of the British TV series “Museum of Life” on ABC1, while eating a late dinner and talking with family etc, not watching the show closely at all even though it did look most interesting, and I noticed on one of the smart people in the show, for a moment or two, a particular subtle, tight-lipped expression on their mouth. It is hard to describe and to hard to interpret, but it looks like it could be a sign of an emotion like “You are now trying my patience” or more likely “I’m getting determined now”. John and Jean came to mind, and I looked at the rest of the face of this person on the science TV series, and there are many ways in which this person looks similar to John and Jean: shape of face, shape of jaw, features, eyes, colouring, etc, except for the wrinkles. There was no “strange phenomenon”, and they aren’t identical by any means, but I’m still left wondering if I’m looking at a “type”.

I’m also wondering if it might have been something like a micro-expression on Jean’s face that made me unconsciously take notice of her, all those years ago. I’d think twice about challenging the owner of a mouth like the one I just saw.