Tag Archives: Julia Gillard

Gender should be the only difference between these faces

The photograph at the beginning of the Boston Globe news story detailed below is particularly interesting to me, a person who has a natural interest in faces, because the two faces photographed are probably the world’s only example of a set of two human faces in which the only difference between their faces should be a gender-related difference. I don’t know if there are any other sets of identical twins in the world in which one and only one twin is a transgender person who has been treated with a puberty-blocking medication which halts the face-sculpting effects of sex hormones, leaving one twin on the usual developmental trajectory and the other retaining a face that could be judged to be of the opposite gender to the one that both twins were born with. In a nutshell, these are identical twins of different genders. Advances in the way that transgendered people are treated by the medical profession has made the impossible possible. The life story of Nicole Maines (formerly Wyatt Maines) and Jonas Maines and their family is something remarkable. I recommend this fascinating news article.

For over a year I have been on a quest to get a definite answer to the question of whether or not I am a super-recognizer, after unexpectedly getting perfect scores on some face recognition tests. One thing that is possibly a characteristic of a superrecognizer’s perceptions of faces is that I often involuntarily notice that the face of a person who is new to me looks similar to the face of a person whose face is in my memory, sometimes very old memories. This is very much like the experience of recognition of the face of the same person seen on two different occasions. The thing that I find interesting about my pseudo-recognition of a new face is that it transcends gender (like the considerable remaining similarities in the appearances of the faces of Jonas and Nicole). I’m just as likely to notice close similarity between the face of a new person and a face in my memory that is of the opposite gender as I’m likely to notice a close similarity between memorized and newly seen faces of people of the same gender. It’s not that I’m blind to gender, but my mind is able to process gender characteristics of faces and the essential genetically based unique “character” of faces separately, and keep these different types of influence on the appearance of faces quite separate in my thinking. Some examples of this noticing of cross-gender facial similarity would be the time when I was watching a documentary about the Australian rock band The Angels staging a comeback tour with aged and conflicted performers. I was struck by a similarity between the face of Doc Neeson and one of the older matriarchs of our family, who also had Celtic heritage. I hope Mr Neeson never reads this. Another example would be the time when I was viewing a painting by Salvador Dali in which he used an image of the face of the writer Voltaire, in an elderly and cheerful state. Voltaire’s face reminded me so much of the face, and the smile, of another of our family’s matriarchs, who like Voltaire was born in Europe. I think this resemblance owes more to a common lack of teeth and advanced age and a good mood in spite of these things, than it owes to a huge resemblance between unique facial appearance. Both female matriarchs had wide faces. I believe that The Strange Phenomenon, which I described in the first post in this blog, is another example of involuntarily seeing a cross-gender facial resemblance.

I’m also able to process the appearance of a face resulting from colouring quite separately from the look of the actual face. I believe other people are more influenced by things like skin colour, eye colour and hair when recognizing people than I am. My focus is on the face. Lots of people believe there is a close resemblance between the actress Tilda Swinton and the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I think these people are overly influenced by the redhead thing. When I look at Swinton I think “pale and thin” rather than “Gillard-like”.

Perhaps a high degree of attention to features of appearance other than the pure look of a face is a warning sign of poor face memory. We know that prosopagnosics often identify people by non-facial aspects of appearance such as clothes, hair and glasses. Do they also place greater emphasis on colouring, age and gender, or do they also have also trouble processing these aspects of personal appearance?

Led by the child who simply knew.

by Bella English
Boston Globe
December 11, 2011
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw

Wikipedia contributors, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=461577243 (accessed December 14, 2011).

Tilda Swinton totally looks like Julia Gillard (Australian PM)  http://totallylookslike.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/10/07/tilda-swinton-julia-gillard-australian-pm/

Moving forward with PLoS ONE – further evidence of a connection between abstract thinking and visual processing of scenes

I’ve just discovered that a study that was published last year in a major peer-reviewed science journal appears to support a theory that I thought of a long time ago, and I have also discovered that an element of this phenomenon that I have observed has a proper scientific name; “vection”. I first learned of the concept of vection while reading an article by Roger Highfield in the February 19th 2011 edition of New Scientist magazine. I have already briefly mentioned the idea of mine in an earlier post in this blog. My theory is based on the observation that the moving scenery that I unavoidably see while I am driving a vehicle appears to free up my mind like some magical brand of mental lubricant, with the effect that novel and original ideas come to me at an extraordinary rate, and I see connections and possible connections between things that I don’t think I’d ever create or grasp while doing any other activity. My theory is that the moving scenery taken into my mind visually creates the subjective sensation of moving forward (forward vection), and the forward vection somehow brings about a change in the way my brain operates so that the existing abundance of connectivity in my synaesthete brain is opened up to an even greater degree. This opening up is not a free-for-all. It does not result in mental chaos with rampant synaesthesia such as an assault of noisy vision or brightly coloured sounds. This opening up specifically seems to involve conceptual and language-related thinking, thinking at a level of cognition that is more sophisticated and abstract than sensory stuff.

I love the choice of words for the title of the PLoS ONE paper: “The meandering mind”. Meandering is the perfect word to describe the way my mind behaves while I am driving, or travelling a passenger in a moving vehicle watching the scenery flowing past. It is a mind that is paradoxically free to wander but is also paying attention to the important task of driving safely. What did the study reported in this journal find? I quote from the abstract:

“Participants performed a mundane vigilance task, during which they were expected to daydream, while viewing a display that elicited an illusion of self-motion (i.e., vection). Afterwards, the contents of their mind wandering experiences were probed. The results revealed that the direction of apparent motion influenced the temporal focus of mental time travel. While backward vection prompted thinking about the past, forward vection triggered a preponderance of future-oriented thoughts.”

So, this study’s finding appear to support the proposition that “higher cognitive activity can have a sensory-motor grounding”. This idea is completely in accord with many of the psychological/neurological experiences that I have reported in this blog, including the connections in my mind between concepts and visual scenes that act like illustrations for those concepts, and which can in some instances evoke thinking about its specific associated concept when viewed, and also including the apparent influence that forward vection has on certain characteristics of my thinking. I am amazed by the number of conceptual connections that I have discovered among my synaesthesia-related experiences, and also connections between these experiences and ideas and studies described in recently published journal papers. Connections everywhere! Just like my brain!

If you have been reading by blog posts about the links in my mind between concepts and scenes, you will not be surprised that my mind has a particular scene that is evoked in my mind’s eye when I think about the concept of forward vection freeing up the mind. It is a scene of a winding road that I often drive along, as seen from a driver’s seat. This particular stretch of road has a lot of shrubbery along the side of the road, which enhances the subjective visual sensation of moving forward.

I’ve got to wonder whether the Prime Minister Julia Gillard might have read this paper in PLoS ONE before she thought up her election catch-phrase “moving forward”. Perhaps she was hoping to evoke the sensation of forward vection by repeating her slogan over and over, unconsciously directing voters to consider the future rather than past deeds. Maybe in the next election we might see political advertisements utilizing scenes of travelling forward or backward in a moving vehicle, depending on whether the party wishes to direct the attention of voters to the future or the past. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

References

Highfield, Roger Days of wonder. New Scientist. February 19th 2011 Number 2800. p.34-41. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928001.400-your-kitchen-sink-and-16-other-wonders-of-the-cosmos.html

Miles LK, Karpinska K, Lumsden J, Macrae CN The Meandering Mind: Vection and Mental Time Travel. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10825. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010825 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0010825