Tag Archives: West Australian

A memory walk through Cottesloe of the past

I never miss reading Robert Drewe’s column The Other Side in the Westweekend liftout of Saturday’s West Australian newspaper every week, because I have come to love the city that I grew up in and live in, and Drew’s pieces either provide a good laugh or an insight into the history of Perth, often both.

I couldn’t help noticing that in last week’s piece (June 13th 2015), Drewe describes some experiences that are a version of the method of loci memory technique. He writes of experiencing visual memories of past scenes of now-demolished Perth landmarks as he travels past the locations where they once served the people of Perth. Hamburger vendors on Mounts Bay Road and the Cottesloe foreshore are some examples given. I’m sure such experiences are common, and this is why anyone is able to exploit this type of memory experience using this ancient technique for memorizing a sequence of items encoded as visual memories. I have a special interest in the method of loci as I was I believe the first to describe, at this blog, a spontaneous experience experienced by myself and synaesthete kin in which we spontanously encode synaesthesia-like associations between concepts and visual memories of scenes, in a way that is similar to, but not the same as, the method of loci. My theory is that us synaesthetes have a greater tendency to memorize than most people, to the degree that we encode very robust long-term memories unintentionally and spontanously, just from being a passenger in a moving vehicle vacantly looking at passing scenery while listening to interesting news or stories on the car radio.

Drewe’s column unearths lost memories for readers week after week, which accounts for it’s appeal, so it is no surprise that his writing strikes a resonance with a piece that I wrote for this blog a while ago, detailing my inner visions of past year’s displays overlaying the current year’s display at specific well-used display sites at the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe Beach. Like Drewe, I can’t be at that spot on the Cottesloe foreshore without “seeing” Van Eileen’s hamburger joint, with the semi-circular deeply sandy and untidy carpark area surrounding it. The odd thing is that my memory of how that spot is currently landscaped does not come to mind with any ease. Even if I was there, at that very spot, right now, I suspect that the green and well-tended vista would not seem quite as real as the memory, with associated sand in my shoes. It isn’t the real Cottesloe.

Radio show about Glenda Parkin living with dementia in suburb of Perth, Western Australia

Below are the details of a recent and very interesting radio interview on Perth public radio with Glenda and Bronte Parkin and Alzheimers WA CEO Rhonda Parker, focusing on Glenda’s experiences as a person who has a form of dementia that goes by a number of names including Benson’s syndrome, posterior cortical atrophy and PCA. This is not the first time that Glenda has shared her story with the media; she previously shared her story with Perth’s daily newspaper, the West Australian, in 2011 and she has recently been interviewed for the Community Newspaper Group.

I have unusual reasons to be grateful that Glenda has shared her story with the mass media. I happened upon her story in a copy of the West while I was enjoying coffee and one of those wonderfully greasy Sausage and Egg McMuffins in a McDonald’s restaurant in 2011, after dropping someone off to a selective school that offers students places based on high ability in the area of literacy and languages. I became intrigued by the fact that the particular type of dementia described in the article appeared to be a mirror-image of the pattern of intellectual gifts that appear to run in our family, associated with synaesthesia, a harmless, genetic, developmental and memory-enhancing condition that is caused by increased connectivity in the structure of the white matter of the brain. I wondered whether there could be an undiscovered developmental basis of Benson’s syndrome that works like the opposite of synesthesia, or could it be caused by some mature-age dysregulation of some chemical that regulates growth in the parts of the brain that seem to be hyper-developed in our family, and attacked, over-pruned or somehow damaged in Benson’s. I wrote about my ideas in this blog soon after. In 2012 my thinking on this theme took an important and exciting leap ahead when I happened across a brief article in New Scientist about research by Dr Beth Stevens on microglia, complement, synaptic pruning and elements of the immune system playing a central role in the development of the brain. I figured that one or maybe more of the complement chemicals could be the chemical that regulates growth or pruning in the parts of the brain that I had written about and attempted to identify in my 2011 blog post. I wrote a brief outline of these ideas at this blog in 2012 in an article that was archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine in 2012. In lat 2013 I got a big surprise when I saw my idea linking the immune system with synaesthesia as the main idea of a research paper published in a peer-reviewed neuroscience journal, and all without my permission! That’s another story….

I am sure that many people listening to this radio interview would be fascinated with or even skeptical of Glenda’s account of being able to see but not perceive letters on the cover of a book. Her eyesight is not the problem, the problem lies in the visual processing areas of her brain and because of this a lady who in her impressive career has been an author of books can no longer read text or interpret symbols. Seeing is as much done in the brain as it is done in the eye and optic nerves, and a person who has no apparent problem with their eyes can lose visual perception as the result of dementia or injury or stroke.

“Simple things can be very frustrating” – Glenda and Bronte Parkin on dementia. Mornings with Geoff Hutchison. 720 ABC Perth.
09/07/2014.
http://blogs.abc.net.au/wa/2014/07/simple-things-can-be-very-frustrating-glenda-and-bronte-parkin-on-dementia.html

Jarvis, Lucy Still making a contribution: retired educators share experience of living with dementia. Community Newspapers. 2015

Hiatt, Bethany Penrhos principal’s hardest battle.  West Australian. January 3, 2011. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/mp/8588194/glenda-parkin/

Postscript March 10th 2015

The West Weekend liftout of the West Australian of February 14-15 2015 has a feature story about West Australians livng with dementia on pages 10-13. he story of Glenda and Bronte Parkin is included in that article and the content makes it clear that although Glenda Parkin has a diagnosis of Benson’s syndrome which has had a negative impact on her ability to recognize symbols, writing and objects, she can still somehow navigate her way in her neighbourhood. I find this interesting as some people who have prosopagnosia, which is an impairment in face memory, also have a similar impairment in visual memory of scenes or landscapes, and thus have serious problems with navigating their way through streets and neighbourhoods. I had thought that Benson’s syndrome, a type of dementia, and prosopagnosia, a developmental disability and also sometimes acquired from brain injury, must be in many ways similar in their manifestations, as they both feature disability in face recognition, but it appears that it is not safe to make assumptions and maybe each case of these two conditions should be considered unique. I do not recall reading about Glenda Parkin’s ability to recognize faces, so maybe I should assume it is still normal, along with her ability to recognize street-scapes and scenes.

Yeoman, William Open minds. West Weekend. p. 10-13 West Australian. February 14-15 2015.

 

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.

 

They are developing tests for recruiting super-recognizers into the police in the UK, but don’t ask me what’s happening here

Phillips, Mark London police using crime-fighting “super recognizers” official. CBS News, Dailymotion. Publications date November 12th 2013. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x173o5e_london-police-using-crime-fighting-super-recognizers_news

This is an American report from CBS News published in November 2013 on the use of super-recognizers in London policing. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville explains how inadequate computer facial recognition was found to be compared with results from police supers. PC Gary Collins and researcher Dr Josh Davis are also interviewed, and super-recognizer police doing identification work are shown. It is revealed that tests are being developed for recruiting super-recognizers into a police force in London. My guess is that this would mean recruiting supers into the police force because they are supers, in addition to their existing policy of finding and utilizing the many supers that they already have serving in this large police force.

Barone, Tayissa Council’s eyes guide long arm of the law. West Australian. September 7th-8th 3013, p.20-21 news.

“The Met” continue to be leaders in the use of human facial super-recognition in policing, but what is happening here in Western Australia with regard to human face recognition and CCTV and policing? As far as I can tell, not a lot. As far as I know there is no testing of any kind of face recognition or face memory ability in police recruitment, and I’ve not read anything about use of supers in any Australian police force. In September 2013 the Weekend West had an article in it about operators at the City of Perth’s surveillance centre working with and beside members of the WA Police to keep things under control in the city streets. The journalist wrote about the tens of millions of dollars that the City of Perth has spent on their CCTV camera network, the “unique” skill set of the surveillance centre operators, their intuitive understanding of body language, their eye for detail, multitasking ability, the keen competition for their jobs and some rigorous battery of testing in which only one out of 160 applicants met the required standard, but not a single mention of face recognition or visual memory.

Western Australia Police Service reduces crime through intelligence-led policing with ABM. ABM United Kingdom Limited. 2012. http://www.abmsoftware.com/en-GB/products/82-uk/news/case-studies/139-western-australia-police-service-reduces-crime-through-intelligence-led-policing-with-abm.html

http://www.mediaforensics.com.au/security-monitoring-centres/

A webpage of a software company ABM boasts that it provides the WA Police with facial recognition technology for use on photos and other static images of offenders, which will probably impress the “boys who love toys” technophile set, but it fails to impress me for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there appears to be good evidence that the most able humans can vastly out-perform contemporary facial recognition technology, and secondly, the identification of people from still images of faces or entire bodies is inherently limited. It does not use the wealth of information that one can glean from looking at a moving image. Faces are unique and so are the ways that people move. A moving image is essentially richer and more complete and more natural than looking at a single still image. Study of interviews of super-recognizers yields many clues that supers recognize people, not images and not just faces. Supers can identify people from photos, but it seems likely that the memorization process works best if it is based on watching people, not looking at photos. I am not aware of any face recognition technology that works off moving images, but that might just be a mark of my ignorance. I remain skeptical.

The idea that technology must beat humans in face recognition is a popular one, I think based on some major misconceptions about human psychology and artificial intelligence. I think a lot of people assume that if tasks like visual identification or walking or recognizing voices are effortless for humans then they must be even more easy for a computer system to perform. This shows an ignorance of the millions of years of biological evolution that gave humans and even the most humble animals sensory perception, and the sensory and movement systems of muscles and nerves that give rise to the power of voluntary movement. These processes involve brains as much as they involve sensory organs and muscles. The fact that we are able to do these things without thinking much about them is no indication at all that they are simple. It is just an indication that some of the really clever tasks in cognition are too complex and important to be exposed to the interference of conscious thinking. Attempting to recapitulate the kind of design complexity that is found in biological sensory perception and biological movement with technology and computers would surely keep a designer occupied for a very long time. Good luck with that.

In a perfect world every doctor would be a super-recognizer

In Western Australia a male infertility patient and his partner were given IVF, but it was later found that he had a genetic disorder that could have been passed on to the baby. I think if the doctor responsible for this omission had been a super-recognizer, it is possible that he or she might have spotted something in this patient’s face or appearance that would have given them the tip that a genetic anomaly might have been an issue. Perhaps one day a version of the Perth face-space project with adult’s faces might be developed to routinely and automatically screen or identify such patients.

Doctor fears IVF used too much. CATHY O’LEARY, MEDICAL EDITOR

The West Australian. July 20, 2013.

http://health.thewest.com.au/news/799/doctor-fears-ivf-used-too-much

Ashton Foley’s mugshots – a minor mystery

A collection of old mugshots of Ashton Foley from her misadventures in the USA were published in Saturday’s West. I’m still left wondering why in one of them her skin looks markedly darker and the overall effect in that shot was of an African-American look, while I didn’t get that impression from the other photos, neither from a fairly recent Australian interview video of Foley that can be seen on the internet. One clue is that the brown-skinned mugshot was taken not long after she had given birth to twins. I considered whether melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy” might have been the cause of her darker skin, but from what I’ve read about it. it manifests as brown blotches, not an overall darker complexion. Perhaps she just got a tan. What I find interesting is how a slight change of skin tone changed the way I would describe her race. I think this shows how much of a red herring eyewitness categorizations of race can be, if they can be altered by small changes in the skin tone of individuals.

Faces of the same woman?

There’s a compelling bit of forensic face recognition on the front page of today’s West. Unfortunately the photos of the faces of whistleblower Ashton Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be is not shown in the online version of the news story. Do you think they are photos of the same person? I can only pick a few differences, none of which definitely rules out a match. I think the photo on the left is of a younger, slimmer, more miserable or tired woman, perhaps with darker skin. I get a feeling of African-American racial identity from the face on the left but not the one on the right. Why is unclear, and it could be based on stereotyping. The photo on the left is, I presume, a mugshot, the one on the right apparently not. Perhaps the cues that a photo is a mugshot make me unconsciously associate it with African-Americans. Psychology research finds that most people operate on racist stereotypes even if we aren’t consciously racist.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that the one on the left has eyes that seem darker. This difference in the eyes could possibly be a result of lighting, because the eye is a three-dimensional thing, and when we look at an eye we literally look into an eye, at the pupil and the iris, which are inside the structure of the eye. I’ve been perplexed when viewing video of people who have light-coloured eyes and there are moments when one or both eyes seem to darken or pupils seem to enlarge greatly, giving a scary effect, but what’s really happening is that the angle of the light changes and the eye is becoming insufficiently lit to display their light-coloured irises.

The hair, hairline, ear profile, shoulder slope and most aspects of the faces seem to match. I would very much like to see profile shots of Ms Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be, to see if the ear shape matches. Ear shape is apparently as unique and identifiable as the face. Ear shape was an important factor in trying to solve the fascinating Taman Shud case in Adelaide.

As Ms Foley suggests, fingerprints need to be checked, even though the forensic science of fingerprints has been seriously bought into question. As a super-recognizer I don’t have a strong intuition or feeling of recognition about the question of identity. I can’t rule out a match, but that doesn’t prove a match.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/newshome/16048470/inquiry-ordered-into-peel-mystery/

Misidentification is certainly to be avoided

A number of times at the blog I’ve stressed the importance of police and people in general being able to accurately identify people by their facial appearance. Face memory is one way in which accurate identifications can be made, and misidentification be avoided, but record-keeping of photographs is another means by which people can be identified by face. When the police and other authorities in jobs that have  power over others make mistakes in identifying people, the consequences can be serious and embarrassing. This month “A man mistaken for an escaped Graylands patient was picked up by police, detained at the hospital and given strong antipsychotic drugs, which caused him to fall ill before authorities realised their mistake.”  Graylands is Western Australia’s public mental hospital. You wouldn’t want to be put there without good reason.  The young man who was mistakenly incarcerated in the psychiatric hospital was Aboriginal, and I presume the man he was mistaken for is also indigenous. If the heart of the mistake was a mistake in face recognition by a non-Aboriginal person, then the cross-race effect could possibly be cited as an explanation for the mistake, but really, such a grave error cannot be in any way excused. In today’s West Australian newspaper there is a fresh anonymous allegation that another man has been mistakenly identified as an escaped psychiatric patient by police and returned to Graylands. It would be interesting to know the race of that man. This kind of disastrous mistake must not be allowed to happen again.

Wrong man held and drugged by Graylands. Rhianna King and Amanda Banks The West Australian. Updated December 26, 2012.  http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/15710341/wrong-man-held-and-drugged-by-graylands/

Cross-race effect. (2012, December 8). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:32, December 29, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cross-race_effect&oldid=526957635

Grow Your Own by James Angus – another sculpture in Perth that looks like a personified thing

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Grow Your Own by James Angus, sculpture in Forrest Place, Perth, Western Australia

Perth Train Station lego sculpture at Claremont Showgrounds exhibition 2012

Lego sculpture of Perth Train Station and surrounds at Claremont Showgrounds exhibition 2012

I’ve heard this prominent sculpture in the centre of Perth at Forrest Place unofficially described as a “dancing cactus”, but when was the last time that you saw a cactus dance? This seems to be the personification of an inanimate object, a phenomenon of the mind which could be the result of a range of causes: a well-cultivated imagination, hallucinatory drug usage, illness affecting the mind or perhaps a type of synaesthesia which involves thinking about concepts or objects as though they have personal attributes, attitudes, expressions or movements. The classic example of this is the involuntary association of letters of the alphabet and/or numbers with personal characteristics such as genders and ages and personalities, which is known as ordinal-linguistic personification, but all kinds of other things can be personified. The official title of the large green cactus-like sculpture in the Perth CBD suggests some kind of link with an illicit mind-bending drug, so it seems reasonable to speculate that this was the inspiration for this design. I don’t do drugs but I do experience ordinal-linguistic personification and I can certainly see what is “cactus” about this sculpture and also what is “dancing” about it, but I guess this could be an interpretation or perception which is assessable to just about anyone. When I look at the thing I see a group of cactus dancers with their heels rather awkwardly sticking out in mid-air. Do you see that? In an article about this sculpture which was published in The West last year, the great green thing was described as lively, playful and off-balance, which is generally what you are when you are dancing. It is the cactus that dances.

Some press articles about the dancing cactus:

Great green giant graces city. by Stephen Bevis The West Australian. August 18, 2011. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/-/entertainment/10062165/great-green-giant-graces-city/

Exclusive interview with the Perth Cactus. by Jimmy The Exploder PerthNow. September 20, 2011. http://www.perthnow.com.au/exclusive-interview-with-the-perth-cactus/story-fn6cmyjj-1226142075082

Moreau echo

Visual recognition is a thing that is applicable to many different types of complex images. The human brain has areas that specialize in recognizing specific categories such as faces or landscapes, but just about any type of scene or image can trigger the brain’s visual recognition hardware. I was just having a quick read of yesterday’s West, Wednesday May 11th 2011, and I looked at a colour photo of a model named Sarah Pauley modelling Maticevski on page 3 of the fashion feature bit, and something about her skirt and legs and feet looked very familiar to me. The image is very similar but not identical to the one at this link:
http://img814.imageshack.us/i/5812791n.jpg/

The difference was that the image in The West Australian newspaper had her right leg crossed over in front of her left leg, with her toe more pointed and her shoes less noticeable, making her right leg look like one long line right down to her red toenails, crossing in front of the rest of her body. Then I remembered what image it is that this fashion photo reminds me of. It is a very old painting from the Symbolist movement, a painting that has fascinated me for many years – The Apparition by Gustave Moreau:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/freeparking/1526581181/