A Beguiling Lack Of ProsopagnosiaWednesday, January 04, 2012
As an example in my native Argentina there is a preference for the use of the word colorado for the colour red while in other countries, especially Mexico the choice is the word rojo. When I think about these two words somehow rojo is darker and deeper in colour than colorado.
I sometimes even wonder how the thought of red transfers into our mind and we are able to see the colour in our head. Can a person, blind from birth ever imagine red?
For a while, when I was a young man, I had the theory as to why the French, the Spaniards and the Portuguese (and by proxy their colonies in America) that any culture whose language/grammar had lost so many military battles. I believed that the active use of the subjunctive mood in those languages would result in a spotty war record. The subjunctive mood injects unreality; it questions the un-inevitability of the possible. In English a general might say, “The enemy will attack tomorrow,” or “It will not attack tomorrow,” or “It might attack tomorrow.” Even, “It might not attack tomorrow.” But in Spanish that statement would translate in the subjunctive as, “If the enemy were in the possibility of attacking tomorrow.” English has suppressed the used of the subjunctive and one of the last remnants, “I wish I were in Dixie,” has been relegated to the “I wish I was in Dixie.” A language that denies any margin for error in the possibility of something will result in a culture in which military accomplishment and it success will never be in doubt.
But to me there is a fundamental problem here that has to do with the imagination of a watch or clock in one’s mind in which we can place a number in each section of the circle that we have in our head that stands for a watch or clock face. Something is amiss in the process from seeing the clock or watch and transferring it to the mind. My younger granddaughter has a very good sense of direction and should I diverge in my route to go somewhere in the car she will immediately ask me where I am going. My other granddaughter has a terrible sense of direction. I believe that the inability to read a watch without numbers and to know where one is might be related. But I am unable to convince anybody to look into it.
Last night I spent hours in bed trying to conjure a word that was in my lips. My wife has always had the talent of knowing (when she did not remember a word or a place name or anything else) with what letter the word started. This always helped her remember stuff. I was trying to remember the word bigot. I was discussing with Rosemary that the Republican candidates for the presidency in the US and teenagers in facebook seemed to share bigotry.
As I get older I have more of these moments of not being able to remember words. But there is one skill that I have always had and that is the ability to never forget a face and in many cases parts of the person’s body or how they move, their voice, their gestures. And I can do this even many years after having last seen the person.
I had not seen the owner, Andreas Nothiger, of the long defunct Classical Joint for at least 20 years. A few weeks ago while sipping an espresso at Calabria on Commercial I spotted a man from behind. He walked with a spring in his ankles. I went up to him and called him and when he turned around he was the man I thought he was.
One of the keys to understanding face recognition, it seems, is understanding how the brain comes to recognize voices. Some scientists had believed that faces and voices, the two main ways people recognize one another, were processed separately by the brain. Indeed, a condition parallel to prosopagnosia, called phonagnosia, similarly leaves a person unable to distinguish a familiar voice from an unfamiliar one.
But by testing for these two conditions simultaneously, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany recently found evidence that face and voice recognition may be linked in a novel person-recognition system.
Reading in the article how a man on a date in a restaurant excused himself to go to the washroom and upon returning sat with another woman, not having any memory for what his date looked like, left me shocked. At the same time I felt happy about my own ability to discern faces almost from any angle.
I take pride, and consider myself very lucky, in my absolute lack of any of the symptoms of prosopagnosia. Of all the women I have ever met in my life, there is only one who almost led me to my death. Of all the women I have ever met I must assert here that Tarren was the most beguiling of them all.