Monday, 17 August 2015

The debt we all owe Bernard d’Espagnat (1921-2015)

It was only in the last few weeks that Bernard d’Espagnat died. Sadly, not many people were aware of this… nor of his contribution to what we now know about quantum reality. And this is because despite what he (and others) have revealed in their lifetimes, people still believe the Materialism world-view is the de-facto accepted nature of reality. This is thanks to the evangelistic fervour of über-atheists (such as Richard Dawkins etc.) whose world-views have long since fallen apart ardently dis-informing the public of what scientists, through the work of d’Espagnat, know to be the fabric of all reality… and it isn’t Materialism.
d’Espagnat (theoretical physicist and philosopher) was born in 1921 in Fourmagnac, and established himself as a major voice in the field of Quantum Mechanics (working alongside Fermi, Bohr and Bell). And when in 1979 wrote “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment” he paved the way for his description of physical reality as a ‘veiled reality’ in the context of Quantum Mechanics and his experiments with Bell's inequalities he furthered this concept of veiled reality and won the attention of the John Templeton Foundation to become the 2009 Templeton Prize winner for his "work which acknowledges that science cannot fully explain 'the nature of being.'”
But it is for something else for which we owe so much to d’Espagnat, because his work sprang from his issues with his fellow scientists. He remained, till he died, troubled by the scant attention most physicists paid to the interpretational questions raised by quantum mechanics, as he wrote in the Guardian newspaper in 2009:
And then a real breakthrough took place in that John Bell, a colleague of mine at Cern, published his famous inequalities, which - for the first time - opened a possibility of testing whether or not entanglement-at-a-distance had experimentally testable consequences.
“The outcome confirmed my anticipations. Entanglement-at-a-distance does physically exist, in the sense that it has physically verifiable (and verified) consequences. Which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of our most engrained notions about space and causality should be reconsidered.
It was way back in 1965 (showing my age here) that his first book, Conceptions of Contemporary Physics (1965), asked these questions and sketched possible resolutions, underscoring his insistence that scientists face the issues raised by their own pursuits. And yet, even in 2009 he felt that scientists were ignoring the real issues of science, as he explained in his address upon winning the Templeton Prize
When all is said and done I therefore consider that the – apparently so sensible and self-evident – world view we called transcendental realism is to be dropped after all. I think that our scientific knowledge finally bears, not on reality-in-itself – alias “the Real,” alias “the ground of everything” – but just on empirical reality, that is, on the picture that, in virtue of its structure and finite intellectual capacities, human mind is induced to form of reality-in-itself. And, account being taken of the hidden wholeness I mentioned before, I even claim that we must drop the view according to which objects, be they elementary or composite, exist by themselves and are at any time at some definite place is space. To state that we see them so because the structure of our senses makes us perceive the Real in this form seems to be nearer to the truth. Admittedly this conception of mine is not the one the bulk of the scientists’ community favors. Note however that it is quite far from just being my personal one. On the one hand it meets with the views of outstanding contemporary neurologists specialized in cognition theory. And on the other one it obviously bears quite a definite relationship with the main Kantian views, which were adhered to by a great many philosophers as well as by some physicists such as Henri Poincaré.
Because of his insights during the ‘60s, and his work with more recognised quantum scientists like Bell and Bohr, d’Espagnat was an early interpreter of the deep philosophical significance of experimental research agenda in quantum physics. He encouraged physicists and philosophers to think afresh about questions long considered marginal but which today serve as the foundation for new fields of research into the nature of reality. And in ‘Le réel voilé, analyse des concepts quantiques’ (Veiled Reality, An Analysis of Present-Day Quantum Mechanical Concepts), he coined the term “veiled reality” and explained why significant experiments over the past decade had not restored conventional realism. And when he published ‘On Physics and Philosophy’ (published in France in 2002 as Traité de physique et de philosophie) it was hailed as “surely the most complete book to have been written on this subject and one likely to last a long time…” by Roland Omnès.
His contribution to science should not be forgotten, lest we want science to continue to stagnate and feed the monster that is Materialism. And although he did not describe himself as a monistic idealist, maybe because his philosophy had never been tested to his satisfaction (although Bohr and Heisenberg, the two founding fathers of the Copenhagen interpretation, clearly leaned towards monistic idealism in some of their writings).
d’Espagnat recognised that Quantum Mechanics gives us a revolutionary view of reality, a view radically different from the deterministic, causal, continuous, and objective view of the world with which classical mechanics mesmerises us. Quantum Mechanics depicts the world of appearance as a succession of discontinuous events, and what’s more disconcerting to the classical physicist, it seems to say that no event is an event unless it is an observed event. This appears to invite subjects, observers, into the affair of objects, the observed; and if subjects and objects get mixed up, then the traditional doctrine of strong objectivity – the observer independence of objects – doesn’t hold. And more recently Bell’s theorem and Aspect’s experimental demonstration of EPR-Bohm non-locality have challenged the doctrine of strong objectivity even further.
The subject-object mixing and non-locality form the core of the quantum mechanical measurement problem. In the standard Copenhagen interpretation, the assumption of collapse of the wave function upon observation (the reduction postulate) is introduced in order to connect theory and experiment, but the question of what constitutes a measurement has been left unanswered. And in view of the EPR-Bohm non-locality, the collapse is clearly non-local, yet the ontological implication of non-local collapse has still not been studied.
Any explicit role of the subject is avoided in the standard interpretation, but the price is the baffling quantum/classical dichotomy. This dichotomy finds a straightforward resolution if we assume as von Neumann and Wigner have done, that consciousness, the observing subject, collapses the state function of a quantum system, not the “classical” measuring apparatus. Unfortunately, at least two major objections can be raised against the von Neumann-Wigner hypothesis. The first is the question of mind over matter, and the second is solipsism. But this subject is for another post. For now, let us remember the man without whom these questions might not have been heard today.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What came first: Consciousness or Matter? (Does it matter? What do you think?)


"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society." 
Doris Lessing ― The Golden Notebook

Following on from my last post, it is now time to delve into what being a Monist Idealist Panentheist Catholic means for me. As explained in said last post, these words are merely labels, and labels can mean different things to different people. Also, if some labels are not recognised, but others are, then misunderstanding can creep in, adding bias to the unknown labels towards the recognised label. This is ironic given that the reason for multiple labels in the first place is so that they all refine each other. So, what exactly does this set of labels mean?

These labels are simply a shorthand way of describing my personal world-view. They are not my actual world-view, but close enough to act as quick-n-dirty pointers. But before describing my own personal view of reality, perhaps a brief definition of each label (as it relates to my world-view) is first needed:

  • Monism - that all of reality, both physical and mental, are actually a single realm
  • Idealism - that of the two experiences: consciousness is the reality, and matter the illusion
  • Panentheism - that all of reality (ie consciousness) constitutes a 'universal mind'
  • Catholicism - the model I choose to represent this panentheism in practice

Being the adopted model I choose to represent my world-view, Catholicism is a stage once removed and thus immaterial to the formation of my world-view, instead it is the conclusion to which my world-view has lead me. If you are interested in seeing how religion might fit into this scientific philosophical world-view, I suggest checking out this Panentheistic Christian's video on how he equates his religion to panentheism.

Why Monism?


As explained in my prior post, the most fundamental question to be answered is: given we each experience both consciousness and a physical world we live in, how are both these incompatible experiences connected? Philosophers since Descartes (and to a lesser degree back to Plato) have struggled with this question. This dualistic nature, according to Descartes, is just as it seems... a separate non-physical realm tied to elements in the physical realm... a ghost in the machine. However, the mechanism of this connection has yet to be found. Alternatively, it is possible that there would be no problem connecting the two, if there exists only one realm rather than two. This monistic view however also creates problems, since if everything is purely material... what is consciousness and where does it come from? Similarly, if everyone's consciousness creates its reality... why do we all experience the same 'illusion' of reality.

Why Idealistic Monism?


Over time, the balance between the candidates for reality has shifted between the three. Now, despite the insistence of some teaching establishments and vocal pop scientists that the question has been solved... in their favour, developments in science in the nature of reality have steadily revealed the true nature of reality at the quantum level. And so Materialism was the first to fall some eighty years ago (though adherents refuse to accept defeat and have tried since to find contrary evidence... to no avail); Dualism waned as the search for a unified Theory of Everything began in earnest; and all the signs from quantum experiments pointed to the counter-intuitive Idealism as the true reality. And as more discoveries are revealed, each candidates' supporters try to find reasons to disprove the others. But one thing is now certain... Materialism is dead as long as David Chalmers's 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' remains unresolved. And it is far from even being defined, let alone solved.

Mind-at-Large


Since the discovery of the nature of quantum reality, and more importantly the problems of superposition, measurement, double eraser, Schroedinger's cat, and Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it can no longer be denied that what we perceive to be reality, is in fact not true. Evolutionary Theory favours Fitness over Accuracy, in order for us to react quickly and with little cost to energy, so it makes sense for our perception to perceive an environment that facilitates this at the expense of irrelevant 'truth'. This has repeatedly been shown to be true, now that evolution can be described mathematically and computer modelled. What we discovered is that to perceive is less to do with the true depiction of reality, and more to do with reproduction. And this has been confirmed via fMRI scans which show that a full third of the brain is occupied when opening one's eyes. Now if the eyes were merely recording what was 'out there', then there is no need to waste valuable calories in brain activity. But since the brain is active, what is it doing, and what is the true nature of reality?

What is happening in the brain as we look around, is that it is creating an interface to what is really 'out there' to enable us to survive and reproduce. This is what we perceive as time and space. For example, the following video is not a small window to a little man inside the screen... but a representation of computer parts and computer bits that is hidden behind an interface that we perceive as a video of a TED event.  But if we cannot trust our senses to deliver accuracy and truth, how can we answer the Hard Problem of Consciousness as thus exposed?

Up until now, this has been left to the philosophers to argue over, but for science to tackle this new arena effectively and decisively, it will need the help of mathematics (as this appears to be the language in which reality is written). Luckily, this too is close to hand... in the form of pioneering work by Donald Hoffman (as summarised in his TED address):


This non-duality (Monistic Idealism), unlike Materialism which takes a top-down approach, effectively 'begging the question', is a bottom-up mathematical model of consciousness (which as the image at the top of this post shows) not only resolves the Mind-Body question, but also appears to answer the problems of quantum mechanics in that the mathematical formula for the wave function turns out to be mathematically identical to Hoffman's formula for consciousness. This Theory of Consciousness pretty much sums up my own personal observations and rationalisings, and is what I describe as Idealism for me. And I am not alone... scientist and now philosopher Bernardo Kastrup has also arrived at the same conclusions from yet another different direction. And although there are some of his conclusions I may not fully agree with, I thoroughly recommend you check out him and his books.

So where does all this leave us?

If we are seeking the meaning of life, the universe, and everything then (along with the number 42 ringing in our minds) we have the ingredients of a workable framework: a single shared consciousness created by the interaction of consciousnesses, a faux-reality created by said consciousness, and self-aware individual consciousnesses within the created material faux-reality. So to answer the question: "but what does it mean?" we can search models derived from belief-sets such as theism, atheism, pantheism, panentheism, panpsychism, and New Age et al, to see which (if any) is compatible with this monistic idealist model... and its meaning. For me, I found this to be Panentheism in the Catholic tradition.

Hopefully this begins to unravel my own personal worldview: it is not woo... it is evidence based, repeatable and falsifiable... supported by evidence, observation and mathematical proofs, built from the ground up and a priori reductionist foundation. And despite what certain university philosophy departments might teach, and ubiquitous popular science promoters with funding on their minds, the Hard Problem of Consciousness is still very much an area of intense debate... unlike the validity of Materialism which has long since been shown to be demonstrably false.

Beware the woo, and remember... Don't drink the Kool-Aid!


Monday, 22 June 2015

Not drinking the Kool-Aid

Don't drink it... no matter how enticing... don't drink the Kool-Aid


Now don't misunderstand me, I have no opinion on the (I assume) American soft drink. This blog is actually on woo and how easy people seem to be seduced by it. Rather naively, I believed that once a few actual facts were shared, then enlightenment would mean that the mastery of woo would simply blow away. I guess that makes me an optimist... except I now realise the truth... and that there is no hope for Homo Sapiens Sapiens. So my brief foray into optimism was merely an aberration to my normal pessimistic self.



Perhaps a little context is warranted.


As those of you who know me, or others who have read my various posts, already know that my 'conscious' 'mind' is a constantly seething mass of concepts, ideas, observations etc. etc. But in this particular blog I wiltry tnarrow it down to (a tad of irony here...) the one question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Now those of you with a philosophy bent will immediately recognise this question as the biggest, most complex question there is. And that it has foxed philosophers (and their prior hominid brethren) since the species first began to think. But before panic... or rolling of the eyes... sets in, I am not seeking to answer said question, but merely to point out how a 'conspiracy of woo' is stifling the discussion. And yes... it is to you Materialists whom I address this post.

So rather than attempting to answer the question, I will use it to act as the jumping point to world-views. World-views are those beliefs that we hold not only to be true, but to be so fundamental to reality that most people don't realise that they are merely views and not the nature of reality. But before I venture into my comments on woo, I shall expound just a tad more context. Since we all have our world-views (whether or not we are aware) I should first state mine, since it relates to the point of this post, and how it came to be.

There are many labels abounding, and even those who share labels need not agree the meaning of said labels. So I guess I should perhaps subjugate myself to the most appropriate labels before I begin to define them as what they mean to me. But first, where to start?

The only thing of which we can be certain, is that there is something we know as 'I' and that this I lives in a changing world. But what might these 'I' and 'world' mean? There are 2 possible basic conclusions... best described as monist and pluralist. Basically, that everything boils down to one simple thing, or that everything is a combination of separate 'things'. In effect this latter pluralist concept was described by Descartes with his famous "Cogito ergo sum" phrase, and specifically reduces reality into a dualism. So it would be fair to assume that the reader has either a monist or dualist basis for his/her world-view.

Dualism contends that mind and matter are distinct and separate 'things'. That is, that we are made from stardust and live in a stardust-derived universe, and that there is a meta-physical, or spiritual, world which is connected to the material world through consciousness in the physical brain.

This is not a view without problems, and has resulted in what is known as the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' as coined by David Chalmers. Suffice to say here, it is no longer a view held by most thinkers who tend to hold a monist view, but can still be found in some un-informed followers of religion. I am both a monist and Catholic (the latter of which isn't really relevant to this topic).

But being faced with the two 'known' realities of Descartes, the monist has to choose whether everything is physical or mental. And then having decided, being able to explain the other 'reality' in context. This results in either Idealism or Materialism (physicalism), and is hotly debated as both sides attempt to prove their own stance the only monist reality (as can be seen in the video below with Chalmers and Dennett). My personal monism is Idealism. So to round off my world-view labels... I am a monist idealist panentheist Catholic. Now that's out of the way, what has this to do with woo, conspiracies, and my reason for writing this post?


Most people have no interest in world-views, even when affected by their own, as it doesn't really impact their daily lives. But if introspection is tried a finer world-view can be uncovered, resulting in improvement in said daily life. Some people (including myself) can't help but be ensnared by it and seek to find 'the answer'. Some then choose to proselytise their personal world-view... often agressively. It is to this with which I take issue.

This weekend in the UK was Father's Day. And for several reasons already covered in this blog this has become very important to me. My daughter came to visit me, before the two of us travelling to meet my son. Generally it was good, but it did highlight this issue of mine, and how it now infects my troubled relationship with my kids. My daughter, you see, in happier times left the nest to read a philosophy degree. However, instead of her matriculating with an inquiring mind, she seems to have become victim to the 'conspiracy of woo'.

Now you shall be forgiven in thinking that woo only applies to non-scientific folklore or superstition, but it actually refers to any belief that is unfounded... regardless of how popular, 'sensible', or 'scientific' it may appear. It is when woo is used to discredit real evidence as woo, and redefine certain woo as the only valid approach. This is to what I refer as conspiracy, and is undertaken by neo-materialists and neo-atheists who not only adopt one side of monism, but refuse to even acknowledge its mirror: idealism. Ironic since a main staple of validity is super-symmetry, yet except when it comes to a personal view which is spread not as a view, but as a fact, with its symmetric view dismissed as woo. And worse, this is happening in our universities which should be non-partisan and explain all views along with their strength and weaknesses, and not in teaching that the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' has been solved, and should not be questioned and that if anything or anyone does question its status as fact is lampooned as a crazy loon with a head filled with ridiculous woo... despite the fact that materialism has been debunked for centuries, and moreover this has been confirmed to be false by all the latest scientific findings (and by modern this includes the 1930s plus).

As for the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' being solved, this not only is preposterous... it is impossible, despite what materialists maintain with smoke and mirrors. The truth is that we cannot 'solve' the question, but can amass the best evidence to support a prevaling view, be it materialist, idealist, or dualist. And it is this evidence that leads me to Monist Idealism, despite being brought up Catholic, and studying at the disciple of materialism university. This is because, returning to the message in the opening paragraph, we must start at the most a priori knowledge we know to be true, and using epistemological science to carefully build from. So this being what materialists claim that they alone do this, how can I believe them to be wrong and be an idealist? But this post is already long, so I shall save my personal world-view, and why that of the materialists is unsupported, unreasonable, and wrong for a follow-up post. For now, regardless of my beliefs or those of others, the point I want to emphasise here is that it is wrong for places of higher learning to stifle thought, skepticism, questioning and to propagate bias and isolationism of thought.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

So, just what is real? (Who am I? - Part 2)

I have written earlier about what it means to be me. Not an egocentric polemic, but an examination of what it is that we call reality, from my own personal experiences. It was difficult to write, as the written word continuously failed to capture my thoughts. Language was not up to the task, which explains in part why I choose to paint (when able) as another form of expression. The problem with this approach is that while I might be able to impart my meanings through the medium of paint, there is no guarantee that it would be understood any clearer by an observer. This reflects the old philosophical dilemma of 'how can I tell that I am awake and not dreaming?'

I concluded that there must be some mechanism/language that is both unambiguous, clear and descriptive that might be useful in this case. Of course, there is Mathematics... and Quantum Theory. However, I could not find anything comparable with my experiences. That was true... until today.

I didn't expect to find this youtube video (not the best quality I'm afraid) that enlightened me to the possibility that my original belief that I might find maths or QT to be the right language to use to explore my understanding of self. And neither did I expect to find a theorem that appears to correspond to how I intuit reality. I don't know yet where this may lead... a dead-end, another journey, or answers in detail or general. But I am looking forward to the journey.

This lecture: "The Quantum Conspiracy: What Popularizers of QM Don't Want You to Know" (below) describes an alternate hypothesis to Quantum Mechanics. Since its discovery, QM has upturning scientific thinking. Einstein struggled with his "spooky stuff", and scientists today still struggle to find the elusive TOE (Theory of Everything). Classical physics and QM exist in our reality, yet each contradicts the other... in that they are incompatible. Yet if incompatible, how can they co-exist? This is the problem of finding the TOE. And there are even further problems with understanding QM.

A solution was found to explain the inner inconsistencies of QM. These are well known today, as is the solution posited in Copenhagen, in answering the question as to whether light was a wave or a particle. Perceived traditionally as waves, light could be tested and understood. Yet when identified as a particle (now called a photon), performed very differently, yet could still be tested and understood. I won't go into the details here (they are widely known) except to say that there emerged from this summit, the Copenhagen model we all know, where quanta exist in a superstate that collapses when observed... so it can be in two places at the same time, unless looked at. Famously described as 'Schroedinger's Cat'.

However, this model still conflicts with the classic science of Newton. So a new, better model should be described. So this is where we find ourselves today: either everything is only QT, or (as Einstein believed) QT is false and only classical is true, or that there is something 'out there' which encompasses them both (TOE). The currently popular model (with its variants) is the 'Multiple Universe' model. This itself has questions that need answering, yet it is the most widely accepted in general.

So when I first broached the topic with an eye to see if it could help me describe my thoughts, and answer my question: 'Who am I?', I felt dissatisfied with the prevailing 'Big Bang' single universe, Steady State universe, or Many Worlds universe. Dissatisfied as they all seem bound by their allegiance to explaining a reality that I did not recognise. That is, until today where I learnt of another option that sounds promising. What is suggested is not a single universe, nor a multiple universe, but a Zero Universe (the Quantum Information Theory). If this proves useful, I might now be able to finish my musings on reality.



Richard Feynman once famously quipped that no one understands quantum mechanics, and popular accounts continue to promulgate the view that QM is an intractable mystery (probably because that helps to sell books). QM is certainly unintuitive, but the idea that no one understands it is far from the truth. In fact, QM is no more difficult to understand than relativity. The problem is that the vast majority of popular accounts of QM are simply flat-out wrong. They are based on the so-called Copenhagen interpretation of QM, which has been thoroughly discredited for decades. It turns out that if Copenhagen were true then it would be possible to communicate faster than light, and hence send signals backwards in time. This talk describes an alternative interpretation based on quantum information theory (QIT) which is consistent with current scientific knowledge. It turns out that there is a simple intuition that makes almost all quantum mysteries simply evaporate, and replaces them with an easily understood (albeit strange) insight: measurement and entanglement are the same physical phenomenon, and you don't really exist.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Diabetes and depression predict dementia risk in people with slowing minds



Diabetes and depression predict dementia risk in people with slowing minds



Woohoo (not) something for me to look forward to. So being diabetic, and depressed, and then losing cognitive function, means I'm going to get dementia. Yippee, I can't wait >:-8

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Prosopagnosia - The Faceless Horror

Okay, so how has the slow death of my brain been progressing? Well, the latest development has answered more questions as well making life harder to deal with. And it has a name: Prosopagnosia. To help explain my current depressed state of being, I should first take a couple of jumps back in time.

As with much of my recently revealed neurology (being autistic, synesthetic, hyperthymic, etc.) this has been a part of my life since before I popped into this world. However, unlike the other neurodiversity features of my grey matter, this 'face blindness' was mild, and only really freaked me out when it worsened recently. This isn't to say that I wasn't impaired by the milder form, just that I had always had it, so had no frame of reference to suggest otherwise.

milohartnoll: Prosopagnosia. 80cm x 60cm. Oil on Canvas. 2012.
As I was growing, I was aware that I had a weird problem with my memory. Although I had continuous and faultless memory, I could never maintain people's faces in my memory. Nor could I associate names with people, nor would I recognise people 'out of context'. By this, I mean that if I bumped into someone whom I knew well, while shopping, I would not know who they were. I would have a strong feeling that I knew this person really well, but unless we were where we normally were together, I had no idea who it would be.

An example of this occurred back when I was 18. I had spent several months in hospital with a buggered up leg (a story about incompetence for another day) and had developed a relationship with my nurse who was about my age. A while later, after returning to school, I bumped into said nurse while with schoolmates at a busy bus station. She immediately made her way towards me, and behaved as one would expect. Now I knew I knew her, and had reciprocal feelings, but could not for the life of me recognise her. Now while prosopagnosia robs the sufferer of recognising faces, there are other hints... such as posture, voice, etc. So as soon as she spoke I knew who she was. Problem was, that because I hadn't recognised her and not knowing why, and not wanting to upset her, blurted out in a very loud voice "I didn't recognise you with your clothes on".

Suffice to say the whole station went silent, and my schoolmates wetting themselves laughing, and what I was trying to avoid was in fact made worse. She looked horrified at what I had just shared with the world, and that was the last time we saw each other. Of course, what I had meant was that she was in casual dress rather than in uniform... and thus out of context. Needless to say that no-one believed this.

So I came to learn pretty quickly my 'problem' if not the reason, and learned various coping strategies. These came in handy when I became a teacher, as there was no way I could remember any pupil. This did not mean that I did not know who was good where and how, or had done etc., but that I was unable to attach the experience to a face nor a name. This was a challenge. I resolved this by having the kids choose their seats... and then stick to them. I had a floor plan for each lesson taped to my desk, with name, picture and reference. I could associate the reference with our relationship, and therefore to the person sat in front of me. I like to think I managed to fool all the kids I taught... though I think I just came over as odd or eccentric, especially as I never used their names in corridors, playground, etc. Of course, I became a good friend to many, and so was able to remember them out of context, and still maintain contact with them.

So as with my other as-yet-unidentified neurology, I had adapted. But this was before this particular feature progressed (at the time only for a few weeks). It totally freaked me out. Suddenly every face on TV, film, DVD, etc. was replaced. It was almost as if everyone had over-photoshopped their faces so now looked like CGI versions of themselves. Naturally I thought it was my TV playing up (like the original plasma TVs with ghosting) but on getting a new one had the same issue. I concluded that as everyone had changed, they must all be using a new foundation to hide wrinkles and lines for vanity on HD. And that this cream was being used on everyone...woman, man, and child. Which meant it must be a new common ingredient to all make-ups. It made no sense, but there was no alternative.

To my huge relief, it passed as quickly as it arrived, and I assumed either the new ingredient had been removed, or changed (unlikely), or that I had gotten used to it. That was until a few months ago.

Turning on my TV in my new place (after my divorce last year) and getting back to what I had started to watch the previous night, I suddenly realised that the 'over-shopped' face plague had returned with a vengeance. But what was weird was that none of the actors had been using this 'magic' foundation the previous night. So hitting rewind, I soon came to realise that it wasn't the TV, nor the broadcast, nor the make-up... but that it was something to do with me. Now this really freaked me out.

The Face of Another, 1966, Hiroshi Teshigahara

And not just the TV... my friends, family, neighbours and strangers. It was like I had been transported to an alternate reality where everyone was an auton and I the only human. Suddenly everyone's eyes were lifeless. What were once windows to the soul were now just shapes. I cannot begin to explain how this changed my day-to-day living. Imagine walking out one morning, and everyone now had a generic face, such as in The Face of Another (or if you watch Doctor Who, the episode: The End of Time, where the Master takes over everyone's body and everyone on earth has his face on their bodies). Now imagine looking into a mirror and seeing a stranger's non-face. Now imagine that no face ever returns.

So here I am, unable to watch TV or film, as I can't tell the difference between the characters/actors, unless it is a 2-hander, or Star-trek where everyone of importance is colour coded. And constantly freaked out every time someone turns or tilts their head, as their face flows into a contorted mass of independently moving face parts... eyes, ears, nose, mouth, etc. It really is very unsettling, and I can never get used to it.

It is hard for people to comprehend, so the best way I can describe it is to use that old racist phrase: "they all look the same to me", except in my case, it isn't an ethnic slur, but an entire race reality. What some people find easier to grasp is the related problem where people recognise the face, but can't match it to the face they see. This is probably more accessible as it is the staple of many a classic Sci-fi movie, such as 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' or others, where the aliens look exactly the same as the people they have replaced, but their children just 'know' they are not the same person. This real-life condition has the same problem in the brain, except it is the first rather than second neural pathway which is damaged.

  • http://sadisticscribbler.tumblr.com/post/110797145142/neuroanatomyblog-prosopagnosia-face
  • http://sadisticscribbler.tumblr.com/post/110797221397/victoriousvocabulary-prosopagnosia-noun

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