Monday 28 August 2023

Mind's 👁 aphantasia

Ever since I heard about Thomas Bowdler's expurgated "Family" Shakespeare (1807), I've been triggered by "abridged" books. Reader's Digest didn't help, either. If I want a digest, I'd read The Blob or a review in one of the broadsheet newspapers. Too long? - someone will have written a haiku summary to give you enough story for party-chatter: two Verona teens / nix star-crossed to make love once / but kill selves later. I was accordingly a bit leery about [Adam] Rutherford and [Hannah] Fry's Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything* . . . *abridged (2021) but I checked it out of the library anyway. It's rare that I have space and time to hang out in a library browsing for something to read. It took Dau.II to explain that the *abridged part of the title was an ironic British comment implying that of course chirpy science-explainers Adam and Hannah weren't claiming to cover everything.

Dau.II was better tuned to their sense of humour because she's been bingeing on The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry BBC podcast. I've only recently tapped into this source of edutainment, so was merely mildly narked by the "*foot-note". The book is like the podcast in that it is composed of essentially unrelated chapters which present an issue "probability, permutations, inter-stellar communications" or "does my dog love me", riff on it for a while, and come up with some sort of resolution of the original question. As you might expect from the title, they use a lot of footnotes but they are flagged with a microscopically small * which makes it hard to tie note back to text.

The book is okay. I learned some stuff: 1) the details of James "Primate of all Ireland" Ussher's calculations for deciding that the origin of the world happened in the evening before 23rd October 4004 BCE [bloboprev]; 2) that Darwin's certainties about reading the expression of emotions on the faces or humans and other animals are not really reproducible. I got lost and/or alienated on "Does my dog love me?" chapter but ackn that I'm in the minority on the household pet "who cares?" front.

Dau.I the Librarian has been down home on two weeks study leave wrapping up her MLIS thesis. It's a bit easier to do proof-reading and discuss statistics if everyone is in the same building. I believe I get a mention in the acknowledgements. When she was ready to go back, I took her to the train-station on a Sunday afternoon. The train was 15 minutes late and in the desultory chat, she revealed that she had reckoned she had prosopagnosia [prev] - inability to recognise / remember / visualize faces. It's a little less traumatic than my mother's (late-onset) Charles Bonnet Syndrome which filled her mind's eye with fantastical images of pirates and flower-garlands. 

Psychologists will correct me if I'm wrong but I think that prosopagnosia is a subset or manifestation of 'aphantasia' which applies to folks [about 3% of us] who do not have a "mind's-eye" except in a metaphorical sense. When asked to run the tape of their best-friend's face, or her home, or that time in the pub . . . they come up blank. At the other end of the spectrum, maybe 10% of us are hyper-phantastics who replay events in glorious technicolor. Who knew? The bold Rutherford & Fry have made a Curious Case about the phenomenon. Aphantasia only acquired a name and a description in 2015! Discussion on Metafilter at that time., with phantasiacs and aphantasiacs weighing in with their lived experience.

Curious? Tune into the Perception Census

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