Suck at remembering faces?

Do you suck at remembering faces? You may lie on the spectrum of prosopagnosia. On the extreme, you couldn’t recognise yourself. If you looked at yourself — you may see your bushy eyebrows, your frizzy hair, your heart-shaped face, your pointed nose, but you couldn’t link those unique characteristics to a unique ‘you’. There is no unique you. You’re just a face.

If you were just surrounded by faces which you couldn’t recognise, how would your relationships change? You’d learn to recognise your wife by the way she walked, perhaps.

Facial blindness, also called prosopagnosia, is a condition which affects your brain’s visual processing areas. Naturally, our brains are tuned to recognise faces. But should a tumor or lesion (perhaps from a car accident) damage our visual processing area, we may lose this natural functioning.

There’s also another kind of blindness — object blindness, or form agnosia. Those afflicted can recognize faces but cannot recognise objects like the grass, the sky, or a snake in the water. They can see motion and colors, but there’s no link between the details for the brain to hold onto.

DIscounting these individual cases of ‘blindness’, each individual’s version of the world is unique. Our brains constantly distort what we see, using shortcuts with visual memory to paint a picture of our reality.

One of the most interesting cases I’ve come across is “The Hole” in Alcatraz. Prisoners who were sent to the Hole fully experienced the brain’s ability to create reality, irrespective of the existing world around us. The Hole removed all visual and auditory stimuli — you were in a hole, pitch black, no sound. One prisoner recounted his time in the Hole: he remembers vividly flying a kite, something his brain imagined during his imprisonment in the Hole. But this was more than a dream, and it was very real, but not.

The brain’s bizarre, and so is its power to mold individuals with very different realities.

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