Friday, December 31, 2010

Googling around with synaesthesia

I've only just discovered Google's Ngram Viewer

I believe it shows how often particular terms appeared in a shitload of books, by publication date of the books. I'm no expert - do check this for yourself. I've found that the search limits can be altered to search through stuff as recent as 2008.

I have done some searches on the terms "synaesthesia" and "synesthesia". The results have been interesting, but probably not a firm basis for conclusions. I found that both graphs are a long, steady increase from roughly around the beginning of the last century, but are also quite different for each of these terms - one the American term "synesthesia" with the simplified spelling, the other with the quaint old spelling "synaesthesia" which is associated with British writers and researchers. Another point of interest is that I found little evidence of a resurgence of interest in synaesthesia as a subject of study in the 1980s, for either of the spellings. A big upswing in interest appears to have happened much later, in the mid 1990s in the UK, spreading later to the US, so I can only guess that British researchers or authors deserve the credit for the most recent upswing in interest in this scientific subject.

I did find a definite peak in the graph for "synaesthesia" (but not for the US spelling) around 1960, probably something to do with monkeying around in the UK with LSD for fun or under the banner of "therapy". Perhaps Syd Barrett and company deserve some "credit" here. I also found a decline in the graph after the year 2001 for the term "synaesthesia", not sure why. I have read some online comments on a recent UK media story about synaesthesia in which readers complained that they are bored with synaesthesia as a subject, so perhaps synaesthesia has not been the flavour of the month for a long time in the UK.

Many things need to be kept in mind about my searches using this tool - I don't think the viewer covers journal papers or other non-book publications, so I don't think it should be seen as a general reflection of scientific research. One also needs to remember that synaesthesia has been researched and written about under many different terms over a long period of history (see my article cited below), and searches on the modern terms will not retrieve those items. Sir Francis Galton was an early synaesthesia researcher, but I don't think he ever used the term "synaesthesia" (correct me if I am wrong). Boris Sidis, the psychologist and researcher father of the child prodigy William James Sidis, was also an early writer on the subject of synaesthesia, but he used the term "secondary sensation" in his writing.

Words that have been used as terms for synaesthesia in popular, scientific or clinical literature

And another New Year's resolution

I think I might let my subscription to New Idea magazine lapse and get No Idea magazine instead.

The Bouba and Kiki Effect in Music

Why is it that Axel F is such a spiky, star-shaped song, while lush orchestral music with lots of strings is billowing and bulging and round, like a fat white storm cloud on a humid summer's day?

As a stark contrast this is a YouTube music clip of Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams. Note the choice of image for the cover art!

Another New Year's resolution

I think I might let my subscription to Time magazine lapse and get Waste of Time magazine instead.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lili's thought for the day

All of our children have lined up their toys, including a daughter who also loved to arrange her teddy bear's and dollie's tea parties around a square-shaped rug, with the table setting in a perfect four-sided rotational symmetry pattern.

New Year's resolution

I think I might let my subscription to New Scientist lapse and get Mad Scientist magazine instead.

I like this quote

“We don't have to talk. We can just share energy to be social.”

- Ellen, regular attendee at AACT, "a group run for and by adults with autism", described in this journal article:

Nancy Bagatell (2010) From Cure to Community: Transforming Notions of Autism. Ethos. March 2010. Volume 38, Issue 1. p. 33-55.

Article first published online: 11 MAR 2010
DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1352.2009.01080.x

Lili's thought for the day

Can autistic behaviours tell us something important about the origins of human spoken language? I've had a short discussion on the subject of ancient hominids today, as you do, and a thought came to mind. Some experts believe the thing that brought about the sudden leap from hominid type creatures to human type creatures could be spoken language. But how did spoken language start? There are many theories floating about, no doubt. I think there is one involving synaesthesia. Could autism give a clue as to how or why hominids started speaking? Obviously the basic anatomy is needed, but that doesn't evolve into anything fancy without already having some basic utility, so what started the process? Do we need to ask the question of why would a hominid start talking, in the absence of an established culture of talking and language? Wouldn't this be rather like talking to one's self? That's a bit eccentric, isn't it? Autistic people do this. Why do autistic people do this? Go ask and autistic person. So were the first hominid speakers a bit autistic? Now that's a novel thought!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Daryl Hannah in G magazine

It's lovely to see actress and committed environmentalist Daryl Hannah on the cover of the latest G magazine, Issue 29, November-December 2010.

The virtuous and attractive Ms Hannah is one of the amazing people who are in my big list:

A referenced list of 174 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum

Monday, December 27, 2010

Lili's thought for the day

I am so going to read Julian Assange's autobiography as soon as it hits the shelves! Get typing, Mr Assange!

Amygdala / psychopath theory of autism not travelling well at all

So sorry Professor Baron-Cohen, here is evidence that the amygdalas of autistic people work just fine, "at the perceptual level". And it appears that autists aren't emotion-blind psychopaths either. As the year comes to a completion and dies, so does another grand theory of autism. Let's hope that 2011 brings a better theoretical framework. And I believe in miracles too.

Eve-Marie Quintin • Anjali Bhatara •
He´le`ne Poissant • Eric Fombonne • Daniel J. Levitin

Emotion Perception in Music in High-Functioning Adolescents
With Autism Spectrum Disorders

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
DOI 10.1007/s10803-010-1146-0

Published online: 22 December 2010

"The ability to recognize musical emotion as belonging to one of four categories(happy, sad, scared or peaceful) was assessed in high-functioning adolescents with ASD (N = 26) and adolescents with typical development (TD, N = 26) with comparable performance IQ, auditory working memory, and musical training and experience. When verbal IQ was controlled for, there was no significant effect of diagnostic group. Adolescents with ASD rated the intensity of the emotions similarly to adolescents with TD and reported greater confidence in their responses when they had correctly (vs. incorrectly) recognized the emotions."

"Thus, emotion recognition in music among individuals with ASD differs from that in patients with damage to the amygdala, in the sense that individuals with ASD can recognize some musical emotions that patients with damage to the amygdala cannot recognize such as scary and peaceful music. This observation, combined with the lack of group difference for ratings of emotional intensity, cannot be reconciled with the amygdala theory of autism at the perceptual level.
Emotion perception in music in ASD does not seem out of norms."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

An amusing quote that I stumbled upon

Retired at last! Retired at last! Thank God Almighty, retired at last!- Theodore Dalrymple, author and retired prison and hospital doctor and psychiatrist who worked for the NHS.

They say when you love your job you don't have to work a day in your life. It appears this was not the case with this moderately famous political author!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Val Lewton movies on the box, again

I've been raving on in this blog quite a bit about old movies produced in the 1940s by Val Lewton. If you are interested, I thought I'd let you know that the ABC is repeating them in the wee hours of the morning, this week, again. If you are not interested, too bad!

The movies are:

I Walked With a Zombie (2.50am Sun-Mon, not as bad as the title suggests)
Youth Runs Wild (2.55am Mon-Tue, not a horror movie)
The Body Snatcher (12.25am Wed-Thu, with the legendary Boris and Bella) and
The Ghost Ship (2.50am Thu-Fri, psychological).

ABC TV National Guide

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What are they calling Julian now?

I friend has kindly let me know about a most interesting blog post about the WikiLeaks thing, Bradley Manning and Assange. I'd be a whole lot happier with the piece if the word "sociopathic" was replaced by the word "autistic". It matters to me and it also matters to other people. For Pete's sake, the author of the piece is comparing Assange with "programmers, mathematicians, potheads and science fiction fans"! That does not sound like sociopathy to me. It does however sound like another well-known type.

The Blast Shack
Bruce Sterling

December 22nd 2010

Our Unique King of the Geeks

Did you catch what Dr Karl said on the episode of Sleek Geeks that aired tonight (during his eye examination)? Did you know he's also got prosopagnosia? I find this stuff interesting.

About Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Dr Karl’s web site:

About Dr Karl and Prosopangosia (face-blindness)

Molitorisz, Sacha (2008) Guinea-pig geeks get their revenge. Age. January 10th 2008.

Sleek Geeks. ABC1 Series 2 Episode 1 2010 Superhuman. broadcast November 11th 2010

Sleek Geeks. ABC1 Series 1 Episode 2 Mind Games.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A sure sign that you are autistic ....

When some pretentious political commentator affixes you with the label of "narcissist" it's a sure sign that you are on the autistic spectrum. Today on The Drum on the ABC's news TV channel Tim Soutphommasane told the viewers that Julian Assange is a narcissist, which pretty much confirms what I'd been thinking all along.

Narcissist is evidently one of Mr Soutphommasane's favourite words. I Googled his name along with the term, and got a results page with no less than 11 different articles by Mr S published in The Australian that included the term. This bloke seems to think the whole world has a personality disorder! I hope one day he will be able to find a planet inhabited by intelligent beings who are not generally cursed with an intractable mental illness with which he can share his philosophy.

I'm so glad I'm writing this post and not saying it.

Christmas scene from Tommy

Some autistic people don't love Christmas, with all the noise, the crowding, the colour red, the being misunderstood, the being disliked, the being felt sorry for ....

It is illegal to discriminate against autistic students in Australia - believe it baby!

Congratulations to Mandy and Andrew Mason of Perth, Western Australia, who took the Methodist Ladies College to the Federal Court and won. This exclusive private girls' school failed to renew the contract of an education assistant, preventing the Masons' autistic daughter from attending school for nine months. I am sorry that an Australian autistic girl's education has been disrupted because the people who run a school think their school can evade the responsibility that all schools have to meet the educational needs of all students, neurotypical and autistic, disabled and ordinary.

Private school loses autism discrimination case
ABC News
December 21st 2010.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What was the deal with van Gogh?

Blumer, Dietrich (2002) The illness of Vincent van Gogh. American Journal of Psychiatry. 159:519-526, April 2002.
[does not mention autism or AS]

Campen, Cretien van (2008) The hidden sense: synesthesia in art and science. The MIT Press, 2008.
[evidence that suggests that van Gogh was a synaesthete on p. 54]

Erickson, Kathleen Powers (1998) At eternity's gate: the spiritual vision of Vincent van Gogh. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998.
[author argues that van Gogh had psychomotor epilepsy/temporal lobe epilepsy, rather than schizophrenia]

Fitzgerald, Michael (2005) The genesis of artistic creativity: Asperger’s syndrome and the arts. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
[includes a chapter about van Gogh]

Gayford, Martin (2006) The yellow house: van Gogh, Gauguin and nine turbulent weeks in Arles. Fig Tree (Penguin Books), 2006.
[Author argues that bipolar was the explanation for van Gogh’s troubles and mentions other theories put forward by others. Also discusses van Gogh’s diagnosis of epilepsy at St Remy Asylum. Van Gogh’s synaesthesia described on p. 190, and Gauguin’s synaesthesia discussed on p. 191, the author incorrectly describing synaesthesia as a type of madness. No mention of autism/AS found]

Gogh, Vincent van and Bernard, Bruce (editor) Vincent by himself: a selection of his drawings and painting together with extracts from his letters. Time Warner Books UK, 2004.
[evidence of van Gogh's synaesthesia to be found in his choice of words in some of his letters]

Grandin, Temple (1995) Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism. 1st edition. Doubleday. 1995.
[Einstein, Wittgenstein, van Gogh, Bill Gates mentioned in connection to the autistic spectrum]

Grinker, Roy (2007) Unstrange minds: remapping the world of autism. Basic Books.
[Bobby Fischer, Vincent van Gogh, Leo Kanner mentioned in connection with the autistic spectrum]

James, Ioan (2005) Asperger syndrome and high achievement: some very remarkable people. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
[includes a chapter about van Gogh]

Maur, Karin von (1999) The sound of painting: music in modern art. Prestel, 1999.
[van Gogh quoted on page 22 "Painting...promises to become more subtle-more music and less sculpture-in short, what will come is color."]

About Julian Assange

See my most recent post about Julian Assange here:

"That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards."

"I'm a combative person. So I like crushing bastards. So it is deeply, personally, personally, deeply satisfying to me."

"Real bastards are people who have power and abuse their power to afflict people who are weaker than they are.”

Barrowclough, Nikki (2010) The secret life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Sydney Morning Herald. May 22, 2010.

Cadwalladr, Carole (2010) Julian Assange, monk of the online age who thrives on intellectual battle. Scot Network. August 5th 2010.

Dreyfus, Suelette & Assange, Julian (researcher) (1997) Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier. Reed Books Australia.

Hosenball, Mark (2010) Special Report: Julian Assange versus the world. Yahoo News. Reuters. December 13th 2010.
[includes a claim that Assange has described himself only partly in jest as somewhere on the autistic spectrum]

Kenber, Billy and Whitworth, Damian (2010) Pied Piper Julian Assange brooks no dissent in land of WikiLeaks. Times. December 18, 2010.

Rintoul, Stuart, Parnell, Sean, Elks, Sarah, Rout, Milanda & Owens, Jared (2010) Julian Assange, wild child of free speech. Australian. December 11, 2010. Weekend Australian. December 11-12 2010. p. 1, 8.

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2010) Julian Assange. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Almost a news story about Julian Assange

I really do wonder about the motivations behind the writing of journalism like this story about Julian Assange. I guess everyone is curious about the man and his motivations at the moment, and an article like this seems to offer some clues, but it just seems to raise more questions than it answers. I've got to wonder about the role of words such as "eccentricity", "dictator" and "idiosyncratic" in this article, when there is little in this article to explain why such labels might be applicable to Mr Assange. Some people don't like the man, and he has had disagreements with people he has worked with. So? Enough insinuation.

Kenber, Billy and Whitworth, Damian (2010) Pied Piper Julian Assange brooks no dissent in land of WikiLeaks. Times. December 18, 2010.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Request for advice

Please help, I am only a humble housewife, and I can't figure out how to search the WikiLeaks database. I can't find a thing about Australia among all the diplomatic cable documents. I have no trouble finding stuff about Azerbaijan, but I'm not interested in Azerbaijan, (no offence, Azerbaijan). What am I doing wrong? I tried asking a teenager who is obsessed with politics, and even that didn't help. Help!

Lili's thought of the day

I spend much of my waking hours these days driving kids to and from parties. In that respect, they are not chips off the old blocks.

Cheap Christmas gift toy ideas for the young autist

Here are some ideas:

Spirograph - a toy that makes perfect and precise and repetitive geometrical patterns, the technical mathematical terms for which are hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. I've seen a basic set on sale at Toyworld (Australia) for $15.00. One word of caution - this toy is a bit fiddly and tricky to use well, maybe not the best toy for a child with fine motor issues, but if they are keen and persistent, it might be good training.

Hopper / Space Hopper / Hopper Ball / Bounce Ball - The perfect gift for the young child who has lots of bounce but has no trampoline. A day full of bouncing is a good day, I say! I've seen this toy on sale recently for only $8.00 at K-Mart.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lili creates new blog for all to ignore

I'm going to try to limit much of my carping on about politics to my newest blog, and I also plan to republish the odd thing or two there as well.

Blond Ambition

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A timely quote

Consumption today consists of people spending money they don’t own, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.
- Dr Clive Hamilton

I have a collection of favourite quotes here:

Monday, December 13, 2010

What kinda bloke is Julian Assange?

See my most recent post about Julian Assange here:

I saw an interesting portrait of the world's currently most famous Australian, the Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange, in the Weekend Australian. It appears that he is an unconventional bloke who hasn't had a lot of luck in relationships, the son of an unconventional mother who hasn't had a lot of luck in relationships. Assange had a childhood that was apparently partly itinerant and partly an idyllic lifestyle, unsullied by schools and institutional education on Magnetic Island off Townsville. I have visited this island, and I was utterly enchanted by it. Heaven. Moments to treasure forever. I recall this island was also a favourite haunt of the ill-fated Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates.

Assange is very obviously intellectually gifted, and was also homeschooled for a lot of his childhood. I thought the comments by the author Suelette Dreyfus about Assange and the hacker set that he used to hang out with in his younger years were particularly interesting with regard to gifted young Australians not fitting into the education system and society in general. Assange used to hang around libraries and study without much regard for graduating. That's a lifestyle that I am most familiar with.

In Australia we have a proud history of outsider whistleblowers, with notable Australians such as our autistic Deborah Locke, formerly known as Debbie Webb, who's scary career in the police force was a feature of the very popular Aussie TV series Underbelly.

"Julian Assange, wild child of free speech."
Stuart Rintoul, Sean Parnell, Sarah Elks, Milanda Rout, Jared Owens
December 11, 2010
The Australian
December 11-12 2010. p. 1, 8
Weekend Australian

Watching Deborah Locke watching the detectives

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas makes me want to scream!

I guess the festive season isn't all bad, but the crowds, the cost, the rushing to wind up the year, the consumerism, the stodgy, fattening food everywhere you look, the retailers flogging boxes of chocolates that are going to melt in the summer heat before they get given as gifts, the the second-rate crap on TV and the radio, the everyone important being unavailable till January, the suspension of important services, the being expected to work at Christmas and New Year if you are a casual worker (voiding the essential meaning of the word "casual"), the absurdly unsuitable European traditions and the lack of time for the things in life that really matter, I don't need. Sometimes I just feel like chucking the shits in a style that only an autistic person can achieve, like these guys....

Mono by Courtney Love

Get Free by The Vines

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Stop the Press!

I can't believe that the TV news broadcasts in Australia today have had as a leading story Wikileaks revealations that Kevin Rudd is a control-freak. This is news? We need to discover this through leaked diplomatic cable messages?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Lili's thought for the day

It's such a great thing to have a technical mind - it makes one so popular.....when people have a car or a computer that doesn't work.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

I love this quote

“This is another man I can never know because I can never talk with him, for I am a mute and cannot speak. I am cut off from other men, but in my own silence I can hear things they cannot hear, know things they can never know.”

- Finn the Mute, a character played by Skelton Knaggs, from the 1943 movie The Ghost Ship, produced by Val Lewton.

Memorable fictional characters portraying autistic traits or themes

(unfinished article) Val Lewton, producer of classic horror movies - have I solved a mystery?

Just as I suspected

Some recent Christmas-related socializing has confirmed my suspicion. Sometimes one finds out more about a person when that person is not present at a gathering. Just as I thought - the person that I find the most instantly likeable, the only one that I feel as though I could really belong to the same tribe as, is to a degree disliked and disrespected. It's not as though the other normal, savvy, sensible folk are not nice and polite to me - they are all polite to my face, and some are very friendly and genuinely decent and good people. I don't hang out with rubbish people - a misanthrope like myself is especially choosey about who I hang out with. I don't like people in general, so if I do spend my time in the company of homo sapiens, they have to be fine specimens of the species. The sensible, moderate nice folks are good people, no doubt at all, but they aren't my people. I always feel instinctively as though, of the nice people, it is the rare autistic among the other smart altruists that I would most like to have as a friend. Yep, I'm a completely f***ed-up individual. So if you ever get the feeling that I really like you as a person, it's time to get worried.

Poor Hillary!

I've read that Hillary Clinton is currently as busier than a one-armed taxi driver with crabs, issuing apologies to all and sundry about stuff that is coming out of Wikileaks. She is reported as saying that after her term of office expires she will leave politics, and she is speaking about her career in the past tense. I am bent double with laughter. Couldna happened to a nicer curebie.

Clinton says no more politics after State Department

Wednesday, December 01, 2010