Friday, December 30, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Happy New Year to Laura and all of the other readers and commenters of my humble blog.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who's this guy?

This English man memorized the number Pi to thousands of decimal places, his IQ has been measured at around 150, he has demonstrated an ability to perform difficult calculations in his mind in seconds, he has an amazing talent for memorizing huge lists of numbers, names and faces and he can write backwards with ease. His memory has been described as "superhuman". Daniel Tammet? Nup! Taxi driver Tom Morton.

Memory man left Pi and dry.
BBC News. March 8, 1998

Don’t believe everything you read in a book: an incomplete list of books that are about, are by or mention Daniel Tammet, in chronological order

Tammet, Daniel (2006) Born on a blue day: a memoir of Asperger’s and an extraordinary mind. Hodder & Stoughton. 2006.
[I think it is interesting that Karen Ammond who is the founder and president of the publicity company KBC Media which Tammet engaged to represent him in 2001 and was also an associate producer of the science-themed “documentary” Brainman (released in 2005), which brought Tammet to the attention of some British neuroscience researchers and launched him into fame as a celebrity neuropsychiatry case, is thanked by name in the acknowledgements section of the US 2007 Free Press edition of this book, but was not mentioned in the acknowledgements in the 2006 UK Hodder and Stoughton first edition. Ammond’s acknowledgement in the US edition is separate to Tammet’s acknowledgement of people described as the “team behind the Brainman documentary”. Is Ammond’s full role in Tammet’s career a sensitive subject?]

Treffert, Darold A. (2006) Extraordinary people: understanding savant syndrome., February 14th 2006.
[A brief outline of Tammet’s life story can be found in the epilogue in this 2006 edition]

Ward, Jamie (2008) The frog who croaked blue: synesthesia and the mixing of the senses. Routledge, 2008.
[Author a UK synaesthesia researcher. Dr Ward has communicated directly with Tammet, but his writing about Tammet in this book is not an interview format, and it appears that the quotes and material from Tammet in this book are excerpts from Tammet’s first book. Amongst his discussion of Tammet Dr Ward explains that extraordinary memory feats can be performed with the use of the method of loci, and it is clear from the details in this paragraph that Ward has read the “Routes to Remembering” study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur but disappointingly Dr Ward shows no awareness that Tammet was one of the subjects of that study (Ward 2008 p.113), and Ward shows no scepticism about Tammet’s self-account. Ward states that “...Daniel Tammet broke the European record for reciting 22,514 digits of pi without error...” (Ward 2008 p.110). One person has claimed this is untrue. Another quote from Ward's book: “As with other people with autism, he is little interested in faces and he believes that his memory for faces is poor.” Had Ward known that Tammet was one of the subjects tested for face memory in the "Routes to Remebering" study, and had performed brilliantly in a World Memory Championship competition in 2000 in a task titled "names and faces" Ward might have been sceptical about Tammet's claims of a deficit in face memory.]

Murray, Stuart (2008) Representing autism: culture, narrative, fascination. Liverpool University Press, 15/07/2008
[Tammet is discussed over a number of pages. Although Murray does not question the truth of Tammet’s autobiographical story, he does compare representations of Tammet in the Brainman “documentary” and Tammet’s first autobiography with fictional representations of autism in the movie Rain Man and the novel by Mark Haddon The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time “For all Tammet’s achievements, it is the backdrop of fiction, and the expectations produced by such fiction, that appears as his immediate context.” (p.92)]

Zacharias, Karen Spears (2008) Where’s your Jesus now? Zondervan, 26/08/2008.
[Tammet’s synaesthesia is referred to a number of times in this rambling and personal book about religion.]

Tammet, Daniel (2009) Embracing the wide sky: a tour across the horizons of the mind. Free Press, January 2009.
[The title of the German version of this book translates as “Clouds springer: from a genius autistic learning”. This book is a wide-ranging and light discussion of various areas of psychology, with some autobiographical info. On pages 73–74 of the Hodder & Stoughton edition Tammet explains in detail how memorization using chunking and a hierarchical structure is done, while also claiming that his mind does this spontaneously. On page 40 Tammet wrote that his IQ score was found to be 150 in testing by "a qualified educational psychologist" which he undertook as a part of his own inquiry into IQ testing, Tammet claiming this was the first time he had done an IQ test. Tammet's claims in this book are not consistent with information known about Tammet. In 2002 Tammet was one of the World Memory Championship (WMC) participants who volunteered as subjects in the “Routes to Remembering” study by Maguire et al, which had various tests of cognition as a part of the study. A quote from pages 90-91 of that study: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." It is hard to imagine how an individual capable on attaining an IQ score of 150 could have gone unnoticed in this study of only ten superior memorizers and ten matched normal controls. Face recognition was also tested in this study, the WMC competitors as a group performing slightly better than controls and I found no note of any face recognition difficulties in any of the participants in this study, which conflicts with Tammet's assertion on page 61 of his book Embracing the Wide Sky that he has "great difficulty remembering faces". A possible explanation for this contradiction is that the test used in the study might be open to the use of non-face features for identification, thus possibly failing to identify prosopagnosia. Tammet has claimed to have synaesthesia in both of his books and it is generally accepted by media people that Tammet is a synesthete, but there is nothing in the "Routes to Remembering" study to indicate that any of the study subjects had synaesthesia, but we don't know if it would necessarily have been picked up by those investigators. Tammet does appear to have mentioned in the study having epilepsy as a child, as this is noted in the study.]

Williams, Mary E. (2009) Epilepsy. Greenhaven Press, 16/10/2009.
[Series title Perspectives on Diseases and Disorders. Tammet is discussed on a number of pages.]

Veague, Heather Barrnett, Collins, Christine and Levitt, Pat (2009) Autism. Infobase Publishing, 01/12/2009
[Tammet is cited as an example of an autistic savant in this eBook, with a profile of him on page 9.]

Brown, Julie (2010) Writers on the spectrum: how autism and Asperger syndrome have influenced literary writing. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 15/01/2010
[Tammet is discussed in a number of places in this book, on page 149 laughably described as a mathematician.]

Plotnik, Rod and Kouyoumdjian, Haig (2010) Introduction to psychology. Cengage Learning, 19/03/2010.
[Yes, Daniel Tammet has made his way into a psychology textbook. Tammet is profiled as an example of “incredible memory” on page 239.]

Happe, Francesca and Frith, Uta (2010) Autism and talent. Oxford University Press, 13/5/2010.
[Tammet discussed in a number of places in this book of essays by autism researchers based on papers published in a 2009 special edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.]

Kaufman, James C. and Sternberg, Robert J. (2010) The Cambridge handbook of creativity. Cambridge University Press, 30/08/2010.
[Tammet is discussed as a savant on page 399]

Robinson, Andrew (2010) Sudden Genius?: The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs. Oxford University Press, September 16th 2010.
[Tammet is discussed over a number of pages]

Treffert, Darold A. (2010) Islands of genius: the bountiful mind of the autistic, acquired, and sudden savant. Jessica Kingsley, 2010.
[Has a foreword by Daniel Tammet. Many famous and well-known autistic savants are written about and Tammet is included as one of this group. A surprisingly vacuous book, given the interesting subject matter. Clearly written for a popular and not professional or academic readership.]

Smith, Neil, Tsimpli, Ianthi, Morgan, Gary and Woll, Bencie (2011) The Signs of a Savant: Language Against the Odds. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
[Tammet has been the subject of studies by some of the authors of this book. Discussion of Tammet can be found on p.151-2 “...we tested him on a variety of spoken languages...”, “He is reasonably fluent in Lithuanian, Spanish, Romanian, Esperanto and Welsh; he has some knowledge of French and German;...” It is interesting that Tammet is described as only having “some knowledge” of French and German considering that Tammet reported getting A grades in both languages in his GCSE in Born on a Blue Day (p.107 Free Press/Simon and Schuster ed, p.117 in Hodder and Stoughton ed), and Tammet promotes his own online language courses in French and Spanish from his own website Optimnem, and was reported in 2009 to have learned German in a week (Bethge 2009). In this book Tammet’s learning of British Sign Language was studied and compared with the disabled language savant Christopher, and was found to be different in some respects. Tammet's account of his participation in research studies with authors of this book can be found on pages 167 and 221 of the Simon and Schuster/Free Press 2007 edition of Born on a Blue Day, or on pages 181 and 237 of the 2006 Hodder and Stoughton edition.]

Geary, James (2011) I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. HarperCollins, 08/02/2011.
[Tammet is discussed as an autistic savant exceptional for being an autistic who is able to understand metaphors.]

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. Allen Lane, April 2011.
[Tammet is discussed on two pages of this bizarrely ill-conceived book by the Cambridge professor who initially gave Tammet’s legend credibility with some other scientists by describing Tammet in two journal papers. This book begins on a very strange note by presenting a medically impossible urban legend as a factual anecdote.]

Baron-Cohen, Simon (2011) The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. Basic Books, May 31, 2011.
[The US version of Zero Degrees of Empathy. Tammet is discussed on two pages of this bizarrely ill-conceived book by the Cambridge professor who initially gave Tammet’s legend credibility with some other scientists by describing Tammet in two journal papers. This book begins on a very strange note by presenting a medically impossible urban legend as a factual anecdote.]

Sternberg, Robert J. and Kaufman, Scott Barry (2011) The Cambridge handbook of intelligence. Cambridge University Press, 30/06/2011.
[Tammet is mentioned in an uncritical manner on a number of pages of this book]

Seaberg, Maureen (2011) Tasting the universe: people who see colors in words and rainbows in symphonies: a spiritual and scientific exploration of synesthesia. New Page Books, 2011.
[Author an American synaesthete journalist with an interest in spirituality. Many famous synaesthetes discussed and/or interviewed including Daniel Tammet, who is interviewed and given a completely uncritical and unsceptical treatment. Seaberg breathlessly described Tammet as “another living genius, synesthete savant Daniel Tammet” (Seaberg 2011 p.252). Seaberg makes a hash of reporting Tammet’s supposed Pi record “...he was famously able to memorise the number Pi to 22,500 places-and even more in recent times” (Seaberg 2011 p.158). Two different Pi record attempts by Tammet? He stopped at 22,500 decimal places? I don’t think so. Seaberg gives one of a few recent reports of Tammet working on writing fiction (Seaberg 2011 166-167).]

Foer, Joshua (2011) Moonwalking with Einstein: the art and science of remembering everything. Allen Lane/Penguin, 2011.
[includes a chapter about Tammet in which Tammet’s achievements in the World Memory Championship under his original name of Daniel Corney in 1999 and 2000 are discussed, Tammet’s synaesthesia and savantism are questioned and the author considers whether Tammet’s remarkable talents are best explained as the result of training]

Erard, Michael (2012) Babel no more: the search for the world's most extraordinary language learners. Free Press, January 10, 2012.
[Tammet’s story recounted on one page]

Unpublished or upcoming books by Tammet

Tammet, Daniel (2010) Fragments of heaven. Hodder General Publishing Division, 2010. ISBN 0340961376, 9780340961377. 288 pages. Subjects: religion, Christian life, spiritual growth.

Tammet, Daniel (2012) Thinking by numbers. UK publisher: Hodder General Publishing Division, US publisher: Little Brown, 2012. ISBN 1444737406, 9781444737400. 288 pages.

......and a different list of some books about synaesthesia and/or neuropsychology that appear to be Tammet-free

Van Campen, Cretien (2007) The Hidden Sense: synesthesia in art and science. The MIT Press; 1 edition, October 31, 2007.
[I could find no references to Tammet in this book’s index and a partial search by Google Books]

Cytowic, Richard E. and Eagleman, David M. (2009) Wednesday is indigo blue: discovering the brain of synesthesia. The MIT Press; 1 edition, February 27, 2009.
[I’m pretty sure there is no mention of Daniel Tammet, Daniel Corney or DT in this book, but an endorsement of this book from Tammet is featured at the publisher's page for the book and also at David Eagleman's page about the book ]

The books of Oliver Sacks?

The vast majority of the content of this old post is stuff written by other people

and that's probably why it is so good.

Quotes that caught Lili's eye

A resemblance between Tammet and fictional autism noted in 2008

“For all Tammet’s achievements, it is the backdrop of fiction, and the expectations produced by such fiction, that appears as his immediate context.”

- Stuart Murray, page 92 in

Murray, Stuart (2008) Representing autism: culture, narrative, fascination. Liverpool University Press, 15/07/2008

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

I've noticed a fascinating biological difference between North Koreans and the rest of humanity - they cry without tears. An entire nation afflicted with Sjogren's syndrome?

Lili's thought for the day

Off to the library tomorrow to check something out! ;-)

Shocking misuse of dangerous zombie-drugs on developmentally disabled people

Something must be done now to stop what is happening. Please take action!

"Data from the National Core Indicators project, a national database run by the Human Services Research Institute and the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services, shows that the percentage of people with developmental disabilities receiving psychotropic medications is much higher than the percentage who have the co-occurring mental health conditions that might justify their use. The long term side effects of such inappropriate medication include obesity, diabetes, long term brain damage, injury, and even death."

"I saw people being medicated to control behavior to such a degree that to me it was obviously and clearly affecting their health, their safety, their quality of life, their ability to participate in the daily activities of living, and in some cases threatened their lives"

"And even the use of the drugs to control behavior is questionable. A 2008 study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that psychotropic drugs like Risperdal were less effective at treating behavioral outbursts than placebos."

"Ms. Vargha protested after her sister, 47, was given as much as 360 milligrams per day; the maximum dosage recommended by the Food and Drug Administration is 160 milligrams."

"At the same time, state officials conceded in records obtained by The Times that they did not really know what her diagnosis was; assessing her has been complicated by the fact that Ms. Vargha’s sister is far more fluent in Persian than English."

No proper assessment and no clear diagnosis but regardless this poor woman was put on an elephant's dose of one of those horrendous neuroleptic anti-psychotic drugs? I'd be shocked if this happened in some busted-arse backwater of country, so I'm completely at a loss to understand how such deplorably low standards of medical and social care can be tolerated in the United States of America.

"....people with developmental disabilities in group homes in New York are more likely to be given Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug that also serves as a tranquilizer, than multivitamins."

"... records examined by The Times show that some developmentally disabled residents received psychotropic drugs without ever getting a clear diagnosis of mental illness. Even among those who have a mental illness, the records indicate that the state’s use of the drugs can be overly aggressive."

Tell New York to Stop the Chemical Restraint of People with Disabilities (petition)

In Treating Disabled, Potent Drugs and Few Rules.
by Danny Hakim
New York Times
December 22nd 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is Tammet a good name for an imposter?

According to his own account, Daniel Tammet changed his original surname of Corney to Tammet because he did not like his original surname while he did like the surname Tammet, which apparently has a meaning in Estonian that Daniel liked. I find it interesting that the surname "Tammet" is a name that was once assumed by an Estonian man who liked to change his name and make improbable claims. I've got to wonder, had Daniel been reading about impostors around the time that he chose his new surname?

Wikipedia contributors (accessed 2011) Alexei Tammet-Romanov. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Impostor Pretenders. General Books LLC, 2010.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A quote from a 2009 interview with Daniel Tammet

"I did have a very restricted, regimented life," he says. "There was a kind of happiness there, a contentment, but it was a small happiness within very clear and delineated borders. I did eventually grow out of these, and part of that was due to the success of the book. I had to travel, meet journalists, give speeches and in that process I shed some of that remaining awkwardness, developed confidence and other skills. It was a very positive chance that I was given to open myself up to do that."

But Daniel Tammet did so many things and achieved so much in the years leading up to the 2006 publication of his first book! Can he really say that he led a very restricted life, presumably due to being autistic, when in 1999 he first competed in the World Memory Championships, and in the year 2000 attained a ranking of fourth in the world? Then in 2002 Tammet volunteered to be the subject of serious scientific study by researchers from three different universities, a study which was published in a major science journal. Sounds like a pretty exciting and interesting life, to be honest. And if Tammet was so restricted and content with his secluded, quiet life, why did he in the year 2001 approach a major PR company with the aim of becoming famous? That's a contradiction, if ever there was one! And before the writing of his first book Tammet, by his own account, travelled overseas to work as an ESL teacher a place where English was a second language, and at some point he started his own online teaching business, two achievements that showed an outgoing drive to succeed, which is in many ways admirable.

No, it's very clear that the impression that Tammet gave that his life before his first book hit the shelves was restricted and uneventful, and that he was at the time content with such a life, is complete rubbish. A reading of Tammet's first book alone would have cast doubt on that notion, and this is something that any journalist interviewing a writer promoting their second book should have done. But this is only the tip of the iceberg of events in Tammet's life that journalist Susan Mansfield never bothered to research or discover or report. Her 2009 article about Daniel Tammet which was published in The Scotsman was a sycophantic and sloppy piece of crap, but sadly also typical of the press and electronic media coverage of Tammet throughout his career. Shame, journalists, shame!


Mansfield, Susan (2009) Daniel Tammet interview: wide sky thinking. Scotsman. February 11th, 14th 2009.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

You don't need some special iPhone app to find out which houses in this street are occupied by junkies.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lili's festive thought for the day

You know what they say - it's more about spending time than spending money.

Lili's thought for the day

I will always admire Christopher Hitchens for being the bloke who dared to write the book in which it was argued that Mother Teresa was hardly Mother Teresa.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

If you think that a heightened level of awareness of mental illness, with the successful selling of the idea that it can affect anyone anytime can only be a good thing, consider the hazards of living in a world in which everyone is considered insane till proven otherwise - a murder can be written off by police as a suicide even in the absence of any existing diagnosis or warning signs, doctors working in under-resourced hospitals can send cases that look like mental illness off to the psychiatry department as a first response instead of spending time and resources investigating the problem as a physical illness, difficult children, neglected children and kids with special needs can be diagnosed as having a mental illness and medicated into an inert state, accidental or negligent deaths can be wrongly explained as the work of a unhinged mind and not properly investigated, legitimate complaints of all kinds and all situations can be dismissed as nothing more than a paranoid personality at work, and you or I or someone you know could be accused of doing any manner of batshit insane thing if it suits the interests of employers, family, police, the government, insurance companies or any agent who has to come up with an explanation for some situation.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A quote from Reg Mombassa

“As far as exercise goes, I consider putting my trousers on a form of extreme sport.”

- from a 2009 article by biographer Murray Waldren in the Weekend Australian

Lili's thought for the day

Let's hope that those bastards in the NT will be made to pay for what they did to Lindy Chamberlain and the Chamberlain family.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lili's sad thought for the day

Mr Hitchens has gone. Such a bright light extinguished!

Another blow to notions of testosterone and systemizing and gender and behaviour

The grand theory of autism, the "extreme male brain" theory of autism, which has been championed and popularized by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and his team at the Autism Research Centre of the University of Cambridge, asserts that autism is characterized by relative gifts in a set of abilities and interests labelled as "systemizing", and relative disability in a set of abilities and interests labelled as "empathizing". This theory also asserts that males are, as a group, naturally more talented at systemizing and less naturally talented in empathizing than females, male psychology being something like a mid-point between the autistic and females. It is hard to find a place for female autistics within this theoretical model, so lets just say that within the world described by this model, they (we?) are complete freaks. The biological mechanism proposed as an explanation in this model is the action of testosterone on the developing brain of a foetus or infant.

This model has implications way beyond the search for a scientific explanation for autism - this theory also tells us that the behaviour of males and females should and does generally differ due to biological factors, and the logical consequence of taking this theory seriously must be a degree of caution about taking steps to counter gender differences in participation in various aspects of life, and a greater tolerance of what appears to be a gender stereotyped world in which men and women generally take on different sets of roles. Mathematics is categorized by Baron-Cohen and co-researchers as an area of human endeavour that requires talent in systemizing but makes virtually no demands on empathizing. It has been cited as an ideal career or study choice for intelligent autistics for this reason, and the logical extension of this thinking is that males should have a greater natural talent for maths than females. This idea is also congruent with popular beliefs. A controversy broke out this year over the marketing of a T-shirt with the slogan "I'm too pretty to do math". Presumbly the idiots who are selling this garment believe the idea has enough currency to find some kind of market for this product. Baron-Cohen's team take the supposed similarity between being a mathematician and being autistic so far that they are doing a whole genome study of mathematicians versus non-mathematicians, mirroring the type of genetic research this is typically done studying the genes of autistics. They hope to compare the genes of mathematicians and people diagnosed with Asperger syndrome to see if there are similarites or differences.

Baron-Cohen's model of maths and testosterone relies on a number of assertions to be found to be true in the world of real people and real achievements. If it is found that there are no significant differences between the genes of mathematicians and a comparable non-mathematician control group, or that there are no unique genetic similarities between the mathematical and the autistic, or that there is no evidence of innate difference between mathematical talent between males and females, then the wings will fall off of this model and it shouldn't fly anywhere. I've been busy this year exploring the absurdity and failure of many of the ideas that have been promoted by Baron-Cohen, and here's another one. A newly published study of participation and achievement in mathematics of boys and girls in a large and varied range of countries has found that quite contrary to the idea that it is a waste of time encouraging girls to achieve in maths due to an innate feminine lack of systemizing potential, it is actually true that the performance of both boys and girls in maths increases with greater gender equity, and my reading of the study's findings is that in many counties, in single and in mixed-sex schools, girls are actually out-performing boys anyway. The idea that testosterone acting on the brain bestows an additional quantity of units of some mysterious source of mathematical or systemizing talent looks like just one more garbage idea to come out of Cambridge. It's time to put out the rubbish, because the trash is really on the nose.

Some quotes from the research paper by Kane and Mertz:

"In summary, we conclude that gender equity and other sociocultural factors, not national income, school type, or religion per se, are the primary determinants of mathematics performance at all levels for both boys and girls."

"Eliminating gender discrimination in pay and employment opportunities could be part of a win-win formula for producing an adequate supply of future workers with high-level competence in mathematics. Wealthy countries that fail to provide gender equity in employment are at risk of producing too few citizens of either gender with the skills necessary to compete successfully in a knowledge-based economy driven by science and technology."

Wealthy countries that fail to provide gender equity? I think they are talking about you, Australia!


Debunking Myths about Gender and Mathematics Performance.
Jonathan M. Kane and Janet E. Mertz
Notices of the AMS.
January 2012 Volume 59, Number 1 p.10-21.

Major new study examines explanations for math 'gender gap'

There really is no difference between men and women’s math abilities.
Alasdair Wilkins
Dec 12, 2011

Whole Genome Study of Mathematical Ability
Autism Research Centre

Do you live in Australia, the UK, Sweden or Europe? What you can do to help get justice for Julian Assange

Justice For Assange

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lili's rather pointless thought for the day

Don't you just hate it when you are visiting your grandmother in her home, and you're making yourself a cuppa, and you dig a teaspoon out of nanna's cutlery drawer, and it's pretty-much covered in a hardened layer of dried egg yolk from a breakfast boiled egg, and you return to the drawer in the hope of more luck, and there you go, there's a whole collection of egg-glazed teaspoons in there. Stone the crows, Nanna!

Donna Williams has come such a long way over the years

Donna Williams is a high-profile Australian best-selling author of autobiographies about what is supposedly an autistic life. She was given a diagnosis of autism by the Australian clinician Dr Lawrence (Laurie) Bartak in her 20s. This is how Dr Bartak described Williams in a report broadcast by ABC radio in 1996:

"She is much more impaired in spoken language, and when one talks with her even now, although she's enormously more able, she still has quite a demonstrable impairment in spoken language. And her comprehension of other people's speech is not marvellous.
I've had to, for example, talk to her slowly and with as little intonation as possible, for her to be able to comprehend and to keep things reasonably concrete."

There's quite a contrast between the woman described by Bartak and Donna's current apparently excellent ability to make and comprehend spoken language, as is apparent when one listens to her library of podcast interviews with various people, which is freely accessible from Williams' podcast page. Williams is articulate, attentive to her guests, intimate, engaging and warm, and at times shares jokes. I've met autistics who never go anywhere near to having this type of social fluency at any time in their long lives. In the interview with a synaesthete musician promoting a new CD Williams and her guest even manage to keep a perky interview kicking along despite the constant distraction of a tradesman banging away with tools in the background, a situation that would drive many autistics (and many non-autistics) beyond the limits of civility.

Williams' page of podcasts includes an interview with Australian synaesthete musician Tracey Roberts in which both Williams and Roberts describe their own synesthesia experiences. Roberts lives in a geodesic dome, as do all synaesthetes. We are very creative people.

Oddpod: Podcasts by autism-friendly host, Donna Williams.

Autism - a special report by Kathy Gollan
Health Report.
29th July 1996
ABC Radio National.

Lili's thought for the day

Many thanks for your tips about interesting reading, Socrates! I wish I had more time to write about synaesthesia. I hope you are having a lovely festive season.

Some words of wisdom from Dr Allen Frances

"The label schizophrenia is still with us, but hopefully not for too much longer. It is a tired, old concept that has outlived much of its usefulness. There is not one schizophrenia: more likely a hundred causes will gradually be teased out as research goes beyond description and discovers fundamental explanations."

I would argue that this statement applies as much to autism/the autistic spectrum as it does to schizophrenia.

"People mistakenly think that naming a psychiatric problem shapes it into a simple disease with a reductionist, biological explanation."

This is a quote from a review by Dr Allen Frances of the book American Madness by Richard Noll, which has just been published in New Scientist magazine. Unfortunately much of the book review is behind a paywall. Dr Allen Frances is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and was the chair of the task force in charge of DSM 4, an edition of the "bible" of American psychiatry. The book that Frances reviewed is about the evolution of the diagnostic concept of schizophrenia, a concept that is very relevant to the many articles and discussions in my blog about two interesting subjects: Jani Schofield and the ambitions of Prof. Patrick McGorry. Dr Frances has been one of the most outspoken and influential critics of the mental health policies for Australia that have been advocated by Prof. McGorry.

Why psychiatrists should mind their language
by Allen Frances
New Scientist
Magazine issue 2842 December 10th 2011 p.51.
article published online 7th December 2011

Friday, December 09, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

Julian Assange got his start in computers with a Commodore 64. We had a Tandy TRS-80. I think that's where we went wrong.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Difficulty coping with crowded places - what is the real issue?

This is a video of David, who had a brain hemorrhage resulting in a number of problems including acquired prosopagnosia (face-blindness) and a problem with "route finding" or navigating. In this video David tries and struggles to explain what it is that he sees when he views faces. He has lost the ability to remember faces as a result of his brain injury.

The thing that I find most interesting about this video is when David explains that his disability in perceiving faces and another problem with visual perception has resulted in an aversion to being among crowds, and also difficulty with dealing with visually crowded places such as a very full refrigerator or a shop full of displayed goods. He describes this as a "dyslexia of vision". Because David has acquired prosopagnosia he can tell that this problem with crowds is due to his brain injury. Before the hemorrhage he used to love crowded places. People who have been labelled as autistic and parents of kids diagnosed as autistic often describe being unable to cope with crowds and supermarkets as a behavioural characteristic of autism. David's experience appears to indicate that a difficulty with coping with visually crowded places could have prosopagnosia, possibly in combination with other visual processing issues, as a cause, and in light of the fact that prosopagnosia (acquired and developmental) is thought to be a fairly common and under-diagnosed disability, I've got to wonder how many of these supposedly autistic people who can't tolerate crowds and supermarkets have disabilities that are really sensory and social problems caused by unidentified prosopagnosia or caused by some kind of unidentified visual processing disorder.

Another aspect of prosopagnosia which could easily be mistaken for autism is a coping strategy that people without face memory typically use - memorizing many different details of a person's appearance for identification. For example, a person who cannot recognize faces might pay close attention to the design or colours on the shirt of a person who the prosopagnosic needs to remember, and also try to remember if that person wore glasses, or what their hair was like. An enhanced attention to details, including visual details, is a universally recognized feature of autism/Asperger syndrome, and it is easy to see how the detail-memorizing coping strategy of prosopagnosics could be misinterpreted as a special autistic gift for attending to details.

I think it's a very good thing that we can view David giving a first-hand explanation of his experiences and perceptions, rather than having to rely on an interpretation from a doctor or a researcher. Thank you David for sharing!

Lili's thought for the day

You can't say that the Australian government lacks sensitivity - the deportation of two Sri Lankan asylum seekers has been scheduled for December the 12th and 13th because the 10th is Human Rights Day, and we must observe human rights on Human Rights Day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lili's thought for the day

How many Indonesian children will be spending this Christmas in Australian adult jails? That's not just a rhetorical question. We apparently don't even know how many, but it's certainly way too many.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The stupidest thing I've read in the Guardian for at least a week or two

"There is no cure for synaesthesia, but next year's UK Synaesthesia Association conference will include a speaker who claims to be able to reduce its effects."

WHAT? A cure for synaesthesia? What? Oh, f*** off. Why does a bit of colour in music and the alphabet require an intervention? I like my synaesthesia, and I suspect that there's a lot more to it than atypical sensory experiences. I don't want to "reduce its effects", in fact I'd be afraid to try such a thing. FYI synesthesia is not "a medical condition". It is a neuropsychological variation. It is not diagnosed by doctors, it is identified by researchers. The journalist who wrote this inappropriate application of the standard cliches of journalistic treatment of medical topics in a way that has inadvertently caused objection and offense has no excuse at all for her mistaken approach, as she has herself quoted in her article a synaesthesia researcher who advised that she has "met very few synaesthetes who feel that" synaesthesia is a thing that one would consult a doctor about, but the heedless journalist Laura Barnett just ploughed on.

Synaesthesia: when two senses become one.
by Laura Barnett
December 5th 2011

Monday, December 05, 2011

Lili's Christmas Wish List

I want one of those cute little shopping bags that look like a rose or a strawberry when it is folded up.

I want to cancel my subscription to New Scientist and read Mad Scientist instead.

I want to find the right frequency to tune into radio station KLON, just to find out what music everyone else is listening to.

I want to introduce Kevin Rudd to Gregory Blackstock, just to see whether two baby-faced multi-lingual white nerds might strike up a conversation in Mandarin.

I want to feel the soft, heavy blue-green coolness of the sea on a perfect morning, and not get eaten or even sampled by a shark.

I want Golden Earring's entire back catalogue of CDs.

I want to be serenaded by the Choir of Hard Knocks singing Christmas carols written by Nick Cave.

I want to watch the great, the wicked and the crooked fall, to make way for something much better.

I want to know exactly when the traffic lights will be turning blue.

Lili's thought for the day

When I look back and recall weddings that I've been to over the years, of some marriages that didn't last, but the absence of an official ceremony for some gay and lesbian relationships which turned out to be no less substantial, I think it's a sad thing. We can never be sure what the future will be like, and our plans may fail in time, but we must all be allowed to live our lives, fully.

Something odd from Tammet's past

If the date given for this recording of June 18th 1995 is correct, Tammet would have been around 16 years at the time, and he would have been Daniel Corney. I believe the person who uploaded it was a childhood friend of Tammet's, who appears to have a non-British heritage. There are many questions and doubts about Daniel Tammet's past and his characteristics, but we can be sure that he was never just your average Joe. Perhaps this video is evidence that a desire to become famous had an early origin.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Friday, December 02, 2011

Fascinating docos about fascinating people

Tonight SBS Two will be broadcasting a documentary titled "Looking for Lowry" about the UK artist L. S. Lowry, who is one of the many famous people in my huge list of famous people who have been the subject of diagnosis or speculation regarding the autistic spectrum.

"Those who knew and appreciated him throw light on the character of this social recluse, who despite his solitary life, was affectionate and supportive to those who entered his limited sphere."

Not so long ago there was another documentary broadcast on Aussie TV about another famous loner artist who is in both of my big lists - the one about famous people and autism/Asperger syndrome, and also my big list of famous synaesthetes or possible synesthetes. The subject of this fascinting doco is Piet Mondrian, who was most famous for his bold geometric paintings featuring a limited rage of colours including black, white, blue, red and yellow, but he did much more besides. Mondrian hated the colour green, and it was with great reluctance that he created a few marketable paintings of flowers during the very lean times when his ground-breaking geometrical paintings would not sell. The title of that French documentary is "In Mondrian's Studio" and it's certainly worth a look if it is ever repeated.

Making a Christmas cake?

Lili Marlene's Christmas Boiled Fruit Cake with Brandy

Contains no friggin' palm oil!

Lili's festive thought for the day

Another beach season soon to be ruined by a religious festival.

Lili's thought for the day

Alex Perry would be less creepy if he didn't try so hard.

An short excerpt from a 2009 interview with Daniel Tammet published at Psychology Today


S. It is remarkable. I am curious though, if you actually tried the calculation pi, could you actually do the calculation at all in your head to any digits?

D. I've never tried the calculation. I am not actually aware of the equations mathematicians use.

S. Okay.


Perhaps not the answer that the interviewer was expecting?

Positive spin on autism genes in recent New Scientist article

Last month New Scientist magazine published a feature article with an accompanying editorial that included speculation that genes associated with autism could have played a pivotal role in human evolution, which I like as an idea even if I'm not convinced by the evidence cited to support it. The bits that I don't like are the way this idea about autism is presented side-by-side with similar arguments about disorders and mental illnesses such as bipolar, schizophrenia and ADHD, and the way they put this article behind a paywall. Sigh.

Ravilious, Kate (2011) Different minds. New Scientist. November 5th 2011. Issue 2837 p.35-37.

The opposite of investigative journalism

I'm still trying to figure this one out. J. K. Rowling and other celebrities have complained at a recent inquiry in the UK that they have been stalked by the press and had their privacy invaded, while Daniel Tammet has apparently had a dream run with the world's press and electronic media, including the same hard-arsed British media industry that the other celebrities have recently been complaining about bitterly. All these years Tammet has been sitting on the fact that Tammet was not his real surname up until 2001, and I don't even think it was a journalist who revealed to the world what his original surname was. And the name change is just the tip of the iceberg of the untold story of Daniel Tammet.

In 2005 one journo with the much over-rated newspaper the Guardian wrote a piece on Tammet which was totally lacking in any skeptical view except that it revealed the fact that his name had been changed, but the journalist kindly did not reveal Tammet's original surname of Corney, citing a desire for privacy on Tammet's part, and thus failing to give the readers of the Guardian the key that could unlock the significance of the publicly-available World Memory Championship records of Tammet's pre-2001 achievements. Tammet apparently made veiled references at his own blog to his participation in a "Memory Olympics", but without knowing what surname he did this under this information cannot be easily verified or researched.

The almost uniformly breathlessly sycophantic promotional tripe that has been written and broadcast about Daniel Tammet by the world's journalists over many years, contrasting with the invasive and obnoxious treatment that many other famous people have received from the media over the years begs the question - why has Daniel Tammet been such a sacred cow?