Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Autistic and disabled people murdered by parents or "care"givers - it also happens in Australia

On the eve of March 30th, which is in the United States a national day of mourning for disabled people murdered by family members and caregivers, I'd like to draw your attention to the horrible case of "Ebony", an Australian autistic girl who was slowly starved to death by her parents, while under the "care" of the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS). A warning - don't even think about reading this article if you're not feeling very emotionally robust, because it will certainly not make your day any cheerier.

Ebony: The Girl in the Room.
by Anne Manne
The Monthly.
February 2010.

Join Us For Your Local Vigil – March 30th

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lili's next thought for the day

One hears a lot about geeky little boys who display advanced, autodidactic and precocious talents in science or maths or computers, but did you know there are lots of little girls who are self-taught fashion designers?

Lili's thought for the day

How many people have died while waiting on the Centrelink telephone queue?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I've added some more thoughts (about Luria's "S") to an old post:

An old quote sure to raise the eyebrows or the hackles of synaesthetes

Words of wisdom from 2004 from autistic Australian rock star Craig Nicholls

"I always say to the other guys, if you want to throw a TV out of a hotel room window, then do it just before you leave the hotel, because there might be something you want to watch."

I've just added this old but amusing quote from a 2004 article in The Guardian newspaper to my old and long list of favourite quotations, many of them from peope who are in my massive monster of a list of famous people diagnosed as autistic or who have been the subject of published speculation that they are or were on the spectrum. If you've never taken a look at my collectioin of quotations, maybe you should. You will find many revealing, interesting and/or amusing words from the great and famous, including many reflections on the theme of the individual possessed of originality versus the mob. Do drop by!

Quotes that caught Lili's eye

A referenced list of 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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Interesting thoughts from Daniel Tammet about memory sports

(this post has been edited and added to a number of times)

Many thanks to the blogger known as "The Author" for letting me know about this piece of writing, apparently from 2002 and apparently written by the famous Daniel Tammet, whose life story I and others have been investigating. We have been trying to uncover the truth about Daniel Tammet, and the folks at the Wikipedia don't seem to want to know anything about it.

Here's some more postings by the same author claiming to be Daniel Tammet, the second message quite commercial in nature:

The pieces of writing about the WMC contain what looks like intelligent opinions and arguments, written with grammar and spelling that look pretty-much perfect, in contrast with the many illiterate postings that one often finds on internet forums, even forums about intelligent topics. The author is a smart cookie. I have no idea how to verify the genuineness of the date or whether the identity of the author of these posts is really Daniel Tammet, the famous author of two best-selling books, so I'm taking them at face value, but with caution. If these pieces of writing are genuine they are interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, Daniel Tammet is confirming that he was indeed a competitor in the World Memory Championship in the year 2000:
"It's true, this year's World Championship was the best yet." "It's worth however bearing in mind that the WMC started more than adecade ago with a handful of competitiors, and has - in real terms -progressed very little in that time." "The total number of actual competitors this year was actually *down* on when I last competed two years ago."
This info about Tammet's competing in the WMC is consistent with other evidence which I have outlined in my blog in the last few months, a part of Tammet's life story which has questionably been left out of the bulk of Tammet's autobiographical writings and interviews.

There is also a much more disturbing aspect of the postings in Yahoo Groups by member "danielius21" signed "Daniel Tammet". These postings add more support to the belief that Tammet was the author of a number of very dodgy postings made in 2001-2002 at various internet forums, including some that are from the same membership account as author of the above three postings:

Andersson, Daniel (2001) Psychic Daniel Andersson. Psychics. Yahoo Groups. August 2nd 2001.

and this one too

This member at the Ciao forum named "danielius" implausibly claimed to be a qualified medical doctor and made a few dodgy posts in 2001, including one on the subject of the pop band the Carpenters, a known enthusiasm of a young Daniel Tammet, as stated in Tammet's first book Born on a Blue Day. Was Tammet the author of these bits of trash?:

There's good reason to believe that these dodgy forum personas are also connected:

Here's a very shonky post at Google Groups from 2002 by someone with the online name "danielius" who appears to have a membership of the same name:

and here is a not-so-dodgy forum membership again linking the name "Daniel Tammet" with the online name of "danielius":

The third reason why one of the forum postings about the WMC is interesting is that it apparently shows Daniel Tammet contradicting a central feature of the story of his own life that has been very effectively sold through the international media, a story about a biologically unusual person (the impolite term being a "freak") who supposedly has amazing but effortless mental powers as the result of the biological difference in his brain. In point number eight of one posting Tammet passionately argues that "Mentathletes are *sportspeople*, who practise, exercise, train and emobdy the common virtues of discipline, dedication and commitment" just like other elite sportspeople. Tammet stated in the other posting about the WMC that he is a member of this group, so his argument about "mentatheletes" must apply to himself. Tammet also asserts that elite sportspeople are not "freaks", and as he has included mentatheletes including himself in this group, he must also be asserting that he is also not a freak. But it is as a freak (an autistic synesthete savant) that Tammet has achieved fame.

Both pieces of writing about the WMC appear to be ample evidence of Daniel Tammet's greatly frustrated ambition in 2002, his personal disillusionment with memory competition, his love of the sport and what seems to be a genuine desire that it will grow to attain status and prominence in society and be able to offer decent rewards to those who participate. As far as I can tell from my research, at the time that these posts were apparently written in 2002, Tammet had abandoned memory sport and had turned his attentions towards fame in the wider world as a means of achieving the life that he desired. The content in these posts fits in very nicely with what I have discovered about Tammet's life in this period. In 1999 and 2000 Tammet competed in the World Memory Championships (WMC) (under his original surname), attaining a rating of fourth in the world in 2000, perhaps not quite enough of an achievement to establish any degree of fame. In the year 2001 Tammet changed his surname from Corney. This was also the year in which he contacted Karen Ammond of the publicity and marketing company KBC Media, with the aim of bringing "his knowledge and skills to the world" (KBC Media). Karen and her team then reportedly advised Tammet that the best way to reach his goal would be "through a documentary, international media and then a book." (KBC Media). In 2001 Tammet was describing himself as a “World-class mentathlete, memory sport pioneer, personal empowerment coach, spiritual development teacher and speaker and a leading authority on Mindpower and Human Potential” at the website that he published at the time: http://www.danielt√§ which seems fairly shonky in my opinion. In 2002 Tammet was one subject in a study of a group of WMC participants by British memory researchers.

Taken together, the two forum postings about the WMC apparently by Daniel Tammet show what seems to be a concern for the future and the progress of memory sport which looks genuine, thoughtful, highly motivated and selfless, because it appears that the writer of these pieces has pretty much given up trying to get anything out of the competition for himself, but wishes the best for the sport and those in it. The sentiment in these messages very much echos the frequent lament of advocates of the rights of intellectually gifted people, that the world is excited by the physical achievements of elite sportsmen, but is often indifferent or threatened by elite achievments in the purely intellectual domain. I find it easy to like the author of the posts about the WMC, but the positive impression given needs to be considered in light of the evidence that the same author also produced some shockingly exploitative and deceitful forum postings at around the same period. It's a very sad story. I think it is a story about a young man with frustrated ambitions who turned bad, and when this type of thing happens we all need to examine the reasons why it might be so much easier for a young Brit to achieve fame and wealth by apparently peddling nonsense and obscuring and twisting the truth than it is to achieve a rewarding career as an honest, very capable and dedicated sport competitor. Something is wrong with this picture!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Revealing paper about Tammet available in full text

Bor, D, Billington, J, Baron-Cohen, S. (2007) Savant memory for digits in a case of synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome is related to hyperactivity in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Neurocase. 2007 Oct;13(5):311-9.

Alternative citation: Neurocase. 2008 13(5-6) p.311-319.
DOI: 10.1080/13554790701844945
[Daniel Tammet is definitely the subject of this study, named “DT” in this paper. The fMRI study failed to find expected activity that would indicate synaesthesia, but did find activity consistent with the use of the memory technique known as “chunking”. Authors tried to explain findings with a claim that Tammet’s synaesthesia is a special type.]

Some disturbing acronyms in science research

HARLOT - How to Achieve positive Results without actually Lying to Overcome the Truth

HARK - Hypothesizing After the Results are Known


Sackett, D., Oxman, A. (2003) HARLOT plc: an amalgamation of the world's two oldest professions. British Medical Journal. 2003 December 20; 327(7429): 1442–1445.
doi: 10.1136/bmj.327.7429.1442

Kerr Norbert. L. (1998). HARKing: Hypothesizing after the results are known. Personality and Social Psychology Review. August 1998 vol. 2 no. 3 196–217. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0203_4

Lili's thought for the day

Given half a chance I'll add TM to my famous synaesthetes list (perhaps pushing the term "famous" to it's limits).

Something else for the anti-vaccine ratbags to ponder - autism-like vaccine victims found to have a rare genetic syndrome

Haven't I been arguing for years that all cases of apparent autism or Asperger syndrome, especially those that are associated with intellectual disability, physical illness and/or inborn physical defects, should be thoroughly checked by a qualified specialist medical geneticist?

Genes and epilepsy: An Australian scientist recognised for her research. Life Matters. ABC Radio National. 20 March 2012.
[Natasha Mitchell interviews Professor Ingrid Scheffer, discussing the professor's great scientific achievements and research into the genetic causes of epilepsy and Dravet syndrome.]

Iannelli, Vincent (2011) Dravet Syndrome - An Alternative Explanation for Vaccine Encephalopathy. August 15th 2011.

Neuroscience and psychology journal papers are like sausages and legislation..... don't want to see how they are made (believe me!)

"Of course, there is a wealth of exciting, valid, rigorous neuroimaging studies published, and the field is slowly becoming more standardised and robust as it matures. But, as I wrote in Twitter, the majority of neuroimaging studies I come across are so flawed, either due to design or statistical errors, that they add virtually nothing to my knowledge."

- neuroscientist Daniel Bor, from this much-recommended blog article with many interesting comments from other scientists:

Bor, Daniel (2012) The dilemma of weak neuroimaging papers. Daniel Bor author and neuroscientist. (blog) March 8th 2012.

Daniel Bor has particular interest to me because he is one of the many scientists who has studied Daniel Tammet, who has been the subject of much of my writing in the last few months. In the interesting and rather alarming discussions at Bor's new blog about the flaws of neuroscience neuroimaging journal papers (and other areas of science as well) there is some revealing discussion about the science journal Nature Neuroscience, the journal which published the "Routes to Remembering" study in 2002-2003, a study that has been much chewed-over at the blog in the last few months. Other science journals that have been cited in the past in my blog are also discussed. Bor has a new book to promote, which was probably the inspiration for the establishment of his blog.

Another quote, this one about the science of psychology:

"In this article, we accomplish two things. First, we show that despite empirical psychologists’ nominal endorsement of a low rate of false-positive findings (≤ .05), flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting dramatically increases actual false-positive rates. In many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not."

This quote is from the abstract of this journal paper from last year:

Simmons, Joseph P., Nelson, Leif D., Simonsohn, Uri (2011) False-Positive Psychology Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. Psychological Science. November 2011 vol. 22 no. 11 1359-1366. Published online before print October 17, 2011, doi: 10.1177/0956797611417632

and of course, we've known for a long time that medical journals have been horribly corrupted by the influence of pharmaceutical companies:

Big Pharma: tricks of the trade. Counterpoint. ABC Radio National. 12 March 2012.

I think I'll just go read my horoscope and play with my magic healing crystals.....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lili's ironic thought for the day

How ironic that a synaesthete child should also manifest the combination of sensory hypersensitivity and visual-spatial misjudgement which can attract a diagnosis which proposes a lack of "sensory integration" as the cause. I beg to differ - my child's senses are plenty integrated!

Lili's educational thought for the day

A whole lot of word sleuths does not a primary school education make.

Lili's thought for the day

The commentariat are telling us that Julia Gillard is a good leader because she gets things done. I'll bet they said the same about Hitler and Stalin in their times.

Submit your young child to the early-intervention industry, or else....

"Part or full payment of the Family Tax Benefit Part A Supplement (payable at the end of the financial year 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012) may be delayed unless parents eligible to claim the supplement take their four year old for a mandatory health assessment."

"...Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform, said the checks will help identify any physical health issues such as hearing or sight impairment, as well as developmental conditions and delays."

Roberts, Felicity (2012) Don't miss out on family payment. Web Child. 20 March 2012.

and this is what our close neighbours the New Zealanders are doing to their four-year-olds:

Bradshaw, Marina (2012) Universal Psychiatric Screening for NZ Pre-Schoolers. Mad in America. March 15th 2012.

Ministry of Health (NZ) (2010) B4 School Check information for ECE services and teachers. Ministry of Health.

You're never too young for a stigmatizing label and harmful mind-altering drugs!

A call to action from ASAN and Zoe Gross

"On March 6th, 2011 George Hodgins, a 22-year old autistic man living in Sunnyvale, California, was murdered by his mother. In the aftermath of his killing, I and other members of the local disability community were concerned by the fact that the media covering his death focused mainly on expressing sympathy for his killer. Because he was disabled, George had been written out of the story of his own murder."

"On March 30th, help us organize a nation-wide day of mourning for disabled people killed by family members and caregivers. Our goal is to hold vigils in cities across America to memorialize murder victims. Through your help, we hope to amplify our message: that disabled people deserve to live fulfilling lives free of violence."

An old quote sure to raise the eyebrows or the hackles of synaesthetes

"An individual whose conscious awareness is such that a sound becomes fused with a sense of color and taste; for whom each fleeting impression engenders a vivid, inextinguishable image; for whom words have quite different meanings than they do for us—such a person cannot mature in the same way others do, nor will his inner world, his life history tend to be like others'."


Luria, A. R. & Solotaroff, Lynn (translator) (1968) The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory. Jonathan Cape.
[This book is a case study of Solomon Shereshevskii, whose name is given as “S” in this book. Shereshevskii was a Russian Jewish journalist and mnemonist synaesthete active in 1920s (try saying that fast!). The author’s name is sometimes spelt Aleksandr Luriia]

It appears that the supposedly great Soviet neuropsychologist Aleaxander Luria took the view that synaesthesia necessarily makes synaesthetes in some way impaired in development or subnormal, a view which is not generally held today by synesthesia researchers, a view which I imagine most synaesthetes would object to and also a view which is at odds with the fact that the world of science and psychology has displayed little awareness of how common synaesthesia actually is, presumably because synaesthetes do not generally present with disability or disorder related to their synaesthesia, and thus do not draw attention to their synaesthesia.

So, how did Luria, a clinician and writer apparently held in great regard by many Western contemporary writers and researchers in the area of neuropsychology, make such a monumental blunder? I think the great Luria lacked some very basic skills in critical thinking and statistical reasoning, skills which ordinary people without careers in science or medicine need to have and apply in their everyday lives, let alone researchers and doctors. What was Luria's mistake? I think he failed to reflect upon the potential biasing influence of his sampling method. What sample did Luria take? He took a sample of one synaesthete from the entire population of synesthetes, and he chose to write about only the one synaesthete person who he had sampled and tested and examined and gotten to know, ignoring the rest of the synaesthetes who were potentially out there in the world unexamined, unidentified and unknown by Luria. One could stretch the definition of good scientific research practice by counter-arguing that it is not unknown for scientific studies of single cases to be published in science or medical journals, so it isn't necessarily a bad thing to write single case studies. I'd reply that it is a bad thing to take the sample in a potentially biasing manner, and then hold up the result of the study as in any way representative of the rest of the potential group of subjects who have the same characteristic. How was Luria's sampling method biased? It was hugely biased, because "S" the Jewish mnemonist journalist synaesthete did not come to the attention of Luria on the basis of his synaesthesia alone. S was not selected for attention or study by Luria as a synaesthete representative of all synaesthetes in an organized study of synaesthesia. As I recall the text of the Luria's book The Mind of a Mnemonist (please correct me if I am wrong), S came to the attention of Luria when S's employer almost by accident noticed that S was using an extraordinary memory ability in his ordinary working day, and then the employer contacted Luria about S. It's very obvious that this is not the normal procedure for recruiting study subjects!

I am sure that there are many people in the worlds of science and memory sport who might wonder whether S's synaesthesia was just an interesting feature of his mind found coincidentally in a mind that had also been affected by training in long-established and widely-known memory techniques. S was selected for study by Luria because of his extraordinary memory. Perhaps his synaesthesia was not as important to this ability as some have claimed, but was just found by coincidence. It is true that synaesthesia is now known to be a fairly common mental trait, possibly as common as a feature of 12% of the population, so there's a good chance that any person randomly chosen off the street will experience some type of synaesthesia. But on the other hand, there have been a number of studies and case studies that have found an association between superior memory and synaesthesia, so the question of the relationship between synaesthesia and memory is a live one, and an interesting one.

I think that Luria's characterization of S as in some way impaired or disabled lacks evidence and is questionable, but let's just take Luria's depiction of S at face value, and then ask whether we can be sure that the supposed impairment of S as due to his synaesthesia and not some other factor. We can't be sure at all, because S, like all synaesthetes had other characteristics besides synaesthesia that might have altered his life or the way he was allowed to live his life. I believe he was Jewish and I suspect that Russia has a history of anti-Semitism. He was also a mnemonist, in that he at one time did a stage show based on his memory feats. I believe that these days, (with the exception of Daniel Tammet), mnemonists are understood to be psychologically pretty-much normal people who have chosen to train themselves (there are no institutions that offer such training) in memory techniques. I don't think there are many people who bother to do this, as memory sport and mnemonist performances are not big business and offer little obvious financial or social reward. I hope that memory sport competitiors and present-day mnemonists will not be offended by my assertion that it is a pretty unusual thing to wish to be a mnemonist and to devote the time and effort required to becoming adept and successful in memory techniques. Such people are necessarily autodidacts who are motivated by things in life other than wealth, and are willing to sacrifice a large chunk of their life to cultivating a skill that offers little financial reward, to the possible exclusion of more personally useful and lucrative activities. Such people are certianly unusual. You could call them nerds, outsiders, a bit autistic, or maybe too smart or too competitive for their own good. Maybe they are wealthy people out to prove a point about the superiority of their own minds. I have no idea, as I have no connection or personal experience of memory sport. It is certainly an unusual idea to wish to apply the structure of sport to mental processes, but not a bad idea, in my opinion. One could certainly argue that if Luria studied a synaesthete mnemonist and found him to be a bit odd, the reason for this was that only a person who was a bit odd or socially disadvantaged in some way would be bothered with the training required to become a mnemonist, and that the oddness motivated the training which was the basis of the extreme memory ability, while the synaesthesia was unrelated to all of these things. Luria should have gone looking for other synaesthetes to study, using unbiased sampling methods, to see whether they were also odd or had incredible memories or were in any way distinguishable from non-synaesthetes. But I don't think he did. As they say "Too much like hard work".

Lili's thought for the day

When the news channel appoints lispy ladies as announcers it sounds like steam escaping.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lili's second thought for the day

I'm noticing many interesting apparent similarities between the British mnemonist Tom Morton and Jill Price, Solomon Shereshevskii and Daniel Tammet. I'm not the first to note parallels between some of these interesting individuals who have demonstrated superior memory. Memory researchers Wilding and Valentine noted in 1997 "striking" similarities between experiences reported to them by the British synaesthete mnemonist TM (who is apparently the British mnemonist Tom Morton) and the account of "S" (Russian synaesthete mnemonist Solomon Shereshevskii) written by A. Luria.]

Lili's thought for the day

Vote Number 1 Julian Assange!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lili's next thought for the day

A curse on academic libraries which don't allow walk-in users without membership cards to access online subscriptions, and don't even allow access to photocopying facilities! May your government funding all dry up!

Lili's thought for the day

The 1994 paper about TM looks interesting.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hats off to Tomas!

All the credit goes to the comment-writer "Tomas", for making three intelligent comments about the short article by Dr Darold Treffert (famous as an authority on savantism) that is a part of a debate about the origins of creativity or greatness or genuis or something, at a website titled "The Creativity Post". Tomas has also engaged Dr Treffert in a mini-debate in the comments section, and the impressive Tomas also wins my respect for demonstrating that he has read the Routes to Remembering study about superior memorizers with thoroughness and understanding, and he has generally done his homework on the interesting subjects of savantism and Daniel Tammet. Tomas is clearly not one to simply accept that something is true just because someone in an elevated position says or writes that it is true. What a place the world would be if there were more people in it like Tomas!

The Creativity Debate. The Creativity Post.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why have memory researchers ignored the synaesthesia of some exceptional study subjects?

References about case study subject TM (Tom Morton?)

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1994) Mnemonic wizardry with the telephone directory – But stories are another story. British Journal of Psychology. Volume 85 Issue 4 November 1994 p.501-509. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1994.tb02537.x
EBSCOHost Accession Number 9501113342
[About TM. I could find no mention of synaesthesia in this journal paper. I think it is interesting that a quote included in this paper by TM from correspondence written to the authors implies that TM believes he has an unusual ability to imagine sensory experiences: "After spending three months compiling my notes on how to develop memory by using mnemonics, I noticed and realized a major flaw and that is the fact that my method is useless to the man in the street, but is only suitable for use and understanding for those who possess a remarkable imagination in which they not only can physically visualize but can also incorporate into the image smells, tastes, sounds, textures and many other concepts."]

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[An interesting description of TM can be found on pages 106-114, with mentions of TM on other pages as well. On page 106 there is a description of TM's coloured number and flavoured number synaesthesias, although the authors don't explicitly label it as synaesthesia, but to be fair to the authors page 106 is listed in the book index as a page covering the subject of synaesthesia. The authors note "striking" similarities between experiences reported by TM and the account of "S" (Russian synaesthete mnemonist Solomon Shereshevskii) written by A. Luria.]

Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988
["We therefore examined eight participants who are or have been placed at the highest levels in the World Memory Championships, as well as two other individuals studied previously for their extraordinary memory accomplishments (see reports of TE and TM in ref. 3)." Reference number three in this study is the above book, so the TM referred to in this study must be the same TM as in the book. I can find no mention in this journal paper of TM or any of this study's subjects being synesthetes. The now-famous Daniel Tammet is known to have been one of the WMC participant study subjects in this study. He has since claimed that he is a synaesthete.]

References about Jill Price (also known as AJ)

Parker, Elizabeth S., Cahill, Larry, & McGaugh, James L. (2006) A case of unusual autobiographical remembering. Neurocase. Volume
12 Issue 1 February 2006. p. 35 – 49.
[The study subject AJ described in this paper is known to be Jill Price. Her time-space synaesthesia or number form synesthesia is amply described on page 42, but the study authors don't identify it as synesthesia.]

Price, Jill & Davis, Bart (2008) The woman who can't forget: the extraordinary story of living with the most remarkable memory known to science - a memoir. Free Press, May 2008.
[Price describes her time-space synesthesia on pages 30-31.]

Simner, Julia, Mayo, Neil, Spiller, Mary-Jane (2009) A foundation for savantism? Visuo-spatial synaesthetes present with cognitive benefits. Cortex. Volume 45, issue 10, November-December 2009, Pages 1246-1260.
[AJ is discussed in this paper and identified as a synaesthete.]

A cross-sensory quote from Bob Ellis, Australian political writer

Here's a rather cross-sensory piece of writing from page 85 of the 2010 political book One Hundred Days of Summer by the provocative Australian writer Bob Ellis:

"The handwritten letter turned things round for him, and Cameron's Tory conference speech about cutting services. His flavour is too Eton-cool, Annie thinks, against Brown's suffering warmth and visible decency, a near-blind man with one dead child, another incurably ill and, as it turns out, one of the loveliest dark-chocolate voices in politics. I should bet on him, I suppose, and make money."

Ellis would have lost cash. I know I should not pass judgement on the cross-sensory or synaesthetic experiences of others, because no one can really understand the experiences of another person, but I do find the idea of flavoured politicians really quite distasteful.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who is TM?

Who is the man with the superior memory ability who was studied by memory researchers in the UK, and was given the anonymous clinical name TM, and was described in the authoritative book Superior Memory by Wilding and Valentine, and was one of the ten superior memorizers studied in the 2002 Routes to Remembering study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur which was published in Nature Neuroscience? Is TM in fact the taxi driver Tom Morton who was reported by BBC News in 1998 to have made some impressive but unsuccessful attempts at the British record for memorizing Pi?

Why do I think TM is Tom Morton? Take a look at the description of TM's life story on page 107 of the book which was published in 1997. It mentions TM's mnemonist stage show in which he recalls phone numbers from the Blackpool telephone directory. On page 106 taxi driving is listed as one of the jobs TM has done. In the 1996 French documentary titled Tom, an Amazing Memory a taxi driver named Tom has reportedly "learned the Blackpool telephone directory" and is memorizing the number Pi. The BBC News reported in 1998 that a taxi driver named Tom Morton had made some unsuccessful attempts at the Pi record. There is a thread of similarities running through these descriptions, enough for me to conclude that TM is Tom Morton.

If TM from the Routes to Remembering study is indeed Tom Morton, there are then double the reasons why the researchers who did that study need to give an explanation covering the many questions and inconsistencies regarding that study. I have already noted at this blog the apparent inconsistency between Daniel Tammet's self-reported IQ score of 150 and a quote from the study about the group of study participants which included Tammet: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." Now there is also another apparently conflicting account of the cognitive ability of a person who appears to have been another study participant. BBC News has reported "Mr Morton boasts an IQ of 145". How can this report be reconciled with the reported lack of measured general cognitive exceptionality of the superior memorizers in the study, if Morton is indeed the TM who participated in this study? Something doesn't add up here. Please Explain!

In a previous post at this blog I have already noted the many interesting similarities between taxi driver Tom Morton's reported outstanding memory and calculating abilities and performances, and his reported IQ score, and those of Daniel Tammet. Are Morton and Tammet genuinely similar neurotypes, or has Tammet stolen Morton's persona for the purposes of creating an entertaining life story and a lucrative career?


Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[a lengthy description of TM on pages 106-113...]

Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988
[TM was was one of the two superior memorizers studied who was not from the World Memory Championship, out of a total of ten superior memorizers studied. According to info about Daniel Tammet in an article by Dr. D. Treffert published at the website of the Wisconsin Medical Society and also info that was published in 2004 at the website of the National Society for Epilepsy in the UK, Tammet was one of the eight World Memory Championship (WMC) competitors studied by UK researchers including one from the Institute of Neurology in London. Tammet may have then been known to the researchers by his original surname of Corney.]

[Basic details at a documentary website of a French documentary produced in 1996 about a taxi driver named Tom who "learned the Blackpool telephone directory by heart" and was attempting to memorize the number Pi.]

Memory man left Pi and dry.
BBC News. March 8, 1998
[About taxi driver Tom Morton with amazing mental abilities and his attempts to memorize Pi. Includes audio of an interview with Morton.]

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1994) Mnemonic wizardry with the telephone directory – But stories are another story. British Journal of Psychology. Volume 85 Issue 4 November 1994 p.501-509. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1994.tb02537.x
EBSCOHost Accession Number 9501113342
[about TM]

Parry, Simon (1995) 'When I recite some of these numbers, it hurts'. Independent. October 2nd 1995.

Memory man on TV-am - 1992. YouTube. Uploaded by TVamArchive on Oct 16th 2008.
[Tom Morton is interviewed and tested on TV]

The Amazing Human Telephone Directory. YouTube. Uploaded by bedsandbellies on Jun 11, 2008.

Pi World Record Contender. YouTube. Uploaded by bedsandbellies on Jun 11, 2008.

There WAS a synaesthete in the Routes to Remembering study!

I am so embarrassed!
I do apologize to my readers. I've read the Routes to Remembering study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur. I've also had a good look a the book Superior Memory by Wilding and Valentine at a local academic library (can you believe that my local state public library network doesn't stock this important book in any public or state library?). Both the study and the book are old, so there's been plenty of opportunity for anyone interested in the scientific study of superior memory performance to have studied these important documents backwards and forwards and upside down. I had read about the case of superior memory described in the book Superior Memory who was given the anonymous clinical name "TM" in the book, and had noted that he is clearly a synaesthete, has characteristics that could be interpreted as autistic traits, is an unusual man, reminds me a bit of myself, and was compared with the famous synaesthete mnemonist Solomon Shereshevskii by the book's authors. I'm not sure from the limited book preview available at Google Books whether the authors identified TM as a synaesthete. I'm quite sure that I had photocopied some of this book and made notes, but I now can't find them. I have quite a collection of photocopies of interesting things that I would like to write about, but don't have the time to. This is only a hobby of mine. If anyone would like to sponsor me to put more time into this blog, I'd be delighted.

So, I had noted with interest the characteristics of TM when I read the book, but I can't figure out why I didn't check the mention of TM as one of the two individuals (TE and TM) with superior memory who were previously studied by the study authors, who were included along with the World Memory Championship participants as study subjects in the Routes to Remembering study. TE and TM are both in the book and also in the study.

So, the way that many commentators have interpreted the Routes to Remembering study is that it shows that people with superior memory are like that due to training, not due to any inborn peculiarity or mental gift. But we know that there is for sure at least one superior memorizer in that study who is a synaesthete and also a psychologically unusual person, based on the description in the book by those same authors. There is also another superior memorizer in that study in the WMC participants group who later came out to the world with claims that he is a very interesting case of synaesthesia, and was later given a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome and was also declared a case of savant syndrome. His name is Daniel Tammet. He is very famous these days. Oh yes, they are just regular guys who trained their memories! I guess believing that or not depends on how normal you think it is to be an eccentric synaestete misfit. It seems pretty normal to me, but being an eccentric synesthete misfit I could well be biased.

There do seem to be plenty of reasons to believe that Daniel Tammet is not the person he claims to be. Many people believe that he is more of an impostor than the autistic synaesthete savant that he and others claim him to be. Given the fact that Daniel has been a co-participant in a study along with the study subject TM, who is/was a genuine synaesthete and a social outsider with superior memory ability, which the book authors admit could have been natural in origin, I've got to wonder whether "DT" is like an impostor of "TM".

There's another puzzling aspect of the Routes to Remembering study. Daniel Tammet competed in the WMC in 1999 and 2000 under his original surname of Corney. The WMC records are consistent with this being true. I think it was Joshua Foer in his book Moonwalking With Einstein who identified 2001 as the year in which Daniel changed his surname to Tammet from Corney. There is ample evidence that this name change was legal and not merely informal. The Routes to Remembering study was first published online on December 16th 2002. Daniel was selected as a subject in that study because he had been a successful WMC competitor, so presumably the study researchers knew Daniel by the surname Corney. But if the study was conducted in 2002, which seems probable, this would have been after Daniel's legal name change. So I wonder by what name did the researchers know Daniel, and if they knew about the name change, did they think it eroded Daniel's credibility?

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[see page 106...]

Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988
[According to info about Tammet in an article by Dr. D. Treffert published at the website of the Wisconsin Medical Society and also info that was published in 2004 at the website of the National Society for Epilepsy in the UK, Tammet was one of the World Memory Championship (WMC) competitors studied in this study by UK researchers including one researcher from the Institute of Neurology in London. Tammet competed and did very well in the WMC in 1999 and 2000, before he changed his surname in 2001 (Foer 2011), so his records for the WMC are under the name "Daniel Corney". A quote from pages 90-91 of the "Routes to remembering" study: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." This includes Tammet. In his 2009 book Tammet claimed to have an IQ of 150. 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.]

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Lili's next thought of the day

Three of Kevin Rudd's most appealing characteristics:

1. He doesn't jaunt around in public wearing minimal swimwear

2. He doesn't speak like a duck with a beak full of marbles

3. He doesn't play stupid games with gender to try to enhance his popularity - no "I'm a man's man!" b.s. and no "We're all girls together!" b.s. either.

Lili's thought of the day

I want to know when attention-seeking is going to become a certified competitive sport in Australia. The time has come!

Friday, March 02, 2012

A straighforward quote from a proven elite memory performer

"....It's ironic then that many people assume that I must have been born with a special gift of recall or a photographic memory. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I have always said, mine is a trained memory."

- Dominic O'Brien, who was the World Memory Champion eight times over, in his handy little book How to Develop a Brilliant Memory Week by Week