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Face blindness

April 4, 2010

These days I read a book “Neuroengineering the future” by Bruce F. Katz and it made me realize that the human brain is severely limited by evolution. It is a brilliant device, but it could be improved a lot.

It is limited in terms of weight because the birth canal is limited in its size by a small pelvis necessary for walking and running and it is limited in terms of volume because it needs a hard shell that can’t extend too much after 2 years when the fontanels close. Although the human cortex is already folded to increase its available surface, it can’t fold too much otherwise the signals will interfere with each other and that is bad.

Leaving anatomy aside and viewing the brain as a computational device, its short-term memory allows one to remember 7 plus/minus 2 objects at a time. The author defined creativity as “the ability to produce items that are both novel and useful” – considering this, he is right to say that most people are not that creative as we think so. Our limited lifetime narrows our possible thoughts even more and as “any finite device has finite memory” – our long-term memory has about 100 Mb in a lifetime taking into consideration the normal forgetting of things.

Yet we can still remember about distinct 10 000 faces in a lifetime and that speaks a lot on the survival role of this aspect. Basic security relies on identifying the people around you yet there are people that suffer from face blindness/prosopagnosia. The area responsible for identifying faces is the fusiform face area (FFA) located on the temporal lobe on the fusiform gyrus. Some say that this area is responsible for recognizing fine differences between well-known objects, not just faces.

If you are curious to know how good is your memory at identifying faces I recommend you this test. I correctly identified 69 out of 72 faces or 96% of them. If you scored under 65% there might be a problem though. you can also find good tests on prosopagnosia.com

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