Thursday, April 03, 2008

Transcending mere humanity

There’s a condition called prosopagnosia that results from very specific brain damage. People affected are rendered unable to recognise faces. Their eyesight remains fine, as may their abilities to recognise other objects, to describe or draw faces they’re currently looking at, and to remember descriptions of faces.

But they will look at their close relatives and friends, or pictures of themselves, and not have any idea that they know these people – unless they can rely on non-facial cues.

Against that background, this case study of a prosopagnosic Italian woman is a real curiosity:

A patient (V.Z.) is described as being affected by progressive bilateral atrophy of the mesial temporal lobes resulting in semantic dementia. Vis-a-vis virtually nil recognition of even the most familiar faces (including those of her closest relatives) as well as of objects and animals, V.Z. could nevertheless consistently recognize and name the face of Silvio Berlusconi, the mass media tycoon and current Italian Prime Minister. The experimental investigation led to the conclusion that Mr Berlusconi's face was seen as an icon rather than as a face. This telling effect of Mr Berlusconi's pervasive propaganda constitutes an unprecedented case in the neuropsychological literature.

That quite frightens me. So, in fact, does this:

Italy's court has suspended a trial of opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi until after general elections in April so that he can focus on campaigning.
The trial concerns alleged fraud at Mr Berlusconi's private TV company.
The case will now resume the week after the 13-14 April poll, when the accused could be Italy's new prime minister.

If the ‘icon’ can work the system like this even when he’s not in power, it’s hardly surprising that he can get inside people’s heads so well.

No comments: