Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Prosopagnosia and Other Ability Differences

Originally posted on November 16, 2010

In the New Yorker of August 30, 2010, Oliver Sacks wrote an article titled “Face-blind: the perils of prosopagnosia” (pp. 36-43). He himself has a moderate case of this difficulty in recognizing other people’s faces, and sometimes even neighborhoods, unless there are other guiding cues he can use to remind himself. This seems to be a genetic trait, and there are a fair number of such people. He wondered how many supposedly shy people are thus because of the embarrassment of not having this social skill. Sacks also noted that some folks seem to be especially talented in facial recognition and association.

I’ve been thinking about how most abilities can be plotted on a scale from low to high, and that these are innate. Many may be able to be trained or developed somewhat, but someone low on some scale, such as singing, are unlikely to ever become more than average in ability even with a fair amount of training.

People who are naturally high on some ability level have difficulty realizing that what comes easy to them may not come easy to others with innately lower ability. There is a tendency for conscious to have difficulty in appreciating what it’s like to have any significant difference in consciousness, ability, sensitivity, or temperament. Perhaps part of sophistication is to realize not only that people from different regions and classes, nations and cultures have rather different tastes and takes on life, but also that people like them in many ways also have different tastes and ways of feeling about the world based on differences in temperament and ability. (Add to this differences in interest, too! I’m reminded of the little twist to the Golden Rule given by George Bernard Shaw: “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you; they may not have the same tastes!”

Appreciating differences may be easier when it is more commonly recognized that people indeed do differ according to certain variables, and, second, the more ways you can keep in mind that people do differ, the more types of differences and names for these differences, the more you’re likely to consider that when trying to be understanding.

2 Responses to “Prosopagnosia and Other Ability Differences”

  • David says:

    Well, that’s easy for you to say… 😉

    I agree that this is one of the hardest things to do: Recognize that not only do other people have different tastes, but that others have different abilities. There are people (very small percentage of women, mostly) who have four different light receptors in their eyes (tetrachromancy), rather than the normal three. They literally can experience color differently than everyone else, and in a way that the rest of us can’t even fathom.

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