Not Just a Number

That perception and memory work hand in hand is mostly taken for granted, but this case reminds us that this sometimes breaks down. This is not the case of the neurotypical limitations to fallible sense organs and standard cognitive boundaries and biases. This subject can’t discern the arabic numerals from 2 through 9.

To recap the study, the man can perceive 0 and 1 as per usual, but numerals 2 through 9 are not recognisable. Not even in combination, so A4 or 442 are discernible.

In a neurotypical model, a person sees an object, a 3 or a tree, and perhaps learns its common symbolic identifier—’3′, ‘three’, or ‘tree’. The next time this person encounters the object—or in this case the symbol—, say, 3, it will be recognised as such, and the person may recite the name-label of the identifier: three.

It might look like this, focusing on the numerals:

Encounter 1: 3 = X₀ (initial)
Encounter 2: 3 = X₁ ≡ X₀ (remembered)
Encounter 3: 3 = X₂ ≡ X₀ (remembered)

In the anomalous case, the subject see something more like this:

Encounter 1: 3 = X₀ (initial)
Encounter 2: 3 = Y₀ = { } (no recollection)
Encounter 3: 3 = Z₀ = { } (no recollection)

For each observation, the impression of 3 is different.

Phenomenologically, this is different to the question of whether two subjects share the same perception of, say, the colour red. Even if you perceive red as red, and another perceives red as red, as long as this relative reference persists to the subject, you can still communicate within this space. When you see a red apple, you can remark that the apple is red—the name marker—, and the same is true for the other, who can also communicate to you that the apple is indeed red because the word ‘red’ become a common index marker.

But in the anomalous case, the name marker would have little utility because ‘red’ would be generated by some conceivably unbounded stochastic function:

Colourₓ = ƒ(x), where x is some random value at each observation

It would be impossible to communicate given this constraint.

This, as I’ve referenced, is anomalous, so most of us have a stronger coupling between perception and memory recall. Interesting to me in this instance is not how memory can be (and quite often is) corrupted, but that fundamental perception itself can be corrupted as well—and not simply through hallucination or optical illusion.