Knowing without knowing: what tune deafness and face blindness have in common

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I have a new post over on the Scientific American Mind Matters website. It describes new research which suggests that tune deafness and face blindness – two examples of conditions known as agnosias, both of which can be genetic – are caused not by a failure of the brain to recognise previously seen faces or detect incongruous musical notes, but a failure to communicate these events to frontal brain regions where conscious awareness is triggered. In essence, your brain knows something but can’t tell you. Read more…


  1. Kevin,

    Fascinating article as usual.

    Again I’m interested if there are particular SNP’s involved in congenital forms of both conditions. The reason being is that my brother exhibits both of these conditions. He can’t carry a tune, though he likes music, and has trouble describing what people look like – such as hair or eye color – even of people he knows, and is very bad at recognizing faces of celebs in movies – though he loves movies.

  2. No mutations have yet been linked to either of these conditions. I think we can expect that to change in short order, though, as whole-genome sequencing approaches are applied, so, if you’ll forgive the pun… stay tuned!

  3. I wonder about the case of Evelyn Glennie, the British classical percussionist who is described as being deaf. She claims that she can somehow ‘feel’ the sounds through her body. But I remember a documentary where it was said that she had hearing as a child, but gradually lost her hearing for no known physical reason. So I wonder if at some level she still has hearing, but cannot access it consciously?

  4. David,
    Very interesting observation on Glennie.

    My brother consistently dates women who look similar – so he must has a “type” that he is attracted to – though he can’t describe what that is exactly…

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