Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Joe Polski, COO of the IAI, relates in a recent e-mail that applications are now
being taken by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for Coverdell grant
funding. That funding can be used for any forensic related need and is not
restricted to anything in particular. More information and application
procedures are available at:
Last week, we looked at research from Dr. Tom Busey and John Vanderkolk
no fundamental differences in recognition processes in the brain between experts
This week we look at recognition from a more historical and philosophical
The Complexity Of
Recognition [Part 1]
by Craig Coppock
Rarely do we consider that the concept of recognition is used every second of
every day of our lives. Without recognition we would cease to move in an
organized manner, as we would have nowhere in particular to go. In fact, we
could not exist at all. We use our expertise in recognition to constantly assist
us. Recognition is found in an infinite degree of complexity, from a smell to
having a successful and incident free day at the office. How do we know?
Recognition is based on the evaluation of information. We do not need to know
all the information available in order to understand the probability that our
conclusion of recognition is correct. When we do not have enough information to
make an identification, we already know that too. We not only recognize when we
do have the proper amount of information, we also recognize when we do not! Less
the fact of recognition itself, there is no difference between the two. Both are
based on the evaluation of available information. We have the ability to
recognize our friends while viewing only one side of them. We do not always need
to also see their opposite side as well.
While many forms of cognition are based on analogy, recognition furthers this
basic thought by adding comparative detail analysis with both, the conscious and
subconscious mind. Recognition starts and ends in the brain. The conscious and
subconscious minds work together utilizing as much data as they can effectively
process. This information is drawn from experience as well as current
evaluations of the environment. The actual moment of recognition can be
described as the moment of positive recognition or MPR. MPR is defined as; an
affirmative decision of identification based on the accumulation of contextually
compared and experience based information that falls within expected statistical
parameters. The information above and beyond this point is simply additional
supporting data that is not needed for further practical use. This information
is not needed to further support the recognition, yet we often make ourselves
aware of it. In the case of fingerprint identification, this additional
information is often analyzed to some degree to ensure accuracy.
[Figure 1; Recognition & Non-Recognition with Moment of Positive Recognition as
supporting information increases]
The brain is an amazing organ. It has the capacity to process immense amounts of
information simultaneously. The brain also has the ability to put that
information into a usable and understandable context for later reference. The
process of recognition is formed wholly inside the brain utilizing information
that is further deduced from information that was analyzed regarding a
particular issue, as well as from related information based on past experience.
The brain has specialized areas that are noted for their particular specialties.
With the task of recognition, certain parts of the brain become very active.
This increased and localized activity can be studied and monitored. One
researcher excitedly stated: “Your whole hippocampus is screaming!” ...activity
in a structure adjacent to the hippocampus known as the fusiform gyrus; this
too, was not a surprise, ... Recent research on face recognition has identified
this as the key area in the brain for the specialized task of perceiving faces.
What was a surprise was that the most excited sector in my brain as it viewed
familiar faces was, once again, the “story telling area.” 5 But, how does
recognition work? Did Einstein or Newton have an enlarged or well exercised
We all remember the story of Newton and the falling apple. Albert Einstein
imagined what it would be like if he were riding on a light wave and recognized
that the speed of light is relative. If you shine a light out of a moving train
it does not add up! 60 mph + c = c. Prior to that, in 1858, Alfred R. Wallace,
while sweltering in a fever on the island of Moluccas “there suddenly flashed
upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest...then, considering the
variation continually occurring in every fresh generation of animals or plants,
and the changes of climate, of food, of enemies always in progress, the whole
method of specific modification became clear to me....” 3 This in turn, fueled
Charles Darwin's fire on evolutionary theory. In about 250 B.C. Archimedes was
pondering over a problem for the Greek King Hieron II about measuring the
content of gold in a crown. He realizing that copper has a density of 8.92 gcm
and gold about double that, in Archimedes equivalents. Archimedes thought there
must be a solution to the problem, even though the mathematics of the time did
not allow for such complex calculations. Regardless, Archimedes took his
thoughts to a public bath for some relaxation. The bath ran over its edges as
Archimedes displaced the water. “And as he ran (naked), Archimedes shouted over
and over, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Of course, knowing no English, he was
compelled to shout it in Greek, so it came out, “Eureka! Eureka!” 4 The MPR had
Some aspects of recognition can be studied by focusing on particular aspects of
the cognitive process. “Visual perception plays a crucial role in mental
functioning. How we see helps determine what we think and what we do. ...Denis
G. Pelli a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University,
has had the happy idea of enlisting the visual arts.” 5 Study in the area of the
visual arts has “disproved the popular assumption that shape perception is
size-independent.5 Of course, this too, is relative. When viewed at particular
extremes, shape is size dependent from a human perspective. Aristotle noted that
shape perception could be independent of size only for sizes that are neither so
huge as to exceed our visual field, nor so tiny as to exceed our visual acuity.5
Size and shape are forms of information. Thus, we can assume that all
information, including that used for recognition, is also relative. This
information too should have noticeable distortion at extremes. This distortion
is found as a lowering of the information’s qualitative and quantitative value.
Yet, it’s realative value may be affected to a different degree. Other extremes
are notices where too much information cannot be processed effectively and too
little information will not yield sufficient relationships for a useful
comparative analysis; thus, recognition cannot be supported. Distortion or lack
of information can prevent recognition. This is why “hind sight is 20/20.” After
the fact, more information is usually present, making relationships of relevant
information more distinct.
Distortions of fingerprint information can be found in a wide variety of forms.
What is realized, is that information is found embedded within information and
distortions of this information may only partially obscure specific details.
However, we are all experts at the recognition process. We also have
considerable experience dealing with various levels of distortion. Experts that
practice specialized forms of recognition, such as fingerprint identification,
shoe print identification, etc... can also be effective and accurate that
particular recognition process if they are sufficiently skilled in the
applicable areas. Essentially, they must be as comparatively skilled as a parent
recognizing their children. For each is a specialized and learned skill that
The actual point of recognition (MPR) is not definable in everyday terms. It
cannot be clinically quantified as to what is actually taking place and when it
is taking place. MPR is a statistically exempt process due to the infinite
number of variables and overt complexities. All we could hope for would be rough
statistical model that may possibly illuminate it’s feasibility. Unlike DNA’s
known numbers, most of the forensic sciences, ultimately based on the
recognition process, are too complex and variable to explain with hard numbers.
An old analogy to our inability of finding exactness in most of nature was
described using a bow, an arrow, and a target. Imagine an arrow shot at a
target. When will the arrow hit the target? Even if we know the speed and the
distance, we will have to forget that the arrow will always be only halfway
further to the target. If it is always getting halfway further, when do you run
out of “1/2” the distance? You can get a neat answer by using the speed/distance
formula. Then we must ask ourselves as to which ruler will we use and how
accurate is that ruler, and of course, how accurate is the person who is doing
all the measuring? Thus, even the simple task of measuring the time of impact
for an arrow at its target can be frustratingly complex unless we are allowed to
make some real world assumptions for the purpose of simplification.
We understand that at some point our ability to measure things, no matter what
type of measuring devices we use, whether it be a meter, a second, or often,
statistics. This failure is due to the loose tolerances required to make
everyday issues solvable in a practical manner. Accordingly, we accept a certain
amount of tolerance in the answers to our questions. Recognition also follows
this path, as we are not given the opportunity to exactly define the MPR. This
is due the variables in information and the manner in which that information is
analyzed. There is no particular order in manner in which a person must analyze
information during the recognition process. Some paths of information
correlation may offer the MPR sooner than if another alternative path is taken.
This includes the analysis of the distortion of information as well. Distortion
is always present to some degree, whether it is recognizing your cat or
evaluating a latent fingerprint. Omnipresent distortion is a law of nature, yet
we seem to deal with this aspect just fine. The main reason for this is due to
the fact that we always receive information differently. We are used to
understanding similar information presented in a variety of ways. We understand
that each time we evaluate something, at least some of the previously available
information will be different. Hence, we are experts at recognizing distortion
and variability in the recognition process. We can often disregard information
that falls extreme categories simply because the influence they do have is so
insignificant, or that other sufficient information is present. Unintelligible
information is not used in the recognition process. If insufficient information
is present, then recognition is simply not possible.
In many cases, as with distortion, it is only when we wish to view the component
items of a problem, do we actually see them clearly. It seems that, for the most
part, our cognitive world is based on generalizations, analogies, and our
ability for recognition. The boundary of the classical reality is a boundary of
informational usefulness and practicality. We need to understand the variables
in their correct context to understand what recognition is, let alone, to make
an attempt to measure it. Within the forensic sciences, we must understand the
limits of information in order to understand its usefulness.
Craig A. Coppock
Forensic Specialist, CLPE
1. Coppock, Craig (2003) Differential Randomness and Individualization.
2. Hofstadter, Douglas (2000) Analogy as the Core of Cognition, The Best
American Science Writing 2000, Ecco Press, New York.
3. Wallace, Alfred Russell, (The Wonderful Century)
4. Asimov, Isaac (1974) The Left Hand Of The Electron; p. 190, Dell, New York
5. Pelli, Denis G. (2000) Close Encounters: An Artist Shows That Size Affects
Shape. The Best American Science Writing 2000, Ecco Press, New York.
message board is always open: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2).
For more formal latent print discussions, visit
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
We had two contributions this week to the Close Calls
page. Lately, we haven't seen much activity in what could be one of the
most useful resources for examiners to consider. I know that I sit and
carefully study each "Close Call" I have in real casework. I ask myself
why I am sure it is not an identification, but even further I study the
similarity that is present so that I am in an even better position to know in
the future how much is NOT enough! I would encourage you to do the same in
casework. And if you think of it, consider preserving some of those really
close calls for Captain Pretty Darn Close, keeper of the Close Calls. He
can be reached at:
Updated the Smiley Files with one new Smiley
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