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Through the Looking Chords
January 20, 2005 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Dr Hugo's Museum of the Mind - Synaesthesia
posted by Gyan (22 comments total)

 
Synesthetes are in some sense people of the future

I've long been fascinated with synaesthesia, but I think that statement is quite an unwarranted leap.
posted by rushmc at 2:48 PM on January 20, 2005


Certainly not, rushmc. When we rule, we will make sure that those a little farther down the evolutionary chain are treated fairly.
posted by jokeefe at 2:50 PM on January 20, 2005


How totally bizarre. I'd never heard of Synaesthesia, and now I've seen it 3 times in the last few days, including a SciFi book I'm reading right now called ReMix. The feeling of dejavu is so strong I'm tasting the blue on MeFi (I believe it's raspberry with mild chocolate overtones).

It also reminds me of a fake DirecTV ad Saturday Night Live did recently, in which a cast member playing Gary Bussey is giving a testimonial about the wonders of satellite TV: "I fell asleep watching DirecTV on the lanai and woke up with a hellacious sunburn and the ability to smell colors."
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:54 PM on January 20, 2005


See also.
posted by abcde at 3:03 PM on January 20, 2005


You people joke but I've experienced synaesthesia for as long as I can remember.

When I was very young, I can remember asking my mother if she could taste the cello sound in some piece of music we were listening to. She looked at me as if I were insane, and stated quite firmly that 'you can't taste sounds'.

I kept quiet after that, but to me cello is dark, silky chocolate. I also see rainbows in some people's laughter, mostly babies, but some few adults too.
posted by kamylyon at 3:23 PM on January 20, 2005


rushmc, I agree. I think it's the opposite. The reason that synaesthesia is as rare as it is, is because the modalities have been diverging, with the synaesthestes being remnants. We aren't moving towards synaesthesia, we're moving away from it.
posted by Gyan at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2005


The recent A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness has a good chapter recounting the current situation on Synesthesia.
posted by abcde at 3:40 PM on January 20, 2005


apparently acid can give you temporary synaesthesia, but not other hallucinogens. just dont eat the brown acid.
posted by GleepGlop at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2005


abcde linked to a book by Ramachandran. His SciAm article on the condition, is available here as PDF.

GleepGlop: I think that any psychedelic, in sufficient dose, could induce it. In many cases, they would probably be accompanied by ego death. Which might not be wanted/expected.
posted by Gyan at 3:58 PM on January 20, 2005


I've been totally fascinated with this ever since I saw a special on 20/20 or 60 Minutes or something years ago. I remember there was a guy featured on the special who tasted things when he heard words. He was lamenting about how he had to break up with his girlfriend because her name tasted like pudding or something... he didn't want to do it, but he REALLY hates pudding...
posted by miss lynnster at 4:20 PM on January 20, 2005


Funny, but though I can't quite "taste" most experiences myself I find it intuitive to describe them in terms of particular tastes. I always have perceived a taste for colors, music, experiences, although the literal taste or smell isn't quite there. It's purely a descriptive tool that seems to "work." mcstayinschool's "raspberry with a hint of chocolate" for mefi makes perfect sense to me (pun certainly intended). I wonder if this would be called synaesthesia?
posted by tidecat at 5:12 PM on January 20, 2005


Well, that's the mild type of synaesthesia a lot of people get. It's what gives certain colors to songs, for instance, even if you don't actually see them at the time, or why you would describe a pain as "sharp."
posted by abcde at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2005


goddammit! i was thinking of putting together a FPP on synaesthesia. maybe i will have to settle for morphic resonance, instead...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2005


Great link, Gyan. So much to check out. I would really miss my moderate synaesthesia and I still have a hard time believing that other people don't sense flavors, letters/words, and numbers the same way I do.
posted by lobakgo at 7:06 PM on January 20, 2005


That reminds me there's an awesome story by Jeffrey Ford that deals with synaesthesia, "The Empire of Ice Cream."

At the end of the story, Ford includes some pointers for further reading: "For information on the condition of synesthesia, I turned to The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Richard E. Cytowic." (I think the book already came up in another MeFi thread.)
posted by Goblindegook at 7:46 PM on January 20, 2005


A woman in a family member's workplace just had a breakdown. One of the signs that struck my relative as odd was when the woman brought her children's drawings into my relative's office and started hanging them because she couldn't have anything green around her.

The green things were buzzing.

(She's since been hospitalized.)
posted by dhartung at 8:14 PM on January 20, 2005


I think it's the opposite. The reason that synaesthesia is as rare as it is, is because the modalities have been diverging, with the synaesthestes being remnants.

Or it could simply be a neurological error. That's the explanation I tend to gravitate toward.
posted by rushmc at 10:34 PM on January 20, 2005


rushmc, I don't think that's the case. In one of Ramachandran's lectures, he mentions that synaesthesia is common in infants/toddlers. I'm not sure how he could verify that. Anyway, here's another paper, outlining my possibility.
posted by Gyan at 6:20 AM on January 21, 2005


In one of Ramachandran's lectures, he mentions that synaesthesia is common in infants/toddlers.

Where brain wiring is still incomplete and in process? I don't see how that invalidates my hypothesis.
posted by rushmc at 7:54 AM on January 21, 2005


Then I'm not sure how to interpret your statement. You say it's a neurological "error". Is that on human timescales or evolutionary? In the former, senses overlap in a person and by a certain age, they are sufficiently demarcated, so as to be 'normal'. In this sense, I agree that adult synaesthesia is an "error". The original comment was about the 'people of the future', as if evolution was leading us to adult synaesthesia becoming normal. I'm suggesting that we've descended from that state towards distinct modalities.
posted by Gyan at 8:54 AM on January 21, 2005


Where brain wiring is still incomplete and in process? I don't see how that invalidates my hypothesis.


It doesn't, in my opinion.

Case in point: myself

While I understand that we females have more white matter than the male of the species, I'm inclined to agree with rushmc from a personal standpoint.

I have a difficult time putting together coherent thoughts and structuring them into sentences. Simple spelling leaves me dumbfounded sometimes. [thank something/one for spellcheck].

I lose words all the time, I always have. I know what I'm attempting to say, but that one word which puts my idea across succinctly will get lost in translation from brain to keyboard/paper/mouth.

Comprehension of complex ideas will leave me musing for days sometimes.

I don't know if this is lack of development or brain damage from head injuries, but I do know that the synaesthesia continues. I don't consider this to be a bad thing, I like dark chocolate and rainbows.
posted by kamylyon at 10:50 AM on January 21, 2005


The original comment was about the 'people of the future', as if evolution was leading us to adult synaesthesia becoming normal. I'm suggesting that we've descended from that state towards distinct modalities.

That may well be the case. I was speaking of its occurrence in individuals, not examining its evolutionary history in the species. No part of the body operates perfectly (why should it? there's no evolutionary pressure for perfection when "good enough" is good enough), and many of our neurological hiccups tend to be dramatized and provided with complex-but-probably-unnecessary social or phenomenological explanations, and synaesthesia just seems like a likely candidate for this category to me.
posted by rushmc at 10:58 AM on January 21, 2005


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