Monday, April 20, 2009

Synesthesia - counting the colours 'til Friday.

In Greek, mean syn (together) and aisthesis (sensation), feeling together. People with synesthesia have certain senses hooked together. A neurological phenomenon where one sense (let's say hearing) is connected to another (your vision). So for example, imagine that when you see the numbers 1, 7, 3, you taste blackberries, cherries, and strawberries. Or maybe when you hear a cello, you feel/see green. Thursday makes you see blue.

One of my heroes/people I look up to had it; Richard Feynman. Most estimates fall into the 1 in 2000 range. There are probably many people who have the condition but do not realize what it is. Often times it's never diagnosed... those who have it often think it's natural to all people. So really, these are reported numbers.

Women: in the U.S., studies show that three times as many women as men have synesthesia; in the U.K., eight times as many women have been reported to have it.

Left-handed: synesthetes are more likely to be left-handed than the general population.

Genetics: synesthesia appears to be inherited in some fashion; it seems to be a dominant trait and it may be on the X-chromosome.

Children: more likely to have it and lose it; however, there are some examples of synesthesia appearing after seizures and under the influence of drugs.

Daniel Tammet, talked about earlier in this log of a blog has number/colour synesthesia. He memorized Pi to more than 22,000 decimal places, not by memorizing the numbers, but feeling the colour sequence.

I went back and read a bit about it in Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia. Apparently every 'synesthete' has their own colour combinations/correspondences. However, these colours don't seem to change within the individual over their lifetime. Sometimes it goes both ways (see a colour and hear/feel a musical tone in a certain key). These don't seems to be learned associations either, as I suspected/thought... ie. let's say as a child you played a toy piano with coloured keys, or another toy with coloured buttons and musical tones. Also, some synesthetes report seeing colours not actually visible in the real world... they've never seen that colour before ever, except when they hear something in G major.

Brain imaging provides unequivocal evidence to the simultaneous activation of two or more sensory areas in the cerebral cortex.

Common test for synethesia:

Also, I just learned, there seems to be a space-quality to some experiences. A terrain almost. Listening to music can be described spatially, where sounds come from different areas, analogous to pitch changes with the Doppler effect. And, incredibly, it seems some synesthetes can tell, by listening to someone's music, whether the composer also has synesthesia. Simply by the composition; the movement and colour seem to be a tell-tale sign that the artist also has similar abilities. AMAZING! It literally is another form of communication! It is quite literally a 7th sense (with proprioception being the 6th)... Color isn't added to the music, it's integrated in it.

Anyway, it seems like some futuristic communication device/condition that our future human leaders will be able to send secret notes to each other with. A feeling I'll never get to experience, almost to be sure; I'm definitely green with envy!

Apparently it can be overcoming at times. From Musicophilia: "Within weeks of losing his sight, Jacques Lusseyran developed synesthesia so intense as to replace the actual perception of music, thus preventing him from becoming a musician, as he intended." The colours seemed to "invade" his head... I'm one of those people who can't listen to music while doing other work, cuz it invades my head... not sure if this is similar (grasping for some homogeneity!!), but my father feels the same as I do, whereas my mother and sisters often listen to music while working. I strongly believe there is something inheritable/inherited there, but not sure how to explain it just yet... a type of learning pathway of some sorts...

From Musicophilia: "Perhaps, as Baron-Cohen and Harrison write, "We might all be colored-hearing synesthetes until we lose connections between these areas somewhere about three months of age." In normal development, according to this theory, a synesthetic "confusion" gives way in a few months, with cortical maturation, to a clearer distinction and segregation of the senses, and this in turn makes possible the proper cross-matching of perceptions which is needed for the full recognition of an external world and its contents ... In those individuals with synesthesia, it is supposed, a genetic abnormality prevents complete deletion of this early hyperconnectivity, so that a larger or smaller remnant of this persists in adult life. "

Anyway, I'll end this epic post by quoting from Musicophilia for a third time, bringing full circle this overriding feeling/theme: "But for all of them, synesthesia is natural, almost an extra sense - so much so that such questions as "What is it like?" or "What does it mean to you?" are as unanswerable as asking "What is it like to be alive? What is it like to be you?" I think these are answerable questions; one just needs to do some self-searching, and have someone willing to tease it out of them. hahaha... or at least a blog!

From the magic of youtube:

No comments:

Post a Comment