Sunday, March 7, 2010


In this article, Dr. Ramachandran talks about the phenomenon of synesthesia. Synesthesia is an involuntary joining of the senses. The real information of one sense is joined with the perception of another sense. Synesthesia can involve any of the 5 senses. The most common form is colored letters and numbers- this occurs when a person sees a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or number. For example, a person may see the word "car" as blue or the number "5" as red. There are also cases where people hear sounds in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or feel something in response to sight. Just about any combination of the senses is possible. Ramachandran has concluded that synesthesia can illuminate fundamental principles of the organization of the human mind.

There have been little tests performed on synesthesia, or how this condition is fundamentally forms. There are different assumptions of how people have developed this condition, some being a little outlandish. Some researchers have shown that people with synesthesia could just be "crazy," which I personally think is ridiculous. Another assumption is that as children, one may have played with numerical magnets. For example: "5" was red and "6" was blue... and that just stuck in their minds. Upon reading through the article, I believe that synesthesia is due to some cross wiring of the brain when a sensory system crosses over to another sensory system. I think there could be more research with synesthesia and the study of consciousness. Studying these perceptions may someday help us understand how we perceive the world.

Fun Fact:
Famous artists with Synesthesia:
Georgia O'Keeffe
... imagine how having synesthesia influenced their work.. interesting.


Swe said...

Being near sighted, I've always dreaded the yearly eye exams. Yet a fairly easy yet odd part of the exam was to look at at image of a red 5 surrounded by green dots. It was always the same image each year, and I always answered the questions correctly, but never understood what its purpose was. After seeing this article, I guess it could have been a test for synesthesia. While I have heard of colorblindness, I had never considered that people could combine sight with another sense. It's curious that the senses that work together are not what typically go together like smell and taste. (As we know how something tastes just by smelling it- although it may just be that smell triggers memory most quickly). Does that mean synesthesia could be related to memory- in which case the explanations of the childhood events causing the condition would make sense? Is it just an illusion of thought or it it biological?

I think perception is the key word here. As Dr.Ramachandran's work indicated, what we look at and what we see(or what we think we see) are two completely different things. If wiring is the problem, can the source be indentified?

It's very interesting to think that artists such as O'Keefe and Kandinsky had synesthesia- which makes me wonder what they saw in their own paintings? Were all the vibrant colors just numbers to them? The joke would be on us is we considered their works to be organic or abstract, if they were just based on numbers all along.

Ambrosia Writer said...

Synesthesia is a curious affliction. Their senses are cross-wired and are described as them seeing "5" as red. But does that mean that when someone mentions five they get a mental flash of red in their mind's eye? OR is it that they they always read a printed "5" as if it had been printed with red ink?

The other 'types' of synesthesia are a little more easy to understand, but when you have something so very individualised as sight, it makes one curious. Two people will never see the same thing even if they are staring at the same image. (A better example is that when you look at a rainbow everyone sees a completely different rainbow, just for them, because the light is being scattered and so only the rays that directly enter your eye will show you a rainbow, and those rays will not be the same as the ones going into your friend's who is standing to your left.)

"Craziness" is another perception that often gets used to make up for lack of understanding. I think that many people are unwilling to take time out of their life to understand why another person may act or think the way they do, and just sign it off in their minds as said person being "crazy". Perhaps this is a defense mechanism? For what I have no idea, and I hope is something that can be worked around.

Things like this make me feel like how I see the world is boring at times, but then again, it's up to one's own mind to make things interesting around them. Mood and mind-set has a big influence on whether one sees the world as bright and interesting, or bleak and daunting.