In this interesting post from last November at her blog, Debbie Pullinger, postgraduate university student and synaesthete, has described her experiences of what is apparently the involuntary retrieval of visual memories of a very specific scene triggered by reading a particular book, and how such apparently randomly retrieved visual memories can then become the setting for her visualization of the plot or the recounted events in the narrative of the book. Thank you Debbie for sharing your interesting observations! I have many times experienced the same type of experiences, and I am also a synaesthete. If I am re-reading a book that I have previously read while at an outdoor location, I will generally involuntarily experience a visual memory of the scene that I saw at the same time that I first read that book. Two of our synaesthete kids and I also experience a similar memory phenomenon which involuntarily links concepts with visual memories of scenes. I believe it is an interesting and scientifically undiscovered hybrid of synaesthesia and the memory technique known as the method of loci or the memory palace. I wrote about this phenomenon in this blog, naming it Involuntary Method of of Loci Memorization (IMLM). Debbie’s experiences of the involuntary visualization of memories of real scenes while visualizing scenes in fiction and non-fiction books is I think the same phenomenon which I described at this blog on April 26th of this year in my post about Heather Sellers’ autobiography. I find it quite fascinating the Debbie described her own visual experiences while reading a particular passage in an Oliver Sacks book in which Sacks visits a musician study subject at the person’s home and listens to the subject playing piano. Debbie inexplicably visualized this scene played out in an outdoor setting. When I read a similar scene in another Oliver Sacks book I involuntarily visualized it set in the small living room of the home unit of an long-dead aunt, the way it looked decades ago when she lived there. One point of difference between Debbie and myself is her assertion that Wednesday if a mottled, mossy green. I literally can’t see how this could be true, when the word Wednesday starts with a letter that is a yellowy-tan colour, and also has a dreary but sensible adult female personality.
There’s a great big unanswered question about the experiences that Ms Pullinger has described, and the many similar types of experiences that I have described, which appear to be types of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes are synaesthesia concurrents or inducers. Are these experiences peculiar to synaesthetes? Do “normal” people experience IMLM or similar experiences? Are these rare or atypical experiences? If only a minority of people have experiences such as involuntary visualization of memories of real or past scenes while reading books, what is the size of that minority? Have we described perfectly “normal” and commonplace experiences, or have we described something interesting and novel to science? I’ve been waiting in vain for an answer to this question from any scientist for a couple of years now. I’m not holding my breath.