Great little book about the human brain

“Memories, it seems, are made as a result of a spider’s web of neurons firing together because of shared, strong connections. Strands of the web reach across different parts of the cortex and deep down to the hippocampi, the guardians of our memory bank.”

I think this quote, from the pop science book How your brain works by New Scientist, explains why memory superiority seems to be associated with synaesthesia. It’s all about connectivity.

I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in neuroscience and psychology. It is just a modest paperback, but the content seems to be up-to-date, balanced, scientifically credible and covering areas of research that aren’t the same old stuff that you see over and over in pop psychology books (and 1st year uni psychology textbooks). The panel of academic contributors (one from Western Australian universities) and the editors have produced a book that is a joy and not a waste of time to read.

“We’ve cracked the brain’s code for facial identity”


Some of the more important posts in this blog

Memory is fallible, but then again, there’s super-recognizers

Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that? 

A Most Peculiar Experience (my description of The Strange Phenomenon) 

Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites?

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014

More of my amazing ideas! Beware!

Have my ideas been plagiarized in a paper published in a neuroscience journal? I believe they have. 

Super-recognizer jobs? (This is the most popular post at this blog) 

Other cases of synaesthesia involving face perception – I’m certainly not the only one

The Opposite of Benson’s Syndrome?

Does fascinating advice from a super-polyglot utilize a psychological effect unknown to science?

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia 

My Brain Put to the Test

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year 

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences 

A type of synaesthesia which I experience in which non-food words or names automatically evoke the concepts of particular foods: is lexical-gustatory synaesthesia an evolutionary adaptation?


Where are the yellow bits?

The other night we were watching RocKwiz on SBS and the band and a guest singer did a cover of Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road, a major early 1970s hit by Elton John, which was a very nostalgic experience as I haven’t heard that tune much since the 1970s when by best friend was a mad-keen Elton John fan. Two things struck me: what a great and unusual song, with interesting lyrics and music that rather reminds me of another unusual and sad hit tune (How Soon is Now? by The Smiths), and what amazingly high falsetto singing the hit recording had, but the most interesting thing that I noticed when I heard the cover-version was that the bright-yellow pineapple-jelly bean-flavoured bits were missing.

They say you don’t notice things until they are gone, and I hadn’t realized that the falsetto bits of the original recording had been, for me, such a dominant (visual) feature, till I listened to a relatively colourless but enjoyable cover version, with decipherable lyrics. That amount of falsetto in a rock song is I think quite typical of the psychedelic era when the tune was created. Would it be pushing an idea to far to say this is a psychedelic recording? I don’t know why, but most of my favourite music, since I was a kid to now, has had some element of psychedelia; hypnotic repetition, extreme forms of singing, unusual instruments, unusual sound effects, extreme emotionality, etc.

Tunes that I listened to as kid or teen seem to be more often coloured than music from recent years, I guess because synaesthesia is less likely to form anew as one ages, just as new brain connections are less likely to form. It seems likely that I got the idea of that song as a yellow song from the title, but this merely abstract idea becomes an experience only when evoked by that singing, Elton’s yellow singing.

The yellow-deficient cover-version:

There’s nothing random about my number colours

I must have had an understanding of basic number facts and arithmetic when my colours for numbers became set, because there are colourful and logical patterns in the colours of digits, and this logic is also interwoven with ordinal-linguistic personification*. I’ve only just realised how formal the “logic” of my grapheme – colour synaesthesia actually is, as I’m studying and trying to use number colours as a simple mnemonic. I think synaesthesia researchers would agree that this brain-based mental phenomenon of coloured letters and numbers forms in the early years of schooling when kids first learn reading and basic maths.

The even numbers up to 10 are all colours that are or are made up from one particular “warm” colour, because even numbers have warm personalities (obviously!) because they are made up of pairs (every element inside an even number has a friend for company). I can’t stand the colours of most even numbers as they remind me of bodily waste and bodily fluids. In contrast, the odd numbers from 3 to 9 are all colours that are or are made up from another particular colour, this colour being a “cold” colour. The odd numbers have somewhat chill colours because of their inherently cool (but sometimes entertaining or dynamic) personalities, because within them there are units that have no pair, that is, they contain “loner” units. Of course, the greatest “loner unit” is the number 1, and he is so special that his colour follows a special rule for all concepts that are at the beginning of learned sequences (the special firsts). Maybe you can guess what their colour is. I’m sure you can guess the colour (or non-colour) of the digit 0. I’m not sure if there’s some rule or it was just a happy accident that the digits that are multiples of three look like a spectrum of colours with the cold colour added in greater quantity with more threes added. 3, 6 and 9 really do look like they belong in a sequence by their colours alone. Their colours are the same as the vibrant colours of the plumage of a native WA bird that I was fascinated with as a young child. I find these colours truly inspiring.

Just to complicate things, I also think Cuisinaire rods, which I used to learn maths many years ago in early primary school, have colour-digit associations that have some similarities with my number colours. No synaesthete can ever know for sure how their colours for graphemes were set in the wiring of our brains, but I suspect that I gave these colour-digit associations a lot of thought when I was a much younger student than I am now.

* a type of synaesthesia in which concepts that are learned in set sequences are involuntarily personified in a way that is very stable over time, for example, the letter D is a man with a gentle but authoritative personality

Vale Chris Cornell

For me the human voice in song is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For synaesthetes enjoyable experiences are often coloured. Many but not all voices of popular singers have specific colours, in my experience: men’s voices typically brown, women’s red, baritones deep brown, counter-tenors and falsetto yellows and whites, harsh Italian tenors shining gold, but there was only ever for me one orange singing voice – that of Chris Cornell, the late singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Orange is the colour of experiences that are so intense that they are close to painful.

Not holding my breath waiting for driverless cars

“Reliably recognising what mental states are encoded in facial expressions or bodily movements is way beyond even cutting-edge tech.”

Want to reliably recognize and interpret these visual stimuli? You need a person, or a normally-functioning human brain, that’s what you need.

Ong, Sandy Give your car a conscience: Why driverless cars need morals. New Scientist. January 7th 2017.

Stephen Fry doppelganger in here?

And another politician/celebrity doppelganger pair

Where have I seen that slightly unhinged, cheesy, sometimes grimacing smile? Oh oui!


Looks like I’m not the only librarian

who has been screwed-over by Frontiers:

Beall-listed Frontiers empire strikes back