Tag Archives: Concepts

If dyslexia isn’t a visual problem, then what is it?

Forget colour overlays – dyslexia is not a vision problem. by Clare Wilson

New Scientist. 25 May 2015.

Do you want to know my theory about dyslexia? I think dyslexia is a lack of synaesthesia, for two very good reasons. Firstly, if you break the act of reading down into its most basic element (phonics or translating graphemes into phonemes), it is basically synaesthesia in which visual symbols as a visual stimuli evoke an experience of language sounds. Reading is basically hearing symbols, and that experience of language sounds further triggers the experience of concepts being triggered by language sounds. I know that things as complex as concepts can be synaesthesia concurrents because I myself experience a number of varieties of synaesthesia in which quite sophisticated concepts are the concurrents. I think the reason why some people are poor at reading or slower to pick up the skill is identical with the normal genetic variation in the degree which people are more or less syanesthete. There is debate about how much evidence has been found by researchers about brain structure and syanesthesia, but I still think it likely that syanesthesia is the result of a hyper-connected brain, and I think the opposite is true of dyslexics, and I believe the theory of dyslexia and hypoconnectivity is nothing new in dyslexia research.

The second reason why I think dyslexia can be regarded as the opposite of synaesthesia (even though I’m open to the possibility that there could be some individuals who have both conditions for reasons unknown) is that in my family of blood relatives we have a pedigree of generations who have a profession that primarily deals with the written word or have scored in academic selection tests in the highest levels of percentiles in reading, writing and general literacy skills, even though their results in other academic areas are above average but not exceptional, and most of these people appear to be grapheme-colour synaesthetes. I believe this association is not random, but such a relationship can only be proven by studies done by researchers on large numbers of people, and if any researcher would like to put my theory to the test and publish the results I would expect that I would be appropriately credited in their research paper.

Defining synaesthesia and some interesting research findings – a lecture by a leading Aussie synaesthesia researcher

Below is a link to a webpage that has a video of Associate Professor Anina Rich from Macquarie University delivering the Paul Bourke Lecture 2014 and answering questions afterwards. Some other speakers have a few things to say before her lecture. Associate Professor Anina Rich is the winner of the 2013 Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research.


Book review in the works…………

I’m very much enjoying reading the new popular science book Beyond Human Nature by Professor Jesse J. Prinz. I’m excited by his writing about Empiricism in the study of psychology, and I wish my local library had his 2004 book titled Furnishing the Mind: Concepts and Their Perceptual Basis in stock, so that I could read that book as well.

Jesse Prinz http://subcortex.com/


What are your thoughts on Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) please?

I’m very grateful for the few but very interesting comments that have been made at this blog from people from all around the world describing their own interesting experiences which are similar to things that I have described (thank you again Dayna, Luis, Nick, Gentoooo… :-)). Clearly I am not the only person in the world who experiences synaesthesia-like linkages between thinking about concepts and memories of spatial locations. This much is true, but I’m still curious about how common such experiences are. Perhaps this stuff is so ordinary that it is barely worth studying, but if that is true, I’ve got to wonder why in all my reading, including a lot of reading of stuff written by scientists and psychologists, I’ve not seen such an experience described or named anywhere. In the last three months I’ve had quite a few thousands of views of this blog from all over the globe, but very little feedback from my readers, which seems like a lost opportunity, and that is why I’d appreciate it is you could spend some time letting me know what your experience is regarding mental associations between visual memories and conceptual thinking. Do you automatically visualize specific old memories of scenes when you think of particular concepts? When you revisit a particular place, do you automatically think of the concept that you learned about when you were at that location years ago? Do you experience involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) (as described below)?

IMLM is the name that I’ve given for a phenomenon which I and some of my close relatives experience. I am wondering whether I am the first person to have ever written a published description of this type of experience, which I believe is related to synaesthesia. The basis of this memory phenomenon appears to be the long-term incidental/accidental formation of a stable neurological association between the visual image of a scene of an exact location where one was at and information absorbed through interested, attentive reading or through interested, attentive listening at a time when one was present at and looking at that exact location. If one revisits that exact location and looks at the same scene, the memory of the information absorbed at that location is automatically and involuntarily recalled, and unless one makes a conscious effort to consciously remember or record the linkage between the scene and the concept, the thought of that concept will vanish from the mind as abruptly as it arrived, when you move away from that exact location. It is as though the thought of that concept is switched on and off by some external agent (but please be reassured that I don’t suffer from any delusions about “thought control”). There does not need to be any logical link between the place or the scene and the concept. Recall of the concept can happen years later when the place is revisited. In my case the form in which the information is recalled is in conceptual form – I do not “hear” in my mind’s ear the sound of the original radio broadcast, and I do not “read” in my mind’s eye information read at that location. I just remember the gist of what was learned at that location, but I have a close relative who has reported a particular pop song being automatically recalled through this kind of phenomenon, so for other people IMLM might involve or trigger memories of music or other memories of sounds instead of concepts, or in addition to concepts.

How would you describe your experience or opinion of involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM), in a comment?

1. I’ve never heard of anything like this and have never experienced it.

2. I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced this, I’d have to check.

3. I think I might know someone else who has experienced this – I’d have to check.

4. I have never experienced this, probably because I am never exposed to the types of situations that bring it about (I never read books or listen to talk radio in novel, outdoor locations).

5. I rarely experience this, probably because I am hardly ever exposed to the types of situations that bring it about.

6. I have experienced this ocassionally.

7. I sometimes experience this type of thing.

8. I often experience this type of thing.

9. I have experienced this and I think it is perfectly normal and common, nothing out of the ordinary.

10. I and other people I know have experienced this and I think it is perfectly normal, nothing out of the ordinary.

11. I often experience this type of thing, and I have blood a relative or relatives who also experience it.

12. I often experience this type of thing, and I am also a synaesthete.

13. I often experience this type of thing, and I am definitely not a synaesthete.

14. I often experience this type of thing, and I am also a super-recognizer.

15. I often experience this type of thing, and I am not a super-recognizer.

16. I often experience this type of thing and I also have special abilities in memory.

17. I often experience this type of thing and I have no apparent special abilities in memory.

18. I experience something similar but not exactly the same.


Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/involuntary-method-of-loci-memorization-imlm-%E2%80%93-what-the-heck-is-that/

Concept -> scene synaesthesia: my experiences and others’ experiences  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/concept-scene-synaesthesia-my-experiences-and-others-experiences/

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Method of loci’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 May 2012, 09:28 UTC, <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Method_of_loci&oldid=494440410> [accessed 28 May 2012]

Concept to scene synaesthesia: my experiences and others’ experiences

Synaesthesia linking concepts with scenes – maybe not so hard to explain, and maybe not really so strange? (includes comments) https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/synaesthesia-linking-concepts-with-scenes-%e2%80%93-maybe-not-so-hard-to-explain-and-maybe-not-really-so-strange/

Invitation for comments (includes comments) https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/invitation-for-comments/

Another case of synaesthesia linking scenes and concepts, from Austin in Texas?   https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/another-case-of-synaesthesia-linking-scenes-and-concepts-from-austin-in-texas/

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

Why the big deal? Redefining synaesthesia.  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/why-the-big-deal-redefining-synaesthesia/

Synaesthesia linking concepts with scenes – maybe not so hard to explain, and maybe not really so strange?

I have recently been reading the chapter about synaesthesia in V. S. Ramachandran’s latest book about neuroscience, and among many other interesting things Ramachandran explained that some simple concepts are processed in the temporal lobes. This is the general part of the brain that I believe is hyper-developed or hyper-connected in my case, and it is the part of the brain in which the fusiform gyrus is located, where the recognition of faces, bodies, scenes, numbers and words is done, and colour is processed. I know as the result of testing that I have an above-average ability in face recognition, possibly in the super-recognizer class, and I also experience types of synaesthesia that involve faces, scenes, colours, words, letters and numbers, so I think I’m on solid ground when I assert that there is something interesting about my fusiform gyrus. Like many synaesthetes I also experience synaesthesia triggered by listening to music, and I believe that appreciating music has an unusual prominence in the lives of me and some of my synaesthete relatives. This type of thing is thought to be associated with the temporal lobes which do auditory processing among many other things, so I believe that whatever is different about my fusiform gyrus or (gyri?) is not limited to it but extends into the temporal lobes. So I was particularly interested that the processing of simple concepts goes on in the temporal lobe, because another type of synaesthesia that I experience links concepts with visual scenes which are processed in the fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobes. If these concepts are also processed in the temporal lobes, that would be another type of synaesthesia of mine that is a purely intra-temporal lobe phenomenon, and therefore a scientific explanation of many of the synaesthesia experiences of mine could be explained in one very short phrase; bushy temporal lobes. But I’m not completely sure that the types of concepts that my mind links with scenes are the same type of thing that goes on in the temporal lobes. This is the passage from page 104 of the book The Tell-Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran:

“Brain damage can make a person lose the ability to name tools but not fruits and vegetables, or only fruits and not tools, or only fruits but not vegetables. All of these concepts are stored close to one other in the upper parts of the temporal lobes, but clearly they are sufficiently separated so that a small stroke can knock out one but leave the others intact. You might be tempted to think of fruits and tools as perceptions rather than concepts, but in fact two tools – say, a hammer and saw – can be visually as dissimilar from each other as they are from a banana; what unites then is a semantic understanding about their purpose and use.”

This is a list of some of the concepts that are involved with the concept->scene synaesthesia of mine:
the concept of a bad “state housing” area that one could conceivably find one’s self living in if one’s life went to hell
the concept of Charles Darwin
the concept of Charles Darwin coming to terms with the death of a child
the concept of adoption
the concept of doing one’s own tax return
the concept of cooking with lard
the concept of Bettina Arndt
the concept of the toy the sketch-a-graph.

These concepts aren’t quite as simple as the conceptual categories of “fruits” or “tools”. Is this really the same type of conceptual thinking as that described by Ramachandran? I really don’t know. Maybe I would have more of a clue if I could find the time to read through an interesting-looking paper that I have found on the internet; The Representation of Object Concepts in the Brain by
Alex Martin. I’ve had a quick look at the paper, and I have spotted a couple of interesting things on page 32, a truly amazing misspelling of the word “synaesthete” and what appears to be confirmation that different types of grapheme -> colour synaesthesia involve different parts of the brain. I’m betting that my grapheme -> colour synaesthesia involves the ventral temporal cortex rather than sites in the occipital cortex, because for me the colours of the alphabet are experienced as knowledge of the colours of letters more than a perception of the colours of letters. This doesn’t make the experience any less real or specific. I can still “see” the colours very clearly in my mind’s eye.

I’ve had some thoughts about my concept -> scene and scene -> concept synaesthesia, and I think it could be the case that it only seems to be a strange and nonsensical way of thinking because it has been taken out of the context in which it evolved, and placed into this abstracted, complex, high-speed modern world that we live in. As I have previously observed, often there is a semantic relationship between the place seen in the scene and the concept, and sometimes the scene is of a place that I visited or frequented during the period of time when I was introduced to the concept or was thinking intensively about that concept. This would appear to be a completely useful and sensible way to think, with a thought triggering a real and visible scene illustrating and spatially locating the concept. Maybe a pre-historic human thinking with this type of synaesthesia might experience an appetite for a particular type of seafood, and then in her mind, helpfully, in response to the concept of that specific type of seafood, flashes the scene of the exact beach where she previously went hunting successfully for that particular seafood delicacy. I’ve had a little bit of experience hanging out with fishermen who knew what they were doing, and I know that catching a fish often requires knowing and doing exactly the correct thing – being in the right place at the right time with exactly the right bait and tackle for the specific thing that you are hunting. Casual attitudes and fuzzy thinking don’t get results. The exact nature of synaesthesia seems to fit in with this type of task. In the stable, predictable world of the hunter-gatherer in which there isn’t much abstract thinking to complicate life, this type of synaesthesia could possibly be a most useful tool of the mind, retrieving memories of exact locations just when they are required. One has to wonder if this type of thinking would have been so useful that everyone should have evolved to have it. Was synaesthesia the norm rather than the exception in early humans? Is my mind an atavism, or could it be a souvenir of a liaison between Homo sapiens and the Neanderthal race? Or is it true that this phenomenon isn’t synaesthesia at all, but a completely normal synaesthesia-like thing that is so ordinary that people don’t notice or discuss it?

Having a mind that automatically connects concepts with scenes might have been a very useful and sensible thing in the early times of our species, but when we link concepts with scenes in a mind that is living in the modern industrialized world, things can start to look a bit weird, because there has been an explosion of more abstract thought and complex learning, bringing with it a massive range of possible concepts to think about. In prehistoric times there were no tax returns or underclass suburbs or female sex therapists with gruff voices and high media profiles. It’s a strange old world that we live in, and as synaesthesia involves our thoughts and perceptions of this world, it should probably look just as strange.


A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

Martin, Alex The Representation of Object Concepts in the Brain. Annual Review of Psychology. 2007. 58:25–45.
First published online September 1, 2006.
The Annual Review of Psychology is online at http://psych.annualreviews.org
This article’s doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190143

Ramachandran, V. S. The tell-tale brain: unlocking the mystery of human nature. William Heinemann, 2011.

I can’t believe it’s not synaesthesia! – embodied cognition

Yes indeed, this is a fascinating article from New Scientist magazine. This is the article that made me feel incredulous the first time that I read it last year, that the word “synaesthesia” was not even once mentioned in it, because it seemed to be an article about a number of different types of synaesthesia. I could go into details about why I believe this, but I’d risk restating most of the text of this two-page article. Basically, this is an article about embodied cognition. It is clear to me that the researchers studying embodied cognition have a lot to gain from sharing ideas with synaesthesia researchers (and synaesthetes), and vice versa.

A study by Australian academic Tobias Loetscher that was published in the journal Current Biology and another study by Daniel Casasanto, an academic in the Netherlands, which was published in the journal Cognition are discussed in this article. The “metaphor theory” of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is discussed. Much of this article seems to be very relevant to the idea proposed by some synaesthesia researchers that synaesthesia is the origin of metaphorical language. Wouldn’t synaesthesia or some very similar mental process be the link between study subjects’ emotional feelings of being socially isolated and their reported physical sensations of feeling physically colder?

Other parts of this article seem to be very relevant to, or a description of, number form synaesthesia and other mental mappings of concepts onto “spatial schema”. The study by Casasanto is about a psychological process that is very similar to the forward and backward vection that was the subject of the study in PLoS ONE that I discussed in a previous blog posting, in that it shows an influence on abstract thought from performing a physical task that focused the mind on one or other spatial directions. The vection study that I previously discussed was about backward and forward motion influencing abstract thought. The Casasanto study was about moving something upwards and moving something downwards influencing abstract thought.

Many of the more general conclusions in this article, based on the study findings, also seemed to be very relevant to my experiences of fine motor performances determining the content of my thoughts, often involving links with conceptual thinking, by a process that I believe is synaesthesia. “The results also led to a deeper question: does physical movement have the power to change not just the speed at which people talk, but also what they choose to talk – or even think – about?” A study by Casasanto found this to be true. “Isn’t that somewhat scary?” Casasanto asked. Yes, I think it is scary, but it is only by being aware of the irrational and arbitrary things that can influence cognition that we can ever hope to detect, control and transcend such influences.

Ananthaswamy, Anil Let your body do the thinking. New Scientist. Number 2753 March 27th 2010 p.8-9.

Two articles about embodied cognition from Miller-McCune:

Jacobs, Tom To feel good, reach for the sky. Miller-McCune. February 4th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/to-feel-good-reach-for-the-sky-8445/

Hilo, Jessica Power poses really work. Miller-McCune. November 15th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/power-poses-really-work-25322/

Moving forward with PLoS ONE – further evidence of a connection between abstract thinking and visual processing of scenes

I’ve just discovered that a study that was published last year in a major peer-reviewed science journal appears to support a theory that I thought of a long time ago, and I have also discovered that an element of this phenomenon that I have observed has a proper scientific name; “vection”. I first learned of the concept of vection while reading an article by Roger Highfield in the February 19th 2011 edition of New Scientist magazine. I have already briefly mentioned the idea of mine in an earlier post in this blog. My theory is based on the observation that the moving scenery that I unavoidably see while I am driving a vehicle appears to free up my mind like some magical brand of mental lubricant, with the effect that novel and original ideas come to me at an extraordinary rate, and I see connections and possible connections between things that I don’t think I’d ever create or grasp while doing any other activity. My theory is that the moving scenery taken into my mind visually creates the subjective sensation of moving forward (forward vection), and the forward vection somehow brings about a change in the way my brain operates so that the existing abundance of connectivity in my synaesthete brain is opened up to an even greater degree. This opening up is not a free-for-all. It does not result in mental chaos with rampant synaesthesia such as an assault of noisy vision or brightly coloured sounds. This opening up specifically seems to involve conceptual and language-related thinking, thinking at a level of cognition that is more sophisticated and abstract than sensory stuff.

I love the choice of words for the title of the PLoS ONE paper: “The meandering mind”. Meandering is the perfect word to describe the way my mind behaves while I am driving, or travelling a passenger in a moving vehicle watching the scenery flowing past. It is a mind that is paradoxically free to wander but is also paying attention to the important task of driving safely. What did the study reported in this journal find? I quote from the abstract:

“Participants performed a mundane vigilance task, during which they were expected to daydream, while viewing a display that elicited an illusion of self-motion (i.e., vection). Afterwards, the contents of their mind wandering experiences were probed. The results revealed that the direction of apparent motion influenced the temporal focus of mental time travel. While backward vection prompted thinking about the past, forward vection triggered a preponderance of future-oriented thoughts.”

So, this study’s finding appear to support the proposition that “higher cognitive activity can have a sensory-motor grounding”. This idea is completely in accord with many of the psychological/neurological experiences that I have reported in this blog, including the connections in my mind between concepts and visual scenes that act like illustrations for those concepts, and which can in some instances evoke thinking about its specific associated concept when viewed, and also including the apparent influence that forward vection has on certain characteristics of my thinking. I am amazed by the number of conceptual connections that I have discovered among my synaesthesia-related experiences, and also connections between these experiences and ideas and studies described in recently published journal papers. Connections everywhere! Just like my brain!

If you have been reading by blog posts about the links in my mind between concepts and scenes, you will not be surprised that my mind has a particular scene that is evoked in my mind’s eye when I think about the concept of forward vection freeing up the mind. It is a scene of a winding road that I often drive along, as seen from a driver’s seat. This particular stretch of road has a lot of shrubbery along the side of the road, which enhances the subjective visual sensation of moving forward.

I’ve got to wonder whether the Prime Minister Julia Gillard might have read this paper in PLoS ONE before she thought up her election catch-phrase “moving forward”. Perhaps she was hoping to evoke the sensation of forward vection by repeating her slogan over and over, unconsciously directing voters to consider the future rather than past deeds. Maybe in the next election we might see political advertisements utilizing scenes of travelling forward or backward in a moving vehicle, depending on whether the party wishes to direct the attention of voters to the future or the past. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Highfield, Roger Days of wonder. New Scientist. February 19th 2011 Number 2800. p.34-41. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928001.400-your-kitchen-sink-and-16-other-wonders-of-the-cosmos.html

Miles LK, Karpinska K, Lumsden J, Macrae CN The Meandering Mind: Vection and Mental Time Travel. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10825. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010825 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0010825

At First Sight by The Stems (1987)

Some more music from an old Perth band with a music clip that features scenes from WA from long ago. This clip includes many scenes from the grounds of the unforgettable Cottesloe Civic Centre. This place is connected to my synaesthesia because when I think of the concept of Charles Darwin (the biologist who gave us the theory of evolution) I see, as though it is an automatically appearing illustration or backdrop for the concept, particular scenes of the lower level of the grounds of this Civic Centre, the level that is, and has been for many years, a children’s playground. At one point in this music clip the band members are shown spinning around on the large metal roundabout that used to be found in this playground. I don’t think it has been there for a long time, as it did offer as many opportunities for serious injury as it did for fun. Lawyers design children’s playgrounds these days.

The Charles Darwin thing is fairly complex. Different scenes of this area are linked with different aspects of Darwin’s life. The concept of Darwin being a failed clergyman (and was he also a failed doctor?) while coming from an aristocratic family, leaving him with the opportunity to pursue a much more original, free-thinking, productive, influential and brilliant life triggers the vision of the scene around one of the stairways that lead down to this lower level of the civic centre grounds, as seen from the playground level. The concept of the death of one of the much-loved children of Charles Darwin and Darwin’s reflections on that sad event evokes a vision of the stairway that goes from the lower playground level to a street below, Overton Gardens, as viewed from the playground level.

I could speculate about why in my mind these concepts and these scenes have become wedded. It is easy to see how a person who has not travelled overseas might unconsciously view the grounds of the Cottesloe Civic Centre as a place to house the spirit of Charles Darwin. This place is like a little taste of living like an English Victorian aristocrat, with a grand estate on stunningly landscaped grounds. This is why it is an incredibly popular choice as a wedding venue. But why is Charles down in the kids’ playground? Did Charles Darwin ever really grow up? Did he ever get a real job? One could perhaps argue that his brilliant intellectual adventures were exploratory and unstructured and free like child’s play. Perhaps the stairs leading down to the playground symbolize Darwin’s descent to a lower level of the social ladder after failing to meet expectations regarding his career as an adult. Perhaps the stairway leading down from the children’s playground to exiting the civic centre grounds altogether is a suitable symbol for the death of a child. I know that I never consciously chose these symbols, and these neurological connections formed in a natural process.

At First Sight by The Stems (1986)

Another case of synaesthesia linking scenes and concepts, from Austin in Texas?

Could this be a description of a type of synaesthesia that involves connectons between whatever part of the brain encodes memories of concepts and the part of the brain that stores visual memories of scenes (the fusiform gyrus, I’d say)? This listing of very idiosyncratic associations between places and concepts looks very similar to descriptions that I have written about some of my synaesthesia experiences in reports recently published at this blog.

One thing that I have noticed about this list of concepts is that none of them appear to date back to childhood (unless these concepts are from the mind of a child prodigy). These concepts are generally complex, technical and grown-up.