Tag Archives: Emotional Synaesthesia

SYNAESTHESIA IS NOT A CROSSING OF THE SENSES, BECAUSE CONCURRENTS ARE MEMORIES OR LEARNED ASSOCIATIONS, NOT EXPERIENCES!

I thought I’d share my response to question that I saw posted on the internet “What is it like to have “crossing” of the senses known as synesthesia?

It is nothing like a “crossing of the senses”, because that is not what it is or how it works, regardless of the countless times that clueless non-synaesthete academics have described it that way. I do not see a colour in response to a sound instead of hearing a sound. My senses of smell, taste, vision and the other senses are normal or good for my age. Another way in which synaesthesia is not a crossing of the senses is the countless types of synaesthesia that do not have simple sensory experiences as either inducers or concurrents. Sometimes thinking of a very specific concept will trigger for a very brief time a visual memory of a scene of a place that I visited decades ago, as it looked then. The inducer is purely abstract, not sensory, and the concurrent is a memory of a visual nature. Clearly the concurrent is not a sensory experience because it is not a scene that I saw at that time, md also because the scene was the way the place looked many years ago, not as it looked at that time. This type of synaesthesia, a type that I experience quite often among many other more widely-known types of synaesthesia, is a memory of a visual sensory experience, and is not an actual sensory experience. If I actually thought that my synaesthesia concurrents were real sensory experiences, I’d be fit for a psychiatric institution, because that would be a type of hallucination.

Clearly synaesthesia as a phenomenon that involves memory, or the neural processes that give rise to memory, because numerous studies have found various types of memory superiority associated with various types of synaesthesia, often these links being between memory and synaesthesia centred upon the same areas of mental processing. This is one of the intriguing things that I have noticed about my own synaesthesia, which inspired me to write the very first post in this blog, about The Strange Phenomenon, which is an unusual and not previously described type of synaesthesia in which the inducer is a specific face viewed from a very specific angle and the concurrent is a memory of another person’s (similar) face and entire persona (face, mannerisms, personality, voice). This repeated experience linking synaesthesia with face memory prompted me to do face memory tests, including the short form of the CFMT, and unexpectedly discover my own status as a super-recognizer, a form of memory superiority in face memory.

Synaesthesia is not hallucination and synaesthetes generally understand that concurrents are not real, current sensory experiences. We understand this because we can see set patterns among groups of inducers and concurrents and know what to expect because of the great reliability of these associations between thoughts that belong in set categories. An example would be grapheme colour synaesthesia, in which most of the letters of the alphabet (a category) are individually reliably asspcoated with specific colours (another category). The way this trype of syanesthesia is experienced is more like learning or knowledge than the rapid and fleeting triggering of memories, but Iguess learning and knowledge are based on memory. With some more rarely-experienced types of synaesthesia with concurrents that seem like current sensory experiences (as in my white chocolate-flavoured hugs synaesthesia), I have been able to pick them as synaesthesia concurrents or sensory memories rather than hallucination or normal sensory experiences because the sensations are extremely brief in duration – they flash in and out of the mind in an instant, or hit like a bolt of lightning, leaving you wondering, and if I hadn’t made the effort to keep a record of these associations by writing them down, they would be quickly forgotten and not obvious as instances of synaesthesia due to their ephemeral nature. These sensations or experiences cannot be mistaken as normal sensory experiences. I think anyone who describes their synaesthesia as hard to pick from reality or like a hallucination, or constantly-occurring, is probably lying, or at least confused.

A note of warning – If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, ideas or descriptions in this post or using it in your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and my objection will be well publicized. If you believe that you published any of these ideas before I did, please let me know the details in a comment on this article. If you want to make reference to this blog post or any of the ideas in it make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about these ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this post be sure to cite this post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog. Thank you.

Are these forms of synesthesia?

Synesthesia, at and near its borders. Lawrence Marks and Catherine Mulvenna Frontiers in Psychology. 2013; 4: 651. Published online 2013 September 26. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00651

http://www.daysyn.com/MarksandMulvenna2013.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3783847/

I would say a definite “yes”  that SENSORY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MEMORY or the PROUST PHENOMENON described in this paper is related to synaesthesia, in fact I would say it is a type of synaesthesia. Just look at how it works; there is a trigger and a triggered experience like in synaesthesia, both are highly specific and can be highly idiosyncratic, there is a set connection between the both, the phenomenon is involuntary and automatic, and the Proust phenomenon is considered to be a type of memory and many of my observations at this blog have demonstrated that synaesthesia can involve memory, is an element of the “method of loci” memory technique and I would argue operates like memory. Yes, Yes, Yes, the Proust Phenomenon is a close relative of synaesthesia. I would even speculate that synaesthetes might experience the Proust Phenomenon more often than others and some people who aren’t synaesthetes maybe never experience the Proust Phenomenon.

Shaunacy Being In Love Makes Water Taste Sweeter. Australian Popular Science. 17 Oct 2013.

http://www.popsci.com.au/science/being-in-love-makes-water-taste-sweeter

I was stunned when I first read this article about a set of studies (details below) that could be regarded as investigations of flavoured emotion synaesthesia experienced by study subjects who are not known to be synaesthetes. I was stunned because the effect of hightened experiencing of the taste of sweetness when primed to be thinking about of experiencing love described in this article seems to be very similar to my own rare experiences of white chocolate flavoured hugs, from the time when one of our kids was an incredibly cute preschooler. All money is on the theory that my anterior cingulate cortex was being activated at that moment, in a big way.

Chan, Kai Qin; Tong, Eddie M. W.; Tan, Deborah H.; Koh, Alethea H. Q. What do love and jealousy taste like? Emotion. Vol 13(6), Dec 2013, 1142-1149.

http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2013-32692-001

Faces, faces everywhere

I’ve been following with great interest the Mindscapes series of articles in New Scientist magazine by Helen Thompson. This week is no less fascinating, maybe even more. It’s about a man whose personality changed following two strokes, paradoxically transforming from criminality to sensitivity, with the strokes also triggering an unstoppable surge of artistic creativity. The artist’s name was Tommy McHugh. He passed away last year. Such artists by virtue of brain transformation are sometimes labelled as acquired savants, and the interesting thing is that they often seem to experience synaesthesia, which raises the question of whether they were always synaesthetes or perhaps synaesthesia is latent in all people, and can be uncovered by changes in brain functioning. What especially interests me about McHugh’s art is the extraordinary focus on faces in his paintings and also sculptures, many of them having such subtle depictions of multiple faces that they could be described as a celebration of pareidolia. Colour is also clearly an aspect of visual experience that McHugh enjoyed experimenting with. I was also struck by McHugh’s description of what it was like to have the first stroke; when he woke up in hospital he saw a tree sprouting numbers. That sounds like just the type of non-psychotic hallucination that Oliver Sacks described in his recent book Hallucinations. It is my understanding that faces, colour and graphemes including numbers are all processed in the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus is also believed to be involved in at least some types of synaesthesia. I know about this stuff because I have experienced synaesthesia involving faces, graphemes, colours and just about everything that goes on in the fusiform gyrus, and I’m apparently naturally gifted in face memory ability. It looks as though McHugh could also have experienced synaesthesia, judging by the title of one painting “Feeling the Feelings Tasting Emotions”. Yes, I’ve experienced that too. A few years ago I speculated that the famous synaesthete Bauhaus artist Kandinsky showed a focus on the things processed in the fusiform gyrus in one of his paintings (Upward), including a face that could be missed by viewers not gifted with a goodly dose of pareidolia.  This might be what happens when your fusiform gyrus gets off it’s leash, and McHugh insisted that it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23523-mindscapes-stroke-turned-excon-into-rhyming-painter.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_pictures_gallery/index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_sculptures_gallery/es_index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/index.html

Added an afterthought to a recent post

Did the police and everyone else get it wrong? http://wp.me/p1dnAW-qH

Another aspect of interest in the above linked post is one comment in it, which is off the topic of the post, but I don’t mind. It is a comment from Michael who wrote that he experiences a type of coloured face / aura synaesthesia that involves emotions, similar to the other fascinating cases described in the synesthesia study by Spanish researchers published this March in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, which I wrote about in a post at this blog, and would like to find the time to write more about, but probably wont.

Other cases of synaesthesia involving face perception – I’m certainly not the only one.  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/other-cases-of-synaesthesia-involving-face-perception-im-certainly-not-the-only-one/

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

“In short, for our person–colour synaesthetes the inducer can be sensorial, semantic or a motor one: An emotion, an action, an attitude, facial recognition or sense of familiarity. Then we can speak of synaesthesia, ideaesthesia (Nikolic, 2009) and kinetoesthesia.”

That is a quote from a very interesting paper by Spanish psychology researchers that was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in March of this year. So we have a case of synaesthesia involving facial recognition described in a science journal. So I’m not the only one in the world. I never thought I was the only one, in fact I think I might have predicted that other cases must exist, somewhere in this blog, based on the observation that functions of the fusiform gyrus are so often involved in the various types of synesthesia (colour perception, letter recognition, word recognition) and face recognition is another function of the fusiform gyrus. I have given a special name to my own experience of facial recognition synaesthesia – “The Strange Phenomenon”, and I described it in great detail in the very first post in this blog. This blog was created as a record of my search to find a scientific explanation for The Strange Phenomenon. The authors of the March 2012 paper also found action-related synaesthesia, which is another unusual type of synaesthesia that I experience which I have also described in detail in this blog. I often experience images in my mind’s eye of sometimes very old memories of landscape scenes from my past triggered by doing fine-motor household chores with my hands.

The question needs to be asked – why have Spanish researchers been able to discover and describe such interesting and complex cases of synaesthesia, while there don’t seem to be comparable case studies from the UK or the US? I’ve never seen people -> animal synaesthesia described or even mentioned as a possibility before reading the fascinating paper that was published in March in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. Perhaps the apparently negative attitude of V. S. Ramachandran towards synaesthete subjects of study gives a clue as to why more interesting synaesthesia case studies seem to be missing from research from English-speaking countries. The famous Rama’s habit of describing synesthesia as a scrambling of the brain grates the first time one reads it and gets very, very old once I’ve seen it in print a few times. On the other hand, perhaps there is nothing wrong with Anglophone synaesthesia researchers, and it is simply the case that the Spanish have more interesting minds, including Spanish synaesthetes. Having viewed paintings by Dali and photos of buildings by Gaudi and witnessed a strikingly original and often quite dangerous performance by La Fura Dels Baus at the Perth International Arts Festival a couple of years ago, I could believe that.

E.G. Milán, O. Iborra, M. Hochel, M.A. Rodríguez Artacho, L.C. Delgado-Pastor, E. Salazar, A. González-Hernández Auras in mysticism and synaesthesia: A comparison. Consciousness and Cognition.  Volume 21 Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 258–268. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810011002868  (This paper is clearly a translation and difficult reading in parts)

Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’. ScienceDaily. May 4th 2012http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120504110024.htm

Ramachandran VS, Miller L, Livingstone MS, Brang D. Colored halos around faces and emotion-evoked colors: A new form of synesthesia. Neurocase. Available online: 25 Nov 2011.  DOI:10.1080/13554794.2011.608366. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13554794.2011.608366   http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~dbrang/images/Ramachandran_NNCS_InPress.pdf

Ramachandran VS The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011http://www.amazon.com/The-Tell-Tale-Brain-Neuroscientists-Quest/dp/0393077829  http://books.google.com.au/books/about/The_Tell_Tale_Brain.html?id=Y5vLDglww74C&redir_esc=y (Robert with coloured face aura synaesthesia indicating emotions percieved in others and also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome described on pages 101-102.)

Thomson, Helen Is this proof that spooky auras are real? Short Sharp Science (blog at New Scientist) 14 November 2010. http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/34lNK2/www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/11/auras.html?utm_source=KurzweilAI+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0ab5dd44ff-UA-946742-1&utm_medium=email/r:t