A Swiss psychiatrist made to look an ass by synaesthete kids. I love it.
A. Reichard, G., Jakobson, R., & Werth, E. (1949). Language and synesthesia. Word, 5(2), 224-233.
A Swiss psychiatrist made to look an ass by synaesthete kids. I love it.
A. Reichard, G., Jakobson, R., & Werth, E. (1949). Language and synesthesia. Word, 5(2), 224-233.
Whenever I see the colours chocolate brown and forest green together, in any context, that makes me think of the taste and mouth-feel of chocolate with mint brittle or mint cracknel, as exemplified by the Peppermint Crisp bar:
Whenever I see the colours forest green and white together, in any context, I think of Kool Mints which I believe were produced in those colours when I was a child. I can even get this effect through grapheme-colour synaesthesia triggered by numbers. For example, the street number of a house that I once lived in evokes the concept of Kool Mints.
Whenever is see one of those cute, rounded, new but retro-styled cars with perfect glossy paint in a brownish tint, it makes me think of flavoured rice-cream or some other flavoured milky desert in the applicable flavour for the colour, such as caramel ricecream, coffee cream desert, chocolate ricecream etc.
On the odd occasion when I’m near a helicopter and hear its engine at close range, or hear one operating under a load, that sound makes me think of the uniquely wonderful smell of a steak and onion pie.
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.
I wonder where they got the idea for these studies:
Jamie Ward, Peter Hovard, Alicia Jones, and Nicolas Rothen Enhanced recognition memory in grapheme-color synaesthesia for different categories of visual stimuli. Frontiers in Psychology. 2013 Oct 24;4:762. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00762. eCollection 2013.
I guess it’s nice to see ideas that I have been exploring for years at this blog supported by research. Did you notice that this paper has the same publisher and the same month of publication as that paper, and one of the authors of this paper was an editor of that paper? I think I recognize a pattern.
You think you’re good at recognizing faces? Then tell me please, what is the most famous acting role of the actor who plays the grandmother in the TV show episode linked to below? I’ll give you a hint – in her most famous role her facial features were modified and she wore some pretty noticeable makeup. And here’s another hint – her real name is a red-coloured first name with a surname that tastes of caramel ricecream (which you can’t buy in the shops any more).
Someone shared a photo of those colored wooden rods which were used to teach maths in primary schools in WA in the 1970s on Facebook. These ones had colours that were faded and drab compared to most photos of Cuisenaire Rods which can be found on the internet. Perhaps the rods that they provided for young students in WA schools faded with age or after being washed. I was quite amazed to see that six out of the ten digits represented by the rods in the WA photo were in colours that roughly correspond to my colour-grapheme synaesthesia for numbers. One of the rod colours was pretty close. I don’t think this is a coincidence. One of the numbers that was not a match for the rods in colour was indeed a match for the old Australian paper dollar note for that number.
Does finding a learned origin for my synaesthesia associations show that my synaesthesia is not “biological” or genuine? No it doesn’t. Synaesthesia researchers know that syn is a thing that develops at around the age when kids are being educated with tools such as these rods, and it is known that there are cultural/linguistic influences on grapheme-color synesthesia.
This is a link to some Cuisenaire Rods for sale. The colours are a bit different to the ones I used as a kid:
If you have been reading this blog for a long time you’d know I’ve been trying to figure out which parts of my brain are responsible for my synaesthesia and related experiences. I’ve found that the right fusiform gyrus is a part of the brain that comes up over and over again, in relation to synaesthesia and also face recognition I experience many types of synaesthesia and also have achieved scores in face recognition tests consistent with being a super-recognizer, so this combination seems significant, and despite a lack of any evidence from other case studies linking synaesthesia with superior ability in face recognition, I still think it is a possible relationship that should be scientifically investigated, especially in light of a pattern of associations which I believe suggests that synaesthesia might be a neuropsychological condition that could be seen as the opposite of Benson’s syndrome, which is a type of dementia that involves a loss of visual perception, apparently including a loss of face recognition ability. While synesthesia is generally an inborn developmental condition, and Benson’s or PCA a neurodegenerative condition with a typical onset late in life, I’ve still got to wonder whether inborn factors contribute towards Benson’s. While Benson’s is considered to be a variant of Alzheimer’s, I don’t think anyone knows why it causes deterioration in different areas of the brain as are affected by Alzheimer’s, apparently the same parts of the brain (at the rear) that appear to be enhanced or hyperactive in my brain, and I also doubt that anyone knows why Benson’s has an onset earlier than Alzheimer’s disease. I’m sceptical of the idea that Benson’s is just Alzheimer’s of the back-end of the brain. I suspect that immune system elements microglia and complement might be central to an explanation for Benson’s syndrome. Reading Dr B. Croisile’s paper about Benson’s I’m struck by the many very strange effects of Benson’s on perception, and I wonder at the ways in which a study of it might inform science about the workings of the brain. I think it is at least as interesting as synaesthesia, which attracts a lot of attention from researchers. Apparently people with Benson’s cannot imitate movements. Does this mean that the mirror-neuron system which so many neuroscientists have gotten so excited about is located at the rear of the brain? I note that the inferior parietal cortex is one of the parts of the brain that are thought to house mirror neurons.
When I set out to write this post I had actually planned to write about a fairly recent review journal paper focusing on recent research about the most common and well-known types of synaesthesia: coloured hearing, coloured graphemes and time units in space synaesthesia. I really like the paper cited below by Professor Karsten Specht from the University of Bergen in Norway, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about the latest knowledge about synaesthesia from just one paper. I only have a couple of gripes about he paper. I wouldn’t describe synaesthesia as “rare” as Specht does. Ward, Sagiv and Butterworth wrote in 2009 that around 12% of the population have number forms, and that estimate doesn’t surprise me. Synaesthesia in general can’t be rare if it includes one type that isn’t rare. Time-space synaesthesia or number forms is one type of synaesthesia which the synaesthete can have but not suspect that it is synesthesia, or anything out of the ordinary, so I’d guess it could be very much under-reported and under-estimated. My other gripe with Professor Specht’s paper is this bit; “In recent years, several studies have attempted to investigate whether synaesthesia is primarily a perceptual or conceptual phenomenon.” I think Specht is here presenting the reader with a false dichotomy. In some of the types of synaesthesia and related phenomena which I experience sensory perception, memory and conceptual thinking are connected with synaesthesthetic linkages, so I doubt that there is much point in trying to characterise synaesthesia as one or another type of phenomenon. I was very excited when I read the book Beyond Human Nature by philosopher Jesse Prinz. Professor Prinz argued that we think in mental images rather than in language. He wrote that “It used to be thought that the back part of the brain is used for perceiving and the front is used for thinking. But we now know that the back part of the brain, where most of the senses are located, is very active when people think. Moreover, we know that the front part of the brain does not work on its own, but rather coordinates and reactivates sensory patterns in the back. Recent evidence from Linda Chao and Alex Martin has shown that reading activates the same areas as looking at pictures, suggesting that we visualize what we read.” In a post that I wrote a while ago I described involuntarily “seeing” in my mind’s eye visual images of landscapes and building interiors from imagination and memory while listening to an autobiographical audio-book. I thought it was probably related to synaesthesia, but it appears that everyone’s brain illustrates text with images when reading. Perhaps synaesthetes do this to a greater degree or in a way that is more available to conscious awareness.
Anyway, back to Specht’s paper. Having read it I now suspect that the parts of my brain that are bigger or better connected or more active or something are: the right fusiform gyrus (including the FFA), the left parietal lobe including the left intraparietal sulcus, the right inferior parietal lobe, the hippocampus (I’m sure is involved with IMLM) and the parahippocampal gyrus. I’d guess that these are the places where interesting things are happening. It appears that the role of the parietal lobe in synaesthesia has been understated in the past. It is now thought that synaesthesia does not solely involve the cross-activation of two different sensory areas (as if it was ever that simple!), but it also requires a “binding” process to happen in the parietal lobe. There is no underestimating the importance of this binding.
If you are as interested in synaesthesia and bits of the brain as I am, you might also like to read a much longer journal paper by Rouw, Scholte and Colizoli that was published last year. It is available in full text at no cost, but I don’t think it covers non-colour types of synaesthesia. Details can be found below. One part of the parietal lobe mentioned in that paper, which is cited by a few studies as involved with synaesthesia is the inferior parietal lobule (IPL, Brodmann areas 39 and 40). It is also known as Geschwind’s territory because the neurologist Geschwind predicted in the 1960s that the parietal lobe played a role in language, and was proven right when the IPL was found to include a second connection between Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, which are of central importance in language. The IPL is very interesting as a part of the brain involved in synaesthesia because according to a 2004 article in New Scientist magazine the IPL matures at a late age, between the ages of five and seven years, which just happens to be time in life when children typically learn the ability to read and write, and it is also the age range in which some children develop grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I find this very interesting because in my family we have at least three closely related grapheme-colour synaesthetes who are unusually high achievers in reading and writing in testing and academic achievement. Two of these synaesthetes were early readers and also talented at language learning. What’s the betting that some gene that alters the development of the IPL is behind this? The author of the most interesting little science magazine article that brought me this news, Alison Motluk, is herself a synaesthete. Is it just a coincidence that a journalist with a well-connected brain has pointed out a number of interestingly related facts that are connected around the conceptual hub of the inferior parietal lobule?
Specht, Karsten Synaesthesia: cross activations, high interconnectivity, and a parietal hub. Translational Neuroscience. Volume 3 Number 1 (2012), 15-21, DOI: 10.2478/s13380-012-0007-z
Croisile, Bernard Benson’s syndrome or Posterior Cortical Atrophy. Orphanet. September 2004. http://www.orpha.net/data/patho/GB/uk-Benson.pdf
Ward, Jamie, Sagiv, Noam and Butterworth, Brian The impact of visuo-spatial number forms on simple arithmetic. Cortex. Volume 45 Issue 10Pages 1261-1265 (November 2009). http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(09)00213-5/abstract
Rouw, Romke, Scholte, H. Steven, Colizoli, Olympia Brain areas involved in synaesthesia: A review. Journal of Neuropsychology. Special Issue: Synaesthesia. September 2011 Volume 5 Issue 2 p.214-242. Article first published online: 16 SEP 2011 DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-6653.2011.02006.x/full
Motluk, Alison Two links good for kids’ language comphrehension. New Scientist. Issue 2478. December 18th 2004. p.12. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18424784.300-second-link-discovered-in-human-language-circuit.html
I have just added more text to an old post about sculptures in a park/playground in the Perth suburbs and synaesthesia. I have briefly described some types or nuances of synaesthesia that I experience, which could be things that are new to synaesthesia research. To me they are pretty ordinary experiences.
Recommended – The Synesthesia Battery from the laboratory of Dr David Eagleman at Baylor College of Medicine. http://www.synesthete.org/ (you will need to set aside a bit of time for this, and it only identifies some types of synaesthesia)
A Spanish synaesthesia test? http://www.artecitta.es/ARTECITTA/sinestesia/test/index.html
A screensaver which causes motion to sound synesthesia in some people, from New Scientist magazine’s YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLhuRIeHj6Q
Revised Test of Genuineness (TOG-R) – 2006 journal paper about it http://www.autismresearchcentre.com/docs/papers/2006_Asher.pdf http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(08)70337-X/abstract
A synaesthesia screening questionnaire used by researchers at the University of Cambridge https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDFwb0tWem5kYW9IOHE2RXMzNXpvV1E6MQ#gid=0
Can letters of the alphabet be people? This lower-case letter E has ears, so I guess it must be true! This is a photo of another sculpture at Piney Lakes which could be interpreted as an exploration of the experience of ordinal linguistic personification synaesthesia. I’d like to make it clear that these sculptures are not my work, and I have no idea whether the artist who created these delightful works was a synesthete. My photos are a few years old, so be advised that they might not reflect how things currently are at this location.
I haven’t been to the Piney Lakes Sensory Playground for a few years, but as I remember it, it was a delightful playground for kids of a range of ages, and quite unique among Perth playgrounds because of it’s striking and amusing top-quality sculptures in a range of styles, many of them usable as play props, and it was also outstanding for the way that the landscape of the area is interesting and an adventure for younger kids and a play element in it’s own right. There was one of those big climbing-net things in the inner area of the playground, and a sand area and a fairly limited range of moving play equipment. Beyond the playground were some fake lakes with frogs (they sounded like tiny crinias, heard but not seen), bike paths and a boardwalk, and beyond the grassed area there was natural bushland surrounding the actual swampy small lake, which had a variety of interesting sculptures around it. This whole area could have changed since then. I hope it hasn’t.
The set of sculptures depicting letters of the alphabet at the Pinely Lakes playground are there as a word puzzle for the children to search for, so I guess one can assume that this was the only inspiration for their creation, and personification synaesthesia might have had nothing to do with it. Whatever the case, as a synaesthete who involuntarily sees letters as personified with characteristics such as genders and personalities, and also displaying bodily orientations and sometimes facial expressions and also their own colours (grapheme colour synaesthesia), I am charmed by the way that many of the letter sculptures at Piney Lakes are congruent with my own synaesthesia. The ears on the silvery lower case letter E sculpture are placed in just the right spot for the letter to depict something like a smiling face facing toward what I see as the right side of the text. This is how I see the letter E personified, but the silver colour is not congruent with my colour for the letter E. The letter Y at the playground is completely congruent with my synaesthesia, being bright yellow and of an active and playful disposition. I very much enjoy that colourful sculpture. There are two letter Ss at the playground, one in a colour that is the same as my letter S, but written backwards, the other delightfully psychedelic and imposing. The giant O is also pretty-much “the right colour”. You can see why I like this place so much! I think of it as “Synaesthesia Park”, a playground of the mind.