Tag Archives: Movement Synaesthesia

Another eureka moment

On Sunday I had one of those fabulous moments of scientific insight as I saw the connections between scientific observations from different sources. It was more exciting than it sounds. Details later if I find the time and motivation for more blogging.

Oops, I followed a wrong turn in the path of scientific progress

There I was getting excited about research into embodied cognition and I was observing how much it seemed to resemble types of synaesthesia that I experience which are triggered by spatial experience or movement, and I read a book about embodied cognition and was very impressed, but then I read the below article in Science about projects with the aim of replicating some influential studies in psychology and social psychology, some of them about embodied cognition, and apparently a number of studies that were thought to demonstrate embodied cognition and also behaviour priming were re-studied but the findings were not replicated. These recent studies attempting to replicate classic studies in social psychology were published in the latest issue of the journal Social Psychology. Even worse, one pioneer in the area of embodied cogniton is facing accusations of research misconduct, according to the Science article. Could the field of embodied cognition be saved from oblivion by looking for effects that can be replicated, and then considering them a possible variants of synaesthesia?

Bohannon, John Replication effort provokes praise—and ‘bullying’ charges. Science. 23 May 2014: Vol. 344 no. 6186 pp. 788-789
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6186.788


Nosek, Brian A. and  Lakens, Daniël (guest editors) Social Psychology. Volume 45 Number 3 2014.



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

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.

The idea that Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA, a variety of dementia, is caused or develops in a way that can be seen as the opposite of the synaesthesia linked with exceptional visual memory and literacy skills that runs in my family (this idea has been explored previously in this blog).

The idea that the above cited states develop or are caused in a way that makes them seem like opposites because they both affect the same or similar areas of the brain, but in opposite ways.

The idea that the above described process happens because Benson’s syndrome and our variety of synaesthesia are both mediated by the same or similar natural chemical or cells or biological agent in the brain, one caused by high levels of the mystery substance and the other caused by low levels (a hypothesis that I briefly suggested in January 2011).

The idea that one of the many known or unknown elements of the immune system that impact brain development is the mystery substance referred to above (a hypothesis that I briefly outlined in 2012).

The (implied in above ideas) idea of the immune hypothesis of synaesthesia. (This idea was first published by me in 2012 in a blog post archived here, was I believe plagiarized in 2013 here, and was the subject of my plagiarism claim here.)

The idea that one or more of the complement immune chemicals is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that the C3 complement immune chemical  is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that synaesthesia is linked with one or maybe more immune diseases or conditions caused by low levels of complement.

The idea that genes for synaesthesia stay quite common in the gene pool because of some associated cognitive advantage (probably superior memory) that balances out any disadvantages caused by deficiencies in the immune system.

The idea that some or many people unintentionally experience a memory process that operates in a similar way to the method of loci memory technique in their everyday lives, unintentionally forming long-term associations between individual learned concepts and individual visual memories of scenes (I have named this phenomenon Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization or IMLM).

The idea that IMLM operates in such a similar way to synaesthesia that one could argue that it is a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes are more likely to experience IMLM than non-synaesthetes.

The (implied) idea that the method of loci memory technique is similar to or a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes might have a natural advantage in using the method of loci because the method of loci is similar to or is a type of  synaesthesia. This idea that seems likely in light of the case of “S” the Russian memory performer with many types of synaesthesia described by Luria. 

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span and can thus be used as an indicator of which synaesthetes are synaesthetes due to enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span rather than other possible causes of synaesthesia. Support for this idea comes from the fact that IMLM appears to be a non-developmental variety of synaesthesia that can form new long-term associations in adolescence and adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by the unusual possession of levels of synaptic plasticity typical of a young child, during adolescence or adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is caused or enhanced by some characteristic of the immune system that affects the functioning of the brain. Many different elements of the incredibly complex immune system are thought to affect the functioning or development of the brain, and could thus be involved in IMLM, including the complement system, microglia and the MHC class I molecules. Researchers such as Beth Stevens and Carla Shatz have investigated this exciting area of neuroscience. In 2012 I hypothesized at this blog that synaesthesia could be caused by low levels of complement, this idea implying that the immune system is directly involved in synaesthesia (or at least some cases of synaesthesia). I believe these ideas were plagiarized in a paper published in 2013.

The idea that IMLM is similar to the “Proust phenomenon” in that it is very similar to synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia and involves episodic or autobiographical memory as a concurrent.

The idea that phonics as a foundational reading skill is similar to or is arguably a type of synaesthesia in that it involves the involuntary association of individual speech sounds with individual printed letters or combinations of letters, as the result of learning in early to mid childhood.

The idea that at least one type of dyslexia is like a deficiency of synaesthesia.

The implied idea that if synaesthesia has as it’s basis hyperconnectivity in the white matter of the brain, dyslexia as an opposite of synaesthesia or a deficiency of synaesthesia is or could be caused by hypoconnectivity in the white matter of the brain (I suspect there might be existing research evidence that supports this idea).

The implied idea that in at least one cluster or grouping of cases synaesthesia is associated with superiority in literacy or reading skill.

The idea that synaesthesia can happen in different regions of the brain, and because of this the experience of various types of synaesthesia can vary in detectable ways because of the influence on the synaesthesia of the varied ways that different areas of the brain operate. This can mean that one synaesthete can experience different types of synaesthesia that operate in very different ways, for example, some types of synaesthesia more rare or spontaneous or intrusive than other types. (I am not completely sure of the originality or the novelty of all of this idea.)

The idea that there is an association between synaesthesia and super-recognition that is not merely coincidental.

The idea that synaesthesia is a type of memory or learning. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact).

The idea that synaesthesia concurrents are re-experienced memories, or re-activated “learnings” of concepts, not perceptions. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact). In support of this idea I can assert that synaesthesia is like face recognition in that both are visual memory-based phenomena which are subject to the Verbal Overshadowing Effect or something very similar. My assertion that synaesthesia is subject to the verbal overshadowing effect is based on my own observations (outlined elsewhere in this post).

The idea that super-recognizers should or could be trained and employed as expert consultants in the practice of medical genetics.

The idea that medical geneticists and all types of medical specialists need to have a super-recognizer level of face memory or face recognition ability, so that they can intuitively and quickly recognize medical facies.

The idea that there is no clear point of distinction between medical facies or faces associated with genetic syndromes and normal faces.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify blood relatives of a person or persons.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify the specific ethnicity of a person.

(below ideas added January 28th 2014)

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could develop as the result of an unusual level of fascination with the visual appearance of landscapes or scenes, rather than from a fascination with faces, and thus be a side-effect hyper-development of a part of the brain that serves two similar functions.

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could, at least  in some cases, develop as the result of a general hyper-development of the visual sense to compensate for problems in the auditory sense during childhood such as temporary deafness, recurrent ear infections, glue ear or poor auditory processing.

(below idea added February 1st 2014)

The idea that lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is an exaggerated form of some kind of evolutionary adaptation in the brain that biologically primes the mind to attend to or react to speech on the subject of food (this idea was discussed at this blog in a post dated January 27th 2011, with more consideration in a later post).

(below ideas added February 6th 2014)

The idea that creativity might be immediately enhanced during and only during the duration of physical or visual-spatial activity because the activity activates areas of the brain associated with movement and in turn these areas activate other areas of the brain including those that give rise to conceptual thinking, and the increased activation makes novel associations between diverse thoughts and concepts more likely, and that this process is like synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia, and the types of physical activity that are the most effective inducers of this effect might be highly specific, highly specific in effects, highly varied between individuals and highly idiosyncratic, as is typical of synaesthesia inducers and concurrents. Driving a car can act as an inducer of this effect. (I have gone some way to exploring this idea in past posts.)

The idea that mental flexibility might be immediately enhanced by the above effect, which I will name “movement – thought-flexibility synaesthesia”.

The idea that thinking might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that memory might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that the above effect is similar to embodied cognition or is a type of embodied cognition.

(below ideas added February 14th  and  February 20th 2014)

The idea that synaesthesia is like the process of face recognition (and vice versa), because they both

– are subject to the verbal overshadowing effect or something similar

– are automatic

– are involuntary

– have a sensory inducer, in face recognition always visual, in synaesthesia I think most frequently visual

– have or can have a concurrent that could be described as a memory, a concept or a personality (I’m comparing face recognition with personification synaesthesias and the synaesthesias that I have described at this blog which have visual memories of scenes as concurrents)

– are or can be visual in both the inducer and concurrent

– typically involve the fusiform gyrus

– involve set pairings of inducers and concurrents (same person’s face seen before then recognized later)

– involve set parings of highly specific inducers and concurrents (I recognize that an employee at my local supermarket has a sister who has just started working there too, as their faces and bodies and hair are near-identical, but for the extra acne and the more receding chin of the new employee. They are very similar in appearance but my discrimination is highly specific, just as I can recognize that the green wall on the lower floor of a public library is close to but not quite the same colour as Tuesday.)

– both can have, but do not always have an actual face as an inducer (we can recognize the faces of celebrities in photos, caricatures and art, even seeing Marilyn Monroe’s face in a pattern of brown coffee cups stuck to the wall at the coffee shop at the art gallery.)

(below idea added February 17th 2014)

“My particular interest in personification is my own theory that personification synaesthesia (as experienced by myself) or something like it gives rise to superiority in face memory (or being a super-recognizer) by naturally making the faces of unknown people more memorable and interesting”

The above is a quote from an article that was published at the blog in October 2013.

(below ideas added February 19th 2014)

The idea that the synaesthesia brain is the result of the developmental influence or shaping from, or the adaptation to, the behavioural phenomenon of “flow” as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The idea that synaesthesia, intellectual giftedness or high IQ and autism or Asperger syndrome seem to coincide more often than chance because gifted and autistic kids are more likely to experience “flow” and this in turn can influence the developing brain in a way that gives rise to synaesthesia.

(below ideas added February 20th 2014)

The idea that the genuine conscious awareness of synaesthesia is a threshold phenomenon that operates in conflict or competition with conscious thinking, meaning that consciously thinking about synaesthesia can inferfere with the perception of concurrents, and synaesthesia must reach a particular level of intensity before it interrupts the experience of consciousness and becomes itself the subject of conscious awareness. I think that the idea that thinking about synaesthesia can interfere with the perception of synaesthesia might be related to the “verbal overshadowing” effect which has been described and debated about by researchers. In fairness I should point out that Mark C. Price speculated in the recently published (2013) Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia that synaesthesia could be subject to the verbal overshadowing effect. My own ideas were arrived upon independently from Price’s writing or work.  I base the ideas of synaesthesia being a threshold phenomenon which can also be interfered with by conscious thinking on a number of my own observations. In direct contradiction to what I had expected to find, my scores for accuracy for individual letters and numbers in The Synesthesia Battery (a scientifically-validated online test of synaesthesia) were lower for the numbers and letters that have colours that I find beautiful and which I have thought about to some degree, while my best accuracy was for the numbers and letters that have the dull and ugly colours. It seems the less I think about the concurrents the more accurately I can percieve them when they are evoked. I have also noticed that most of the types of synaesthesia that I experience I was not consciously aware of before I started to think about and examine the idea of synaesthesia. I never realised that I had complete stability in the colours I associate with months and days of the week till I tested myself. While I had a dim awareness of colour colouring my thoughts, I’d not realised that this worked like synaesthesia till I went looking for a pattern using simple testing. My fine motor movement-visual memories of scenes synaesthesia evokes concurrents that are so fleetingly and subtly experienced that they just feel like random thoughts, and indeed I now believe it is possible that the random thoughts of many or even all people are in fact synaesthesia of various types. I have also observed that there are some very unsubtle and intrusive types of syn that I experience, and they are typically rarely experienced and are associated with people, emotions, faces, singing voices or music that I find striking or novel as inducers. Because of the circumstances of these examples of synaesthesia, I think some kind of threshold is being breached when these types of synaesthesia are experienced by me.

The idea that one of the established defining criteria for synaesthesia, that it gives rise to perceptions or concurrents which are “consistent and generic (i.e., simple rather than pictorial)”, is wrong, and specific categories of memories of complex visual images such as faces and scenes, which are processed in the fusiform gyrus, can also be experienced as genuine synaesthesia concurrents. I base this assertion on the fact that I often involuntarily experience synesthesia concurrents of this type, and I have written about such experiences right from the first post in this blog which was published in 2010. I have also named types of synesthesia that have complex visual memories as concurrents: the strange phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, involuntary method of loci memorization, etc. There are also many accounts or scientific observations of synaesthesia with complex visual concurrents in the scientific literature on synaesthesia.

Scenes, scenes, scenes, my idle thoughts are filled with scenes

While trying to get my finger into the groove on the inner side of sticks of celery to wash them properly scenes of Leederville around the area of the Luna Cinema and the Leederville TAFE or tech or whatever they call it these days flashes into my mind automatically. There is no logical or temporal connection between celery and Leederville that I know of. This is just another example of my fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia. I named it myself. As far as I know I’m the first person to ever describe this type of synaesthesia in detail. I experience it all the time, and it is such an ordinary part of my life that I barely notice it. I’ve also described other types of synaesthesia that are either triggered by seeing scenes or which have visual memories of scenes as the surprising thing that is triggered by doing things such as household manual chores or thinking about particular concepts or reading or listening to a narrative story or non-fiction account that has scenes in it.

The stuff of thought is scenes and visualizations. In my opinion the front of the brain is over-rated for importance in thought compared to the back end and the under-side of the brain, which does visual processing. I believe we need to take a new LOOK at the way the brain works.

Pieces of Perth’s past lodged in my brain

I’ve noticed a few interesting things about the way that visual memory of scenes or landscapes is naturally and involuntarily connected with other types of thinking in some interesting ways in my mind, which seem to be like or related to synaesthesia. Perhaps the oddest and least “normal” of these is a type of synaesthesia that I experience in which hand movements while doing various specific chores trigger permanently but idiosyncratically linked visual memories of scenes. An example would be involuntarily seeing in my mind’s eye for a second or two a scene of the front of the family doctor’s suburban surgery which my family visited in the 1970s, with its glossy pea-green painted decorative woodwork and moist garden, when I would carefully slide in a decorative comb to keep my hair in place. I’ve also noticed that some people, including some of my other synaesthete relatives and myself, experience a visual/memory phenomenon that appears to be a naturally and spontaneously occurring version of the memory technique that is known as the method of loci. We have noticed that when we revisit and view a specific outdoor place where we learned new information in the past, we might find that the exact thought that we had been learning at that exact spot in the past is re-activated our minds automatically. The information previously learned is generally of a conceptual nature, the result of listening to talk radio or reading a book, but sometimes memories of specific pop songs heard in the past are evoked. An example would be remembering the concept of people being killed in the Black Saturday bushfires evoked by watching the scenery while being driven past the exact spot on Flinders Street in Yokine where one sat in a stationary vehicle stopped at traffic lights as one listened in 2009 to morning news on the car radio giving the first full confirmation of the seriousness of the disaster.

Another synaesthesia-like linking of visual memories with another type of thought would be the involuntary illustration of thinking about some specific concepts with scenes of visual memories that are sometimes semantically related, sometimes temporally or randomly linked, and often very dated. I might see a scene of trees on the Rockingham foreshore from decades ago when thinking about the concept of the most popular hits of the latter part of the career of the Beatles. Maybe the “rock” in Rockingham or the British migrants living there are the reason for the linking of these things. As an illustration for thinking of the concept of a nightclub I might see in my mind’s eye the dark and sparse interior of a bar (or was it a nightclub?) which I think was on the ground floor level among St George’s Terrace skyscrapers in the 1970s. Was it called “The Foxy Lady”? No joke, I think it was. It was the 1970s. It was the era of no taste and even less subtlety. Yes, I think there indeed was once a bar on the terrace called The Foxy Lady. How do I know what the inside of it looked like?

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

Another unusual type of synaesthesia triggered by body movement

I often experience a type of synaesthesia in which very specific fine-motor hand movements that are a part of household chores automatically evoke visions in my mind’s eye of very specific outdoor scenes of places that I have visited in the past. If you are only familiar with the popular notion of synaesthesia as mixed-up senses, with things like music evoking colours or sounds evoking flavours you might think this type of synaesthesia is very rare. I’m not so sure about that. I suspect that it might only be under-recognized and under-studied. Below are the details of a recent article from the magazine Psychology Today about a dancer who experiences different colours for different types of dances that she performs. The author of the piece is the synaesthete journalist Maureen Seaberg, who wrote the book Tasting the Universe, which is a book for a popular readership about synesthesia.

Seaberg, Maureen A Reel of Primary Colors. Psychology Today. March 8th 2012.  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tasting-the-universe/201203/reel-primary-colors

Embodied cognition and number-form synaesthesia connected with effect found in this study?

Leaning to the left makes the world seem smaller. New Scientist. 13 December 2011 issue 2842 p.   http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228424.000-leaning-to-the-left-makes-the-world-seem-smaller.html

Another interesting article about embodied cognition in New Scientist magazine

Your clever body: Thinking from head to toe
21 October 2011 by David Robson
New Scientist
Magazine issue 2834
hardcopy date October 15th 2011 pages 34-38.

This is a most interesting addition to the New Scientist article about embodied cognition from March 2010 by another author that I wrote about previously in this blog. I explained in that blog article why I feel that synaesthesia and embodied cognition are two subjects that are closely related. This more recent article by David Robson perhaps has more of an emphasis on the relationship between a sense of self and embodied cognition, and it includes a diagram showing that parts of the brain involved in creating a sense of self are also involved with the processingof sensory information and sensory information related to the body.

Running against Descartes’s philosophy, this school of thought maintains that many, if not all, aspects of our mental lives are inextricably linked to the experiences of our flesh and blood.”


A very brief comment on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia

The last time that I did a heap of hand-washing in the laundry wash-trough, when I was swooshing dirty water down the drain of the trough that is poorly designed and doesn’t drain quickly I noticed that I very fleetingly “saw” in my mind’s eye scenes of a number of different places from my past, and they weren’t the places that I’ve previously noted have been evoked by this particular fine-motor task. It appears that the brain connections between learned hand movements and visual memories of scenes are more changeable or more random than in other types of synaesthesia that I also experience, like coloured letters (grapheme->colour synaesthesia). I think the interesting thing is that I do “see” visions of scenes when I do household chores with my hands. Why does this happen?

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/report-on-my-fine-motor-task-visual-place-memory-synaesthesia/