Tag Archives: Rarely-experienced Synaesthesia Types

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

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Feature article on super-recognition in New Scientist magazine, and more interesting bits and bobs

(I’m going to finish writing this post later)

Unfortunately the interesting new article by Caroline Williams about super-recognizers is mostly behind a paywall, which we’ve got to expect. I like Ms Williams’ work. I’ve just finished reading her other recent feature article for New Scientist about Von Economo neurons, which are found in the anterior cingulate cortex and the fronto-insular cortex. I think one type of synaesthesia which I have experienced rarely and for a limited period might have involved Von Economo neurons. I refer to the time when I used to experience a pleasant flavour when being hugged by one of our kids, when they were little and sweet and cute and had a big smile. Kids grow up and they can turn quite sour in their teens. That’s life I guess. It looks like Williams’ interest in face recognition goes back a long way, as an article by her that appears to be about prosopagnosia from 2006 can be found in the archives of New Scientist.

Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that today’s TV news has included a national and a state news story about riot investigations in which Australian police and security forces are using face recognition, perhaps super-recognizers, to try to identify participants or offenders. The riots were in some ways very different – one Sydney riot that broke out over the controversial Muslim-baiting movie, and the other riot was in some outer suburb of Perth with another teenage party that got out of control with the help of Facebook. No doubt both riots included many young and alienated people. In the report at the ABC’s 7.30 program linked to below at around 3.30 into the clip there’s a bit that seems to be hinting about police super-recognizers. On the Perth Seven News story there is a warning that the police will be painstakingly reviewing hours of footage or the riots to try to identify people. They’ll need to have a super-recognizer handy.

Williams, Caroline Face savers. New Scientist. 15 September 2012 no.2882 pages 36-39.   online title: ‘Super-recognisers’ have amazing memory for faces.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528821.500-superrecognisers-have-amazing-memory-for-faces.html

Coghlan, Andy Police could create image of suspect’s face from DNA. New Scientist. 14 September 2012.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22271-police-could-create-image-of-suspects-face-from-dna.html

Williams, Caroline Are these the brain cells that give us consciousness? New Scientist. 23 July 2012. no. 2874. p.33-35. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528741.600-are-these-the-brain-cells-that-give-us-consciousness.html

Williams, Caroline Living in a world without faces. New Scientist. 24 November 2006. no. 2579.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19225791.600-living-in-a-world-without-faces.html

Cooper, Hayden Text messages and terror connections inflame Muslim protests. 7.30. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Broadcast: 17/09/2012.  http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3592083.htm

Party riot fears. Seven News. 18 September 2012. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/video/watch/d5538a22-a563-3239-9429-e330f7c58aab/party-riot-fears/

Some unusual types of synaesthesia which I have experienced only rarely or during a limited period in my life

Coloured flavour / Coloured smell synaesthesia / taste – colour synaesthesia

Most taste experiences are an amalgam of taste sensation on the tongue and smell sensations in the nose, so to be completely correct this isn’t purely triggered by a taste, smell is certainly an element, but in plain-language terms, the trigger is a novel taste or flavour.

This only happens during the unusual situation in which I am at a public swimming pool or some other place where I have the smell of chlorine in my nose and I am also drinking iced coffee, and there is some kind of chemical reaction between the chlorine and the coffee in my mouth/nose resulting in a peculiar smell/taste that is somewhat like a floral or perfume smell. It is a black-coloured smell/taste. Sometimes the image of a black-coloured flower flashes into my mind, shaped something like a simple lily. Upon reflection I believe that it is the surprise or novelty of the modification of the usual flavour of iced coffee that is the synaesthesia trigger or inducer. Often as an afterthought after this experience I realise that the normal taste of iced coffee is a brown-coloured taste, but I never notice this as it is such an ordinary thing that it kind of stays below the level of consciousness.

Viewed facial expression – flavour synaesthesia

It is hard to know for sure what the exact trigger was. It was only ever triggered by one person when they were preschooler-aged, giving me one of those big hugs that parents get when they pick a young child up at the end of a kindy day, the kind of hug that has a run-up with open arms, involving an incredibly cute young child wearing a huge smile, not your average hug situation at all. What was the exact trigger? The emotion? The situation? The hug? The child? The time in our lives? I think it was the image of that incredibly cute individual young child’s face with a big smile on it, but I’m not really sure. I have a number of kids. This experience only ever happened in relation to one child, and I believe this is because of facial appearance. The period in time when this used to happen was many years before I had ever heard about the concept of synaesthesia, and I had no idea why I was experiencing a pleasant phantom taste in my mouth in this type of situation, and I thought it was most odd, but also rather nice. Sometimes this very rare experience included a kind of other-worldly feeling, like a very short visit to a rather nice alternative reality. It has been many years since I had this experience and I don’t expect I will ever experience it again. Why do children have to grow up?

The Strange Phenomenon or image of one person’s face evoked by viewing another’s face in a synaesthesia process

Described in great detail here: https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Smell/taste – concept synaesthesia

Two different pleasant and specific sensory experiences have triggered the same subtle and rather vague conceptual experience. I’m not completely sure what the synaesthesia trigger (inducer) and the synaesthesia anomalous experience (concurrent) are. It’s a vague and subtle and quite mysterious thing. A couple of years ago I started drinking tea more than I had been in the past. It was Twinings tea, because that was the only brand on the market offering a range of different types of teas, genuine old tea varieties made from different types of tea leaves from different countries, not the modern ridiculous teas with synthetic fruity flavouring added. I had been drinking some of the more popular tea varieties like the breakfast teas and Orange Pekoe, and then I tried out Prince of Wales tea, which is a black tea with a quite different and a much more refined and subtle taste. For a short period of time, perhaps a few weeks, my first sip of Prince of Wales tea would reliably trigger an idea that would spontaneously jump into my head, a strange nostalgic feeling that is hard to describe. The  image and the smell of old, pale-coloured paper notes of currency (which is hard to identify) would come to mind, along with ideas of my maternal grandmother, the fine, old French perfume that she wore, finely scented old varieties of roses (which might have once grown in her now-demolished rose garden), an old saying that she used to use “I wouldn’t trade you for all the tea in China”, notions of fine things from the Orient in the “olden days”, the concept of exotic delicacies from foreign lands, and a generally nostalgic feeling of having visited a better world for just a small moment.

Upon reflection, I think this very specific variety of tea (Twinings Russian Caravan tea has a very similar taste to the Prince of Wales variety but does not act as a trigger for my synaesthesia) is not the only sensory experience that has triggered this weird nostalgic sensation/concept. Many years ago on a beautiful day I was testing the scents of different varieties of roses at a specialist plant nursery, and I recall that the subtle but beautiful smell of the Buff Beauty variety of rose, a pale yellow-pink hybrid musk rose that was bred in 1939, was unusually evocative, triggering thoughts of pale old paper bank notes and a peculiar sense of nostalgia that seemed to extend beyond my own years on Earth. This interesting experience was not enough to sway my purchasing decision, and I ended up buying a similar variety of hybrid musk rose which had a stronger smell and a prettier colour, but with fairly limited powers of evoking conceptual thinking.

It appears that sadly this is another type of rare synaesthesia which I will never be able to experience again, because a few years ago something changed.  My first sip of Prince of Wales tea no long packs a beautifully subtle punch. It no longer evokes anything but a tea flavour. Perhaps the trigger of the strange experience had actually been the contrast between the taste of this type of tea and the more full-flavoured varieties of tea that I had become accustomed to back then. The trigger might have been the novelty of the new taste of a more refined tea, but I’ve got to wonder why I experienced no synaesthesia triggered by drinking a full-flavoured tea after drinking Prince of Wales for a while. I’m inclined to think that the quality of the Prince of Wales variety of Twinings tea dropped off or changed, causing the end of the odd phenomenon. I’ve tried countless other varieties of tea to see if they evoke that odd experience to no avail, and even though boutique tea shops are popping up all over Perth stocking all manner of horrible brews, none of them carry any Prince of Wales variety tea. I give up! I just give up!

Touch – emotion synaesthesia

When I was a teenager I had the habit of wearing a favourite item of clothing almost non-stop till it fell apart. I guess that as a result of this practice, by brain built up a substantial touch-memory of how my favourite garments felt when I wore them, an unusual type of memory which I possibly don’t possess these days and which most people never possess.  Back in those days I found that something weird would happen when I was in the change room of a department store or boutique trying on new clothes. As I put on the new garment I would feel a spontaneous, involuntary, unexpected, weird, sudden, dramatic wave of something like a hybrid of an emotion and a bodily sensation. It was something like a shudder. Even the emotion itself was hybrid-like and hard to describe, perhaps dread, perhaps intense homesickness, maybe it was a sense of adventure, or maybe loneliness. Weird! At the time I assumed that this thing happened because it violated my unconscious expectation of the familiar touch-memory of my old, well-worn clothes. As is often the case with types of synaesthesia that I rarely experience, sensory novelty or change appears to be the real trigger or the synaesthesia inducer. I’m not sure how often or for what period of time I would have this odd experience while trying on new clothes, but I am sure it was limited to my teenage and possibly early adult years. It is no longer experienced, presumably because I no longer in the habit of wearing a favourite items of clothing constantly, or conceivably it could be because I have less sensitive senses these days.

A 100% certain sighting – what makes a face interesting?

I have had the unexpected opportunity to see Jean properly at close range for the first time in something like ten years, and I’m thoroughtly disgusted that she doesn’t look any older. There’s no doubt that I’ve changed for the worse. I’d like to know her secret. Jean is notable because her face, and to be completely correct, her personality as manifested in her face and voice and typical expressions, is the concurrent in a particularly interesting type of synaesthesia which I experienced on a few occasions over a period of a few months a couple of years ago. It was an interesting type of synesthesia because it appears to be a mixture of synaesthesia and face recognition, experienced by a person (me) who gets face memory test scores in the range consistent with being a super-recognizer. I believe I am the first and the only person in the world to describe such an experience, which I gave the title of The Strange Phenomenon. Jean is working in pretty-much the same job for the same large organization that she was working in ten-odd years ago. Maybe she had always been doing shifts here and there somewhere. The day I met her was a chance deviation from my usual routine in my usual neighbourhood.

This sighting has given me the opportunity to answer a few questions about Jean’s appearance and The Strange Phenomenon that have been unanswered for a couple of years. Firstly, Jean does have a face that has many features that look the same as John’s face (John’s face is the inducer or trigger of the particular type of synaesthesia). Jean’s colouring, nose, lips and ears do look similar to John’s. Both wear glasses and short hair all the time and both have uninteresting, drab eyes. John is always clean-shaven. Despite these similarities, she isn’t John’s female double, as I think their faces have quite different shapes. When I saw Jean I didn’t think “Wow, looks like John!”, I thought “Wow, it’s Jean, and the ***** hasn’t aged!” The sight of Jean’s face did not trigger any type of synaesthesia, and it did not trigger any memory or vision of John’s face. I can’t completely rule out the possibility that The Strange Phenomenon might work as a two-way type of synaesthesia, because I didn’t stare at Jean’s face for long, and I think The Strange Phenomenon takes some time to be set off. It requires a quite focused attention, which is I think pretty typical of synaesthesia.

I now think it is plausible that The Strange Phenomenon happens solely because from a certain angle Jean and John’s faces look similar in a sufficient number of ways that it triggers some critical threshold of visual recognition (and be reminded that it only happened when John’s face was viewed under specific conditions from a 45 degree angle). Perhaps there is more to it than that, because there is still the question of why my mind would retain a visual memory for several years (with amazing clarity) of the face and manner of a woman who was nothing more to me than a person occasionally seen at the other side of a service desk. I’ve previously explained that I find John’s face more interesting than most and it holds my attention, and I’d say the same about Jean’s. She is one of the many quite unfortunate people who are born with facial features that can subtly give the false impression of a particular mood by virtue of the innate shape of one or more features. Sometimes people with heavy or oddly-shaped eyebrows have a look of gravity that isn’t really a reflection of their true mood or personality. Jean happens to have a nose and mouth that give her face a somewhat mean or angry look about it, and I think this aspect of her face frequently unconsciously draws attention from the parts of the brain that monitor facial expressions, and then it is up to the conscious mind to correct the feeling that I might be in the presence of a person in an unsympathetic mood. I think there are some faces which play merry hell with the various face processing modules in the brain, playing one off against the other, creating ambiguity and uncertainty, and I think this might be why some faces are so much more interesting than others. Well, I find them interesting.

Coloured Flavour / Smell Synaesthesia or Taste to Colour Synaesthesia – a type that I only experience occasionally

Most taste experiences are an amalgam of taste sensation on the tongue and smell sensations in the nose, so to be completely correct this isn’t purely triggered by a taste, smell is certainly an element, but in plain-language terms, the trigger is a novel taste or flavour.

This only happens during the unusual situation in which I am at a public swimming pool or some other place where I have the smell of chlorine in my nose and I am also drinking iced coffee, and there is some kind of chemical reaction between the chlorine and the coffee in my mouth/nose resulting in a peculiar smell/taste that is somewhat like a floral or perfumey smell. It is a black-coloured smell/taste. Sometimes the image of a black-coloured flower flashes into my mind, shaped something like a simple lily. Upon reflection I believe that it is the surprise or novelty of the modification of the usual flavour of iced coffee that is the synaesthesia trigger or inducer. Often as an afterthought after this experience I realise that the normal taste of iced coffee is a brown-coloured taste, but I never notice this as it is such an ordinary thing that it kind of stays below the level of consciousness.

Rarely experienced types of synaesthesia – I’ve noticed some interesting patterns

Inspired by reading the fascinating fairly new journal paper by Spanish researchers comparing some more rare types of synesthesia with auras in mysticism, I have been playing with the idea of writing a post in which I list all of the types of synaesthesia that I have ever experienced, the common and the rare, and then I started writing down all of the rare types that I’ve only ever had happen a few times or even only once. I noticed something interesting about these types – out of a total of eight that I’ve thought of, three of them appear to be triggered by the novelty of a sensory or linguistic experience, and all other five types have some aspect of a person or persons as the “inducer” or trigger. So my rarely experienced types of synaesthesia appear to have completely different categories of triggers as my more frequent or ordinary synaesthesia experiences, which can be triggered by learned concepts such as years or numbers, or can be triggered by movement (manual chores) or music or purely sensory experiences like smell or voices. There seem to be two really quite distinct classes of synaesthesia types, the rare sporadic types triggered by persons or novelty, and the common frequent types triggered by the types of sensory and conceptual stimuli that researchers have already fully explored and described, at least in the way that my mind works. Why?