Tag Archives: Sensory autobiographical memory

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.

Definitely synaesthesia, including mirror-touch synaesthesia, something to do with this

I’d never heard of autonomous sensory meridian response until a few moments ago when I was half-watching the arts tv show The Mix, with a story on it about an upcoming show Blacklist by SuppleFox scheduled for the Dark Mofo arts festival at Tasmania’s always-interesting MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Synaesthesia is a theme that has already been explored at MONA.

I definitely think some of this ASMR bizzo is one or another type of synaesthesia, and I’m also sure there are folks out there who will insist it impinges on the territory of the various sensory hyper-sensitivity conditions identified by some OTs, and also the controversial territory of autism. I do wonder what the point is, of trying to make art out of neurologically-based phenomena that are highly individualised. Most people are not synaesthetic, at least to the degree that they could score a passing grade in the Synaesthesia Battery, so I’ve got to wonder what all those non-syanesthetes get out of art that explores or uses synaesthesia. If most people do not experience touch sensations in response to watching people running fingers through hair or suffering injuries, and most people get no particular thrill from listening to whispering (which is white and whispy in appearance), then I suspect that art based on these effects will have a limited appeal. It’s quite a conversation-starter, nevertheless.

I find it interesting that in the ABC story about Blacklist video of a person buttering toast is shown, because when I butter toast or scones that triggers a type of synaesthesia in which I “see” in my mind’s eye scenes of places that I have not visited for many years or decades, just as I saw them then. I suspect that for these ASMR people their trigger would be the sound of toast being scraped, while for me the trigger is definitely the performance of the fine-motor movements involved in buttering, with a specificity to such a fine degree that buttering crumbly scones triggers a different set of scenes than buttering toast.

I also find it interesting that one scene in the story, in which a woman lies in a tank of water holding her breath, reminds me of some scenes from one of my absolute favourite films, Mad Detective, in which the main character who is labelled as mad is subversively depicted in the film as strangley gifted with extraordinary powers of perception and insight into the characters and motivations of others (he “sees” their “inner selves”). The mad detective creates experiences for himself that simulate the experiences of murder victims, with the aim of triggering some kind of supernatural shared memory or insight into the facts of the crime. In one scene he has himself rolled down stairs in a suitcase and in another he gets a colleague to bury him in a forrest. The relationship between experiential or sensory triggers and evoked memories or experiences is interestingly similar to the way many of my more interesting varieties of synaesthesia operate, and as a super-recognizer, I’ve got to be fascinated by a protagonist in a movie who has a rare gift of special knowledge about other people. The plot of the movies seems to be very much based on an insight that only a synaesthete would truly understand; that the only way to experience a synaesthesia concurrent (which is usually clearly some kind of memory) is to trigger it by experiencing, first-hand, the exact and specific synaesthesia inducer. It cannot be imagined. It cannot be triggered by any other means. It cannot be experienced by a non-synaesthete, or by a synaesthete who does not have exactly the same synaesthesia association. When the mad detective places himself into extreme situations, he seems to be operating under the same rule; that only the exact same experience can unlock a memory or an insight through perception. I can’t believe that this movie was made without a major contribution from a synaesthete. Another big hint that the main character is some kind of synaesthete is the thing at the start of the film with the highly spontaneous self-amputation of an ear. I hasten to point out that this is not a common behaviour among synaesthetes, and the millions of synaesthetes in the world are generally pretty sane people, but there is one famous person from the past who was unhinged and also one of us. There is plenty of evidence in the archived correspondences of Vincent van Gogh that he was a synaestete. He was always writing about concepts or experiences corresponding with colours. You can’t claim to know the arts without knowing a thing or two about synaesthesia, and synaesthetes.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/abcnews24/programs/the-mix/  (story about Blacklist at around 5.30)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_sensory_meridian_response

https://darkmofo.net.au/program/blacklist/

http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4253178.htm

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