Tag Archives: Synaesthesia – Definition

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

All those years of neuroimaging research on the brains of synaesthetes has found nothing of substance?

Hupé J and Dojat M (2015) A critical review of the neuroimaging literature on synesthesia. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 9:103.
doi:10.3389/fnhum.2015.00103

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00103/abstract

“Our critical review therefore casts some doubts on whether any neural correlate of the synesthetic experience has been established yet”

That is a bit of a shock to read. This isn’t the first time that I’ve gotten a big shock after reading a paper in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. There was that little matter of some of my most amazing neuroscientific ideas published at this blog being ripped-off and used as the guts of an “opinion article” in that journal in 2013. I haven’t forgotten that episode. Who would have thought so much excitement is there to be found inside a science journal? I should make it clear that the researchers who did that thing in 2013 are NOT the authors of the above paper, but at the same time, I’ve got to wonder where Hupé and Dojat got this idea from

“…synesthesia could be reconsidered as a special kind of childhood memory, …”

Sure, they could have thought of that under their own steam, but I still want to point out that the central, seminal idea of this blog, right from the very first post in 2010, has been the idea that synaesthesia is linked in some meaningful way with face memory, in my case with super-recognizer ability in face memory, and there are many articles in this blog that show and hint that the heart of synaesthesia is memories created in childhood and many different types of synaesthesia operate in ways that are so much like memory that the differences are only quantitative. There was even one article published in 2013 at this blog in which I stated that

“…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.”

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

Defining synaesthesia and some interesting research findings – a lecture by a leading Aussie synaesthesia researcher

Below is a link to a webpage that has a video of Associate Professor Anina Rich from Macquarie University delivering the Paul Bourke Lecture 2014 and answering questions afterwards. Some other speakers have a few things to say before her lecture. Associate Professor Anina Rich is the winner of the 2013 Paul Bourke Award for Early Career Research.

http://www.assa.edu.au/events/lectures/bourke/2014/38

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

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6186/788.summary

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

http://www.psycontent.com/content/l67413865317/?p=f8e32838636f4d7f919632933be3178d&pi=0

 

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.

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

Pictures from the past

While making a cake by hand from scratch tonight, scenes from South Fremantle and Moore River flashed into my mind’s eye. While mixing the icing scenes from years ago in Subiaco appeared. I call this phenomenon “fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia”. As far as I know I’m the first person in the world to name it and identify it a synaesthesia. It is interesting because it violates one criterion of a quite old definition of synaesthesia, that it only involves simple sensory experiences, such as simple shapes or colours but not complex visual experiences such as objects or faces or landscapes. I also very occasionally experience the appearance of a face as a synaesthesia concurrent, which is another reason why these types of synaesthesia are interesting – because they appear to be linked to my super-recognizer ability (marked superiority in face memory). Another reason why these things are interesting from a scientific point of view is that they seem to be related to a synesthesia-like experience which appears to be the involuntary operation of an ancient memorizing technique known as the method of loci. In these experiences, which other people also report experiencing, memories of concepts become accidentally connected with visual memories of particular scenes. For example, re-visiting a spot in a carpark where I spent time years ago reading a book or listening to a talk radio broadcast will automatically bring to mind the concept or thought that I got from reading or listening there years ago. It can also operate in reverse with the concept evoking a memory of the exact scene that I looked at when I first learned about it. It’s interesting.

So does that mean everyone is really a synaesthete (but most don’t know it)?

Lawrence D. Rosenblum has written a book and also a recently-published article in Scientific American about a new model of how the brain works, with the senses working together intimately, not running in isolated ways in isolated sections of the brain.

http://www.sciamdigital.com/index.cfm?fa=Products.ViewIssuePreview&ARTICLEID_CHAR=AAC4AB91-237D-9F22-E8E6521DD8788D4C

http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/10914

Rosenblum’s book See What I’m Saying was reviewed by the synaesthesia researcher Richard Cytowic in New Scientist:

See What I’m Saying demonstrates that the five senses do not travel along separate channels, but interact to a degree few scientists would have believed only a decade ago. After reading Rosenblum’s captivating book, you will be surprised at how much your senses are capable of.

Cytowic wrote that this is not a book about synaesthesia. He’s right. There are important and testable differences between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but it is my opinion that Rosenblum’s ideas possibly have implications for synaesthetes. I believe it is time to discard the misleading and silly notion that synaesthetes have “mixed up” or “cross-wired” senses, because every person’s senses work together. The McGurk effect is just one striking example. I believe we should instead be describing synaesthesia as a variation charcterized by hyperconnectivity in the brain, not abnormal connectivity or mistaken connectivity. We are a sizable minority in the human race, so it doesn’t make sense to write us off as freaks or abnormalities.

Extraordinary secrets of our linked-up senses
26 April 2010
http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/04/extraordinary-secrets-of-our-linked-up-senses.html

A very interesting idea from Dr Simner but I’ve got my doubts

This is a quote from Dr Julia Simner’s thought-provoking paper in the British Journal of Psychology about defining synaesthesia:

“To avoid this circular evidence of what synaesthesia is and is not, we might instead define synaesthesia in terms of it neurological basis, and then allow ourselves to consider what types of variants this synaesthesia might then include. If indeed the condition were defined by inherited atypical cross-talk, we might find synaesthesiae in unexpected places. For example, if an inherited predisposition for neurological hyper-association manifested itself, say, in the fronto-temporal language regions that mediate semantics, lexical-forms, and syntax (e.g., see Tyler & Marslen-Wilson, 2008, for review) what would this mean? It might mean we could find ‘synaesthetic’ individuals with unusually strengthened connections in spoken language processing.”

I happened across this picture that is apparently from The Human Connectome Project, or at least from a paper by Liza Gross that was published in PLoS Biology in 2008: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/the-human-connectome/3706910  I’m guessing that the coloured larger blobs represent the most connected hubs in the brain, and I’m guessing these bits would be made of white matter? I know that there is one type of synaesthesia that is associated with some kind of functional enhancement of white matter, and in general, synaesthesia is thought to be due to hyperconnectivity in the brain, which I guess might mean that it operates the most in regions of the brain that are the most connected? Well, looking at the picture with the red and pink blobs, it seems as though the parts of the brain that are the most connected are towards the rear of the brain, maybe the parietal, occipital and part of the temporal lobes, with most of the frontal lobe and Broca’s area (important in language processing)  left pretty much out of the loop. So I’ve got to wonder how realistic is Dr Simner’s theoretical idea of a type of person who is especially articulate due to a hidden type of synaesthesia based in the “fronto-temporal language regions”. I certainly do think it is probable that there are non-obvious and undiscovered types of synaesthesia linking brain functions that researchers haven’t already known to be hyperconnected, but I suspect that researchers will also find that synaesthesia is more likely in some regions of the brain than others. I’ve long ago noticed that most types of synaesthesia that are known to science (and to me) involve the sense of sight in one way or another (scenes, colours, shapes, faces, visual-spatial landscapes etc), and where is vision processed in the brain? At the rear, where so many of those red blobs are found.

Simner, J. (2012), Defining synaesthesia. British Journal of Psychology, 103: 1–15. doi: 10.1348/000712610X528305  Article first published online: 11 MAR 2011 DOI: 10.1348/000712610X528305 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1348/000712610X528305/full

Gross L (2008) From Structure to Function: Mapping the Connection Matrix of the Human Brain. PLoS Biol 6(7): e164. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060164  http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0060164

Human Connectome Project  http://www.humanconnectomeproject.org/

Free full-text journal papers about defining and redefining synaesthesia!

Thank you British Journal of Psychology. I find this stuff interesting. I hope my horribly neglected readers will also find the February 2012 issue interesting. It has Dr Julia Simner’s most interesting paper and two papers in response to it, one by the leading US synesthesia researcher David Eagleman and and another by synaesthesia researchers Cohen Kadosh and Terhune, plus Simner’s response to the responses. So if you still think synaesthesia is just crossed senses, do take a look.

For those of us with an interest in face recognition as well as synaesthesia, there is also a free paper titled “Integration of faces and voices, but not faces and names, in person recognition”. Happy reading!

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjop.2011.103.issue-1/issuetoc