Tag Archives: The Strange Phenomenon

If synaesthesia is caused by low levels of complement, does that mean it is the opposite of schizophrenia?

The idea that schizophrenia is caused by brain dysfunction resulting from excessive synaptic pruning during the teenage years is certainly nothing new, I’ve been aware of it for many years and I think it is a winner, but the idea that this excessive pruning is triggered by higher than normal levels of complement appears to be new, although quite predictable in light of my immune hypothesis of synaesthesia which I published at this blog way back in 2012, even though, to be fair, at the time I was contrasting a variety of dementia (PCA or Benson’s syndrome) with synaesthesia, not schizophrenia. It is possibly worth noting though that schizophrenia was originally known as “dementia praecox” and might not be an entirely different thing to Bensons dementia in reality. I’ve written it before and I’ll repreat it again; I believe that Benson’s syndrome could be caused by excessive levels of complement, specifically C3 but I could be wrong in that specific suggestion. Regardless of the importance of the differences between Benson’s and schizophrenia, I’d still argue that this exciting theory about schizophrenia and high complement and over-pruning that is apparently supported by evidence is such a mirror-image of my theory about synaesthesia and low complement and under-pruning from 2012 that my theory could have been an influence on the schizophrenia researchers whose work has just been published in Nature, but I doubt that I got any credit.

It is exciting that progress is possibly being made into understanding and maybe even preventing schizophrenia, and it is about bloody time, (and how hard could it be to hinder the action of C4 or get rid of some of it, for heaven’s sake, to save some poor wretch’s brain and mind?) but now I’m left wondering what, if any, is the relationship between Benson’s syndrome and schizophrenia? My limited knowledge of Benson’s identifies only memory problems as a common feature of the two brain disorders, (and isn’t it interesting that I and more conventional synaesthesia researchers have linked synaesthesia with superiority in memory?) but I’m wondering if there is more in common between Sz and Benson’s than memory issues. I guess if I was really interested I’d turn to Google and PubMed to check whether someone has done a study of the immune system genetics of people who have Benson’s, but I have so many other less interesting things to do today. If no one has done such a study, then maybe they should, and then thank me for the tip.


Wilson, Clare Overactive brain pruning in teens could cause schizophrenia. New Scientist. January 27th 2016.



Aswin Sekar, Allison R. Bialas, Heather de Rivera, Avery Davis, Timothy R. Hammond et al. Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4. Nature. January 27th 2016.



C. Wright Is synaesthesia caused by low levels of complement? Is Benson’s syndrome (PCA) caused by too much complement C3? Could synesthesia and posterior cortical atrophy be considered in some way opposites? Am I a super=recognizer? June 7, 2012.



This astounding neuroscience rediscovery could be a central piece of the puzzle

Some bold and persistent researchers have rediscovered an unusual bundle of nerve fibres or a “major white-matter fascicle” in the human brain. Nice work! It is now called the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF). This discovery could be an important new piece in the puzzle in researching and exploring ideas that I’m looking at in this blog, such as the relationship between the many different varieties of synaesthesia and face recognition or face memory and also reading ability. I think this discovery could be highly relevant because the rediscovered structure is a pathway of white matter that connects the occipital lobe at the rear of the brain, where visual processing happens, to other areas of the brain, and there is speculation that information carried by this pathway could play a role in face recognition and reading. I have proposed that synaesthesia might be linked to superiority in face recognition (super-recognition) and superiority in reading, citing myself and close kin as examples. I have also described and written about types of synaesthesia that involve faces or other complex memories of images as the concurrent or the inducer or both. Researchers have found that grapheme-colour synaesthesia is characterized by greater coherence in the white matter network in the brain, and that would presumably include the rediscovered VOF. I have identified the rear of the brain, the right hemisphere of the brain and the fusiform gyrus as the parts of my brain that are most likely be the locations of the events that give rise to my super-recognition and synaesthesia and related interesting goings-on, so this white matter highway at the back of the brain  is very likely involved in these processes.

I’m amazed by the story of how this brain pathway came to be forgotten or discredited by science. Apparently because it was unusual in it’s orientation its very existence conflicted with established thinking at the time, so it became non-existent in the eyes of science. I’m sure that many scientists and neuroscience enthusiasts will be surprised that dogmatic thinking in science can create an important “blind spot” in scientific knowledge, but I’m not one of those people. I’ve seen too much misbehaviour, bias and simple ignorance in neuroscience to believe that the fairy-tale accounts of science as an automatically self-correcting enterprise apply to this corner of the world of science.




Blair, Jenny Lost and Found: How a pair of scientists rediscovered a part of the human brain. Discover. October 1, 2015.



Visual memory of chore – concept of true story synaesthesia

As I opened the lid of the clear plastic seed-sprouter at my kitchen sink and saw the just-sprouting greenish mung beans, the unpleasant memory of the facts of the story covered by last night’s Four Corners current affairs television show jumped into my mind unbidden. Last night I had been picking out dead brown non-sprouting mung beans from the healthy beans after they had been soaking for hours to start the sprouting process, the kind of dull and repetitive chore that I often try to make less boring by listening to the television or radio while I’m working. In the process of performing this chore last night the content of the television show that I had listened to had become wedded with the visual image of the sprouting beans laying on the tray of the seed sprouter. I think the neuroscience term for this might be “binding”. The fact that these two logically unrelated experiences had become permanently connected in my brain and my mind was unknown to me until the sight of the beans in the sprouter was seen again this afternoon, involuntarily and instantly triggering a complex concept in my mind that has nothing to do with beans or sprouting. The way this variety of synaesthesia operates has similarities with the operation of a number of other varieties of synaesthesia that I have previously written about at this blog: the Proust Phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, concepts associated with visual memories of scenes, involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) and arguably The Strange Phenomenon. This type or a similar type of synaesthesia has been experienced by me many times in the past after the synaesthesia associations have been formed while I was doing handcrafts while listening to television shows or radio. An example would be my remembering one year’s winner of the Eurovision Song Contest when I look at the hand-made quilt on our child’s bed which I worked on while we were tuned into the song contest finals on TV. Turkey should win more often – they always make interesting music with a great beat.

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.

Fascinating Reddit conversation from last year

MyNameIs BrookeToo I am a faceblind girl dating a super-recognizer. AUsA. Reddit. Discussion started March 25th 2012. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/rcgh8/i_am_a_faceblind_girl_dating_a_superrecognizer/ 

This is a fascinating and long discussion in which a prosopagnosic lady using the name MyNameIsBrookeToo and her super-recognizer boyfriend using the name Shandog answer many questions. Does Facebook discriminate against people who have prosopagnosia? The aspect of this question and answer session which I find the most interesting is the way Shandog describes the actual experience of super-recognition. The way he describes it, it sounds a lot like synaesthesia, particularly two types of synaesthesia experienced by myself (a super-recognizer who also experiences many different types of synaesthesia) of which I believe I was the first person to ever write and publish descriptions; domino-effect synaesthesia and The Strange Phenomenon. I suggest that you use the “find” button on your browser to look through this Reddit conversation and find the two instances in which the word “trigger” is used (by Shandog). The word “trigger” is of course often used in descriptions of the experience of synaesthesia, because that is basically what synaesthesia is, the triggering of one experience by another, in unexpected ways. In synaesthesia the triggering experience is called an inducer and the triggered unexpected or idiosyncratic experience is called a concurrent. I think Shandog’s descriptions support the assertion that I made years ago that my super-recognition is connected or caused by my synaesthesia, and this could well be the case for other supers, but I guess we should also consider that Shandog’s comments and ideas might have been influenced by reading this blog.

Someone else who looks like Jean

Gladys in this story on last night’s 60 Minutes has a face that reminds me so much of Jean, the Jean whose face is the synaesthesia concurrent in The Strange Phenomenon. Funny thing is that the photos shown in this story of Gladys as a young lady with smooth skin and dark hair don’t remind me much of Jean. The older Gladys without the dark hair and dark brows dominating the look of her face, but with the pattern of wrinkles that form a radiating pattern at the tops of her eyes, does look to my eye like Jean, in a way that’s just uncanny. I think the resemblance is uncanny because it seems to go beyond the facial appearance to include expressions as well. Old or young, Gladys has a pleasant face that catches the eye.


It’s a bit like that science fiction movie with the blonde children

In the course of my normal internet and print reading, I’ve come across a photo of an accomplished lady who has a career that encompasses technology, science and narratives. She has straight pale blonde hair and blue eyes. She’s clearly very smart. She has a surname that originated from one of those nice, neat little Baltic nations. She is also a dead-ringer for Jean (not her real name).

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.

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?