Tag Archives: Vladimir Nabokov

1 is white and E is yellow.


A Swiss psychiatrist made to look an ass by synaesthete kids. I love it.


A. Reichard, G., Jakobson, R., & Werth, E. (1949). Language and synesthesia. Word, 5(2), 224-233.



Some links to old stuff about amusia, a disorder of the perception of music

Amusia. Frontiers. BBC Radio 4. December 13th 2006 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00j4814 I couldn’t get this to play, but you might have more luck.

McBurney, Gerard The sounds of music. New Statesman. October 25th 2007. http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2007/10/oliver-sacks-brain-music-tales

A very lippy gash, things with personalities, animals who are people and a man who is a lion….very strange

How many personified inanimate objects can you count in the TV show linked to below; Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy? There’s the screwed-up chocolate stick soldier/teacher, the French signer made of croissants, the verbally abusive wound in the arm of Sgt Raymond Boombox (my personal favourite), the misunderstood mountains who go tisk tisk, the thing with a conch shell for a head, etc. And how many animals can you count that behave like people? There’s a  ruthless and deadly WWI flying ace dolphin, Dondylion, his disturbing animal companion, a spoon snake, and no doubt many more. There even seems to be an example of a real person being seen as having the characteristics of an animal; “David Lee Roth, King of the Lions”. I can see that – Roth (lead singer of Van Halen) did once have a mane and had a King of the Jungle sort of attitude, with great physical confidence. He was on the prowl. He was covered in fur.

What is psychedelia? What is psychedelic television? If it is a creative collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, presented in a surreal, striking and colourful visual style, then Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy must be the only example of the genre that I’m aware of. That’s interesting – synaesthesia is also a collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, and it is often very colourful, surreal and striking, and most types of synaesthesia seem to involve the sense of vision. There’s a belief that synaesthesia and creativity are linked. Psychedelic television and synaesthesia appear to have a collection of characteristics in common. What are we to make of this? The hyper-awareness of colour manifested in this television series is equal to the hyper-awareness of colour that I found in the autobiography of the synaesthete author Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory. Colour doesn’t mean this much to non-synaesthetes, not quite.

I’m reminded of the most psychedelic neuroscience journal paper that I’ve read this year – the one comparing auras in mysticism and synaesthesia, by Spanish researchers, which was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. These researchers described a number of most interesting synaesthetes who had some interesting types of synaesthesia, including one person who experiences people-animal synaesthesia, in which a person might be seen by the synaesthete as having “the face of a bird of lion”. What’s the betting that this synaesthete would see in an instant David Lee Roth’s lion-like characteristics? I don’t know how anyone could miss it really. Does one need to be a synaesthete to see how much some people resemble animals? Noses can be beaks, people can be pigs and some of us do look horsey, or bug-eyed.

After very much enjoying the whole first series of Noel Fielding’s extraordinary TV series, (and keenly anticipating the next one), I can’t help feeling that personification and personality-related synaesthesia in general must have been one of the main ingredients that went into the creation of this strange psychedelic treat. The personification of inanimate objects and other forms of fusion or confusion of supposedly different states of being are themes that pop up constantly in this TV series. So many aspects of the series remind me of synaesthesia, in its various forms. Is it the creation of a synaesthete mind? What goes on inside Noel Fielding’s brain? Many people have wondered.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy http://youtu.be/u-HaEEv2p_o

E.G. Milán, O. Iborra, M. Hochel, M.A. Rodríguez Artacho, L.C. Delgado-Pastor, E. Salazar, A. González-Hernández Auras in mysticism and synaesthesia: A comparison. Consciousness and Cognition.  Volume 21 Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 258–268. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810011002868  (This paper is clearly a translation and difficult reading in parts)

Van Halen Panama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-NshzYK9y0

Link between face recognition and synaesthesia becoming obvious – interesting new article about tone-deafness and prosopagnosia in Scientific American magazine

This interesting recent article explains the many similarities between tone-deafness and face-blindness, and how both conditions can be caused by “structural disconnection” rather than damage to the specific parts of the brain that “do” face recognition or musical perception. The distinction between the developmental and congenital forms of these conditions are explained.

You don’t need to be a genius to see that the “structural disconnection” discussed in this article could be seen as the opposite of synaesthesia, but just in case that isn’t completely obvious, synaesthesia is mentioned at the very end of the article, in the notes about the author of this article, who is a scientist at Trinity College in Ireland who studies “the genes involved in wiring the brain and their possible involvement in psychiatric disorders and perceptual conditions, including synaesthesia.” Indeed!

A word of caution – I don’t think there is anything in this article that says that prosopagnosics are more likely to be tone-deaf, or vice versa. Although it would seem a sensible assumption that a group of traits should be found together: good face recognition should be found with intact or great or maybe even excellent ability to consciously comprehend musical notes (perfect pitch or absolute pitch), should be found with synaesthesia, but this is not always the case. Apparently there are synaesthetes who are also very poor at face recognition, and the synaesthete author Vladimir Nabokov has been reported by Oliver Sacks to have possibly had “a profound amusia” (Sacks 2007, 2008 p. 109-110), based on a passage that Nabokov wrote in his memoir Speak, Memory. I think amusia is a fancy word for tone-deafness. In the book Musicophilia Oliver Sacks describes a number of different types of amusia, and interestingly, this prosopangnosic author also describes in his book some episodes of  amusia that he experienced which were a part of the aura of his  migraine headaches. There are so many connections here that it’s almost like looking at a plate of spaghetti!

Are people who have perfect pitch better than average at face recognition? Are super-recognizers synaesthetes? Is perfect pitch unusually common in synaesthetes? Are the opposite deficits associated with each other? Get to work, researchers!

Mitchell, Kevin The Neuroscience of Tone Deafness: The strange connection between people who can’t sing a tune and people who are “face blind”. Scientific American. January 18th 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-neuroscience-of-tone

Mitchell, K. J. Curiouser and curiouser: genetic disorders of cortical specialization.Current Opinion in Genetics & Development. 2011 Feb 4. [Epub ahead of print] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296568

Sacks, Oliver Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. Revised and expanded edition. Picador, 2007, 2008.

Tranel, D. Damasio, A. R. Knowledge without awareness: an autonomic index of facial recognition by prosopagnosics. Science. 1985 Jun 21;228(4706):1453-4. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/228/4706/1453.abstract  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4012303


Postscript 2013 – I’ve had comments from at least one person who is apparently a definite and high-profile super-recognizer to the effect that she is not a synaesthete, so that’s a strike against the idea that supers are synaesthetes. Regardless, I reserve the right to point out that some researchers have found that some study subjects who claim to not have synaesthesia have returned test results that suggest that they are, so it appears to be possible to be a synaesthete and not know it.