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Synaesthesia (also spelled synesthesia) is the neurological mixing of the senses. A synaesthete may, for example, hear colors, see sounds, and taste tactile sensations. While this may happen in a person who has autism, it is by no means exclusive to autistics. Synaesthesia is a common effect of some hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or mescaline. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaesthesia [Feb 2005]

Synaesthesia is a confusion of the senses, whereby stimulation of one sense triggers stimulation in a completely different sensory modality. A synaesthete might claim to be able to hear colors, taste shapes, describe the color, shape, and flavor of someone's voice or music, the sound of which looks like 'shards of glass'. Throughout history, many notable artists and writers have claimed to suffer from synaesthesia, including, Arthur Rimbaud, Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Nabokov, and David Hockney. The condition remains as controversial now as when first brought to the public eye many years ago--one notable scientist dismissing it as mere 'romantic neurology.' In Synaesthesia: the strangest thing, a world authority on synaesthesia takes us on a fascinating tour of this mysterious condition, looking at historical incidences of synaesthesia, unraveling the theories for the condition, and additionally, examining the claims to synaesthesia of the likes of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and others. The result is an exciting, yet scientific account of an incredible condition--one that will tell us of a world rich with the most unbelievable sensory experiences. --http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Psychology/SensationPerception/?view=usa&ci=0192632450 [Feb 2005]

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

People with synesthesia--whose senses blend together--are providing valuable clues to understanding the organization and functions of the human brain By Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Edward M. Hubbard


Synesthesia (from the Greek roots syn, meaning "together," and aisthesis, or "perception") is a condition in which otherwise normal people experience the blending of two or more senses.

For decades, the phenomenon was often written off as fakery or simply memories, but it has recently been shown to be real. Perhaps it occurs because of cross activation, in which two normally separate areas of the brain elicit activity in each other.

As scientists explore the mechanisms involved in synesthesia, they are also learning about how the brain in general processes sensory information and uses it to make abstract connections between seemingly unrelated inputs.

When Matthew Blakeslee shapes hamburger patties with his hands, he experiences a vivid bitter taste in his mouth. Esmerelda Jones (a pseudonym) sees blue when she listens to the note C sharp played on the piano; other notes evoke different hues--so much so that the piano keys are actually color-coded, making it easier for her to remember and play musical scales. And when Jeff Coleman looks at printed black numbers, he sees them in color, each a different hue. Blakeslee, Jones and Coleman are among a handful of otherwise normal people who have synesthesia. They experience the ordinary world in extraordinary ways and seem to inhabit a mysterious no-man's-land between fantasy and reality. For them the senses--touch, taste, hearing, vision and smell--get mixed up instead of remaining separate [...] http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=0003014B-9D06-1E8F-8EA5809EC5880000


[From Greek anaisthtos, without feeling : an-, without; see a-1 + aisthtos, perceptible (from aisthanesthai, to feel. See anesthesia).]

Aesthetics [...]

Are Metaphors Arbitrary?

We suggest that the nonarbitrariness both of synaesthesia and of metaphor (and their directionality) arise because of constraints imposed by evolution and by neural hardware (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001a). For example, you say ‘loud shirt’ but you rarely say ‘red sound’; you say ‘sharp taste’ but rarely ‘bitter touch’.
S. Ramachandran and Edward M. Hubbard, The Phenomenology of Synaesthesia, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 10, No. 8, 2003
via http://dalston.ku24.com/cluster/


  1. The Man Who Tasted Shapes - Richard E. Cytowic [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    The ten people in one million who are synesthetes are born into a world where one sensation (such as sound) conjures up one or more others (such as taste or color). Although scientists have known about synesthesia for two hundred years, until now the condition has remained a mystery. Extensive experiments with more than forty synesthetes led Richard Cytowic to an explanation of synesthesia--and to a new conception of the organization of the mind, one that emphasized the primacy of emotion over reason. Because there were not enough points on chicken served at a dinner almost two decades ago, Cytowic came to explore a deeper reality that he believes exists in all individuals, but usually below the surface of awareness. In this medical detective adventure, he reveals the brain to be an active explorer, not just a passive receiver, and offers a new view of what it means to be human--a view that turns upside down conventional ideas about reason, emotion, and who we are. --from the book cover

  2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) - Oliver W. Sacks [Amazon.com]
    In his most extraordinary book, "one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century" (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

    If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks's splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine's ultimate responsibility: "the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject." amazon.com editorial

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