On Synesthesia

The perceptual concept of Synesthesia was recently brought to my attention, and with mind-changing effects.  The concept that a letter may have a color, or a color may have a sound, intimately linked to it in the brain is fascinating to me.  And while I have read many times past about senses melding together in altered states of consciousness, knowing that this occurs naturally in some individuals makes it all the more intriguing.  The brain separates stimuli so that we may interpret our world in what we consider to be a more logic fashion.  Each sense has one or more brain regions assigned to it that process that particular set of stimuli. 

I found it interesting, but not that deep or useful, that this processing could be interrupted through dreams, hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and the like.  Unfortunately the objectivity of studies in those areas is not highly regarded due to the subjective and inconsistent nature of the results that participants will report.  However, if an individual repeatedly experiences the same synesthesia consistently, and with no outside influences, that provides a stage for study.

In regards to the senses, the brain acts a very complex machine for interpreting the forces we interact with.  Our eyes transmit detailed information from spectrum of energetic waves of specific frequencies (the visible light spectrum) to a specialized section of the brain.  Depending on the frequency of the energy received, a different color is perceived.  Similarly our ears transmit energetic vibrations to a portion of our brain that interprets them as different notes and pitches. 

In Synesthesia this process melts together.  Senses bleed into one another forming connections.  This result is apparently consistent for the individual, making it measurable.  The effects also vary from person to person.  If there were little to no variation, it would suggest that seemingly distinct energies are in fact the same, but perceived as different (ie if a high note were always violet).  Essentially the fact that one did not see violet when hearing that high note, or vice versa, could be considered on par with color blindness (color-note blindness?). 

While there is a lot of variation, there are common intersection points for most senses.  I find it fascinating that there are significant patterns that become apparent with study,  essentially separating the bulk of the population into a few large and distinct groups.  For example, it is apparently common for a synesthete to see the letter “O” as either white or black.  I see this as a cue that those that see the “O” as white have brains that are similarly wired in at least one way with each other, and that are differently wired in at least one way than those that see the “O” as black.  It essentially creates a binary code to one aspect of the brain’s cognitive function! 

While this may not seem profound to some, the brain is mind-blowingly complex, and even one definable and measurable cognitive variance at this core perceptual level could mean a lot.  It would be interesting to sort participants by white/black “O” variation and see if any other psychological similarities become apparent (no, this is not a comment on good and evil, or the force!).  I would wager correlations would start to surface, based on simple color/sound/pattern associations in the brain like this one.  Taken to an advanced level, I could see mapping brain functionality by combinations of Synesthesia differences.  This would probably result in a similar volume of breakthroughs, as from what we have seen so far in mapping the human genome.

If such correlations are found, it would provide a major breakthrough in neuroscience, particularly in regards to synesthetes.  This begs the question: Do non-synesthetes have similar, identifiable patterns?  If one could find a chemical that temporarily causes Synesthesia in a reliable way, without notably changing other cognitive functions, I believe the answer would be yes.  We would know a lot more about our minds, and the variations and similarities in a grouping of minds, a most useful insight indeed.

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~ by songoflove on August 9, 2010.

2 Responses to “On Synesthesia”

  1. Interesting post! I’d recommend youtubing “Synesthesia”. There are some fascinating videos about it. I tried finding a particular one about savants with synesthesia, but I can’t!

    I do think it’s possible to foster synesthsia in a person who isn’t naturally born a synesthsite (word? ha). I’ve been an artist and a musician my whole life. Lately, while I’ve been learning dance my mind’s eye is drawing shapes and following rhythms very similar to concepts I’ve already had in those previous areas. I can see them finished and complete image in my head, but not exactly with my eyes. I wonder if a life time of practice would allow for the senses to combine. I imagine perception and the combination of senses is a higher form of awareness.

    I’m just speculating at this point, nothing of substance really.

    • Hey Kayley, thanks for the comment! 🙂

      Actually, it’s funny you mention this, because I interweaved my philosophy on Synesthesia while writing on the proposed science, but removed the philosophy portions so the piece didn’t end up too long…

      I would definitely agree that the combination of senses could be considered a higher form of consciousness. Having experienced multiple sensory floods in the past, I know they can also be quite overwhelming. Perhaps the compartmentalized world many of us experience is a training simulation for the soul, until we decide we are ready to see more? Drawing complex connections like the ones you describe could either be invigorating, or overwhelming depending on the subject and their mindset. In fact a world where everything is intimately connected might be hellish for some people, and heaven for others. I personally examine synchronicities, and strive to see the subtle connections in all things, but it takes a lot of will to stay focused on them for long.

      Thanks again for the insights! 🙂

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