Can you hear that colour?

30 05 2009

Next week on Wednesday (June 3rd) the University of Sydney is hosting a free lecture on synesthesia – the peculiar concept of cross-sensory stimulation.

Imagine a world of magenta Tuesdays, tastes of blue, and wavy green symphonies. At least one in a hundred otherwise normal people experience the world this way in a condition called synesthesia. In synesthesia, stimulation of one sense triggers an experience in a different sense. For example, a voice or music are not only heard but may also be seen.

Synesthesia is a fusion of different sensory perceptions: the feel of sandpaper might evoke a sensation of forest green, a symphony might be experienced in blues and golds, or the concept of February might trigger the perception of orange.

Hearing Colours, Tasting Sounds: The Kaleidoscope of Synethesia with Dr David Eagleman (Baylor) starts at 6:00pm at the New Law School, Lecture Theatre 101.

I’m a little skeptical of synesthesia. While I accept that the concept makes sense, and don’t doubt it occurs to some people – there is just an aura of pretention that surrounds some of the work surrounding it – almost similar to some groups Aspie culture and Autism. Where people with synesthesia try to class themselves as some sort of super-human taking the first bold steps into the echelons of human evolution.

Still I hope I can bunk off work early enough to catch this lecture – and then make my way to a pub playing the State of Origin.




2 responses

30 05 2009

It seems that what gets reported in writing about synasthesia tends to focus (naturally) on those with the most extreme, and frequently weirdest, symptoms. I have synesthesia but I certainly don’t taste colors or see sounds or anything like that. I do, however, have some very strong associations between colors and numbers/letters (and I believe this is the form in which synesthesia is most frequently found). I feel, with the same certainty that I know that grass is green, that six is purple. I actually have a distinct memory from second grade of being appalled that one of my friend’s favorite numbers was 7 – how could someone like a number that was such a gross orange-brown color?

While I wouldn’t exactly say I or anyone like myself represent the next steps forward in human evolution, I enjoy being synesthetic and find that my memory is heavily augmented by it. When trying to remember locker combinations, dates or names I’ll frequently remember the color before I do the number or word. I generally look at synesthesia as just another layer of information that I have on top of what most people do, and I imagine the usefulness of that layer varies from synesthetic to synesthetic.

30 05 2009

Thanks for your comment, Jenna.

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