House of Mind

"Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind" - Jeffrey Eugenides

  • 19th June
    2013
  • 19

Above is a video by Michal Levy, an artist who also happens to be a sound-color synesthete, which means that she experiences music as an array of dancing colors, shapes and movement that correlate with the melody. I was personally astounded by the great rhythmicity and synchrony of both senses. 

As you can see, living with synesthesia gives her a very unique and vibrant perspective on things like design, animation and art. She has an incredible body of work that can be found here: http://www.michalevy.com/index.html 

Busy (2000) by Michal Levy

Although I’m sure that many of you have heard about synesthesia before, allow me to explain for the benefit of those who have not. Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory modality (like hearing) evokes sensation/experience in another sensory modality (vision). It is important to note that the sensory experience in the other modality (in this example, vision) is additional but not in lieu of the one that evokes both (hearing). The condition is of automatic and involuntary nature . Aspects of it suggest it to be a highly variable and subjective condition with neurodevelopmental origins. Moreover, synesthesia is thought to be a familial trait, suggesting a genetic root, that is more common in women than in men. 

There are two neural models of synesthesia: (reviewed in Hubbard and Ramachandran, 2005)

A. At neurophysiological level, synesthetic experience results from a failure of neuronal pruning (a process by which unused/weak connections are eliminated by activity dependent processes) or some form of disinhibition.

B. At architectural level, synesthetic experience results from local crossactivation or re-entrant processing of sensory circuits. 

There are many types of synesthesia (and probably more remaining to be discovered) and these include: 

As demonstrated above, synesthesia comes in a number of countless ways and forms. While performing a PubMed search I found 212 publications on the subject, many of them being really interesting case studies. It seems that living with synesthesia can be both a blessing (I too would love to be able to experience music in a multisensorial way) but also a curse (imagine having mirror touch synesthesia and seeing someone you love get hurt :[ ). 

What do you guys think? Are there any synesthetes among the HoM audience that would like to contribute their experiences? 

Finally, I’ll leave you with some examples of famous synesthetes (alleged and confirmed): 

  • Wassily Kandinsky: originally studied law and economics, later switched to painting studies.  Proposed to be a synesthete (see below and you can see why). 

Composition VII

  • Marilyn Monroe: also proposed to have a form of color synesthesia but hard to say because the term had not been coined then. 
  • Billy Joel: Singer/composer/songwriter who has sound-color/grapheme synesthesia. According to him, he has written songs in order to follow a vowel color :)
  • Vladimir Nabokov: Russian writer with color-grapheme synesthesia

Sources: (all links above redirect to source)

Hubbard ES and VS Ramachandran. (2005). Neurocognitive mechanisms of synesthesia. Neuron 48 (3): 509-20. 

Popova, Maria. (2011) Synesthesia Spotlight: 3 visualization of music. Retrieved from: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/01/26/synesthesia-music-visualization/  This blog is full of interesting things to read :) I recommend!

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  9. kindrage reblogged this from cannabalistic-muffin and added:
    Whoa, such a beautiful video. Also, didn’t know Billy Joel Armstong had synesthesia.
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  13. kcboats reblogged this from houseofmind and added:
    oh god this is video is so accurate
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  16. thebloggerknownasgeeknip reblogged this from canis-diogenus and added:
    Now I know that mine mostly ordinal-linguistic with some sound-color mixed in. Cool!
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