This entry was posted by Monday, 26 December, 2011
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Crossed Senses


Some people’s senses are “crossed”. One sets off another. The F key on the piano is baby blue in color. Chanel Number Five perfume sounds like a waterfall. Your smelly pooch?

Not going there.

It’s called synesthesia. People with this “problem” live in a special, often delightful, world  where a person’s senses  interact with each other in strange ways, turning life into a symphony/smorgasbord that others can only try to imagine. Intriguing scents  mix with visual cues, sounds with the sensation of touch. Sometimes just two senses combine, sometimes more. Taste and sight. Sound and sight and smell and touch. And, since adding colors or sounds or tastes or smells to a word does make the word (or number) more memorable, synesthetes have amazing memories. Very creative, too.

Degas, Mozart, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington, Tessler, Sibelius. Even Richard Feynman and Marilyn Monroe were synesth…



In case you’re wondering, most synesthetes don’t think it’s so bad. Many don’t realize they’re different  unless someone points it out. And the memory/creativity thing is a nice plus.  A gift, some of them say.


So Dr Devin Terhune and Dr Roi Cohen Kadosh(Current Biology) were curious. They wondered why some people have this “gift” and others have to read about it.  They studied one of the most common forms – the one where words or numbers combine with colors.

Working with volunteers, the two scientists used magnetic or electrical stimulation to control the excitability of the visual cortex  – the part of the brain most associated with vision. They adjusted things just to the point where their subjects started to see light flashes. What the study showed, is that the visual cortex of a synesthete is more easily excited.

Much more easily.

Apparently, this shows that synesthete brains are in a sort of hyper excited state. A clue, perhaps.

This is boutique science. Five subjects. All synesthetes. Maybe that’s not enough to justify sweeping conclusions.  Since there’s no clamor for a pill to cure synesthesia there isn’t much money but, Terhune and Kadosh did good. This is interesting stuff and it does teach something about the brain. Change the excitability and  the colors disappear.

Could this technique be used in reverse ? Could it turn Mister ScienceAintSoBad into a synesthete ? Wouldn’t that be fun? For a little while?

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 7.




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