Monday, November 3, 2014

Synesthesia

" I saw all the colors in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me."
-Vasily Kandinsky

When I read "The Noisy Paint Box" to my daughter I learned the concept of synesthesia. "The Noisy Paint Box" is a book about Kandinsky’s childhood. In his writings Kandinsky describes hearing a hissing sound as a child when he first mixed colors in his paint box. Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds and sounds as colors throughout his life.
 It is thought that Vasily Kandinsky had a harmless genetic condition called synesthesia. Synesthesia is a word that derives from the Greek. It means “union of sensations”. There are more than sixty types of synesthesia. In people with synesthesia a stimulus in one sensory modality (e.g. vision) involuntarily triggers another sense (e.g. hearing). Scientists believe that this happens due to co-activation of different areas of the brain as people with synesthesia probably have more pathways between such areas.
 After reading this book to my daughter I wanted to learn more about synesthesia. One of the pioneers in the study of synesthesia is the neurologist Richard Cytowic who published a number of case reports and wrote books about it.
 Reading about synesthesia, however, left me with more questions than answers. I don’t know if I have synesthesia but what I do know is that I have  synesthetic experiences with some words. There are many words that elicit colors or images in my mind. A few of them can trigger flavors. Now this does not necessarily mean that I am a synesthete.
 Perhaps synesthesia is one feature that may or may not exist in people with creative trends. After all, the creative mind is adept at making connections and finding meaningful associations between things, ideas or objects.
 Do you ever have any synesthetic experiences, or do you know anybody who may have this condition? Share your experience.
 Here is a list of other famous people who may have had synesthesia:
Vladimir Nabokov (writer)
William Blake (Poet, writer and painter)
Albert Einstein (physicist, philosopher of science)
Isaac Newton (physicist, mathematician)
Olivier Messiaen (composer)
Richard Feynman (physicist)
Amy Beach (pianist and composer)
Charles Baudelaire (Poet)

I read somewhere that children are synesthetes but as they grow they lose the capacity to have these synesthetic associations. 
How about combining music with art in schools? Writing with music? Writing and art?    Physical movements and writing? Maths and art?
 Think about all the combinations. We tend to separate everything into boxes, and, as we do that, we may be curtailing our kids' creativity.        
Something to think about and research on. I hope neuroscientists and educators will work together to research this and enhance the educational experience. 
 If you want to learn more about synesthesia feel free to visit the website of the American Synesthesia Association


14 comments:

  1. I used to work with someone who saw numbers as colors. That was my first introduction to it. I'd love to learn more about it and write a character who has this trait.

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    1. Yes, that is a kind of synesthesia. I read about it...
      I think kids' synesthesia should be researched more because this can help to understand how to individualize their educational experience. Maria Montessori encouraged kids to learn at their own pace by following their motivations and her methods had some association to their synesthetic experiences. She was ahead of her times.
      I believe this needs to be studied more because it can have a big impact on education.

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  2. I've heard of this, but not experienced it nor, as fast as I know, come across anyone who has.

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    1. Perhaps you did experience it as a child...
      I think understanding synesthesia is a good way of gaining insight into how we can all perceive our surroundings in different ways. I find it fascinating.

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  3. I've heard of it, too, but never experienced it. A professor I once worked with (clerical work), told me about someone he knew who imagined or saw a color for any musical note he heard. I thought that would be so cool, although now I can appreciate it might also be a bit disconcerting. I can't really picture how it would express itself. But a once read a story where a character experience it, and an arresting last line of the story was, "What smells purple?"

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    1. Elizabeth, I experience the months of the years as colors since childhood. Always the same colors but I did not know this was a synesthetic experience.
      January has always been white.
      February is dark gray.
      March is maroon.
      April is a combination of white, blue and gray.
      May is light blue. June is brown. July is a dull black. October is a black that shines. September is a mixture of red and pink... I always took these associations for granted but now I understand that this is synesthesia.

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    3. I meant to say that I "see" the months of the year as colors.

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  4. I have never even heard the word "synesthesia" before. Very interesting and it sounds like it could also be closely related with creativity.

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    1. Yes, Manzanita.
      I agree. I think there is a connection...
      Thanks.

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  5. Hi Julia .. I'm so pleased you've written about this ... as I keep wanting to write something - which I must get to ... so I'll be back and I'll refer to your post - WHEN I get round to writing something up ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Wow! What an intriguing comment you left here, Hilary.
      I look forward to learning more on this.

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  6. Julia, this is the first time I’ve heard of “synesthesia” and I find it fascinating. What a difference it would make in the education of children if teachers understood this process. It’s so interesting that some words elicit colors or images in your mind, and sometimes flavors. Incredibly fascinating! Also amazing that you’ve been seeing months in colors since childhood (I saw that in one of your comments above). May I ask if your daughter experiences anything similar? Perhaps you’re right that synesthesia is more prominent in individuals with creative trends.

    As for me, I often saw colors around me as a child. Before I even knew how to read, words on pages in storybooks had colors. Bright yellow, orange and blue were the colors I saw most often. That left me after puberty, but sometimes I will see colors listening to music, especially classical music. Sometimes I see colors around an image I want to photograph. And if I read late at night, sometimes the words are in color on the page. I guess I thought it was a product of being tired but perhaps, because I am in a more relaxed state, my mind is just going to its natural expression. Interestingly, my mother, although she was mentally ill, saw colors too, vivid colors around her. Knowing now that synesthesia could be genetic, and reading from your link that it affects more women than men, I am wondering if I inherited the “seeing of colors” from her. This is all so fascinating. Thank you for introducing this topic!

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    1. Dear Jersey,
      Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience and that of your mother.
      You are clearly a synesthete, Jersey. I suspect that people forget their childhood synesthetic experience as they are forced to "evolve" into a more logical type of mindset.
      I do believe that the field of education is narrow-minded. It needs to change and be more open-minded to welcome new ideas.
      I don't know if my daughter has these synesthetic experiences but I'd like to explore this further. I asked my mother and she denies any, but then, again, she must have forgotten them... my mother has a flair for art. She used to paint when she was young and she wanted to study art but her mother didn't allow her to do so.
      How interesting that you see colors when you listen to music... when I go to a concert I write poetry. The music unleashes something...
      You are clearly a synesthete. I'm pleased to know that you enjoyed this post.

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