Synesthesia/Is there only one reality?

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What one commonly takes as “the reality” by no means signifies something fixed, but rather something that is ambiguous – that there is not only one, but that there are many realities.

The way that we perceive the world depends on how our sensory organs and how our brain functions. Can we really say that the brains of the 7 billion people on Earth all function in the same way?

Synesthesia from the ancient Greek σύν (syn), "together," and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), "sensation," is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.

People with synesthesia experience the ordinary world in extraordinary ways. Words can have tastes, names can have color. Vision and color in particular is by far the most common synesthetic experience relative to touch, taste, smell and hearing.

The most common example given to explain synesthesia is “letters with colors”. Synesthetes that have this type of synesthesia “see” the letters and numbers colored in different ways. For example “A” could look blue, “D” could look yellow and “6” could look red. Synesthesia is highly idiosyncratic, which means that each person sees different colors for each letter and that no two synesthetes see the same set of colors. Other very typical examples of synesthesia are: musical sounds to colors, smells to colors and tastes to colors.

Synesthesia is a real phenomenon with a biological basis that is found in some people. It is not a disorder. Nor is it a condition that requires treatment or sympathy.

Why does synesthesia exist?

Does it have any advantages?

Did it evolve for a particular reason?

The truth is that we do not know the answer to these questions yet. There is active research going on about synesthesia around the world, but it seems that we are just beginning to grasp the essence of this condition. As research continues we will be able to unravel the mysteries that surround synesthesia and by doing so we will be able to understand how the human brain works.

Reality is much more subjective than most people suppose. Far from being objectively fixed out there in the physical world and passively received by the brain, reality is actively constructed by individual brains that uniquely filter what hits the outside senses.

In this light, synesthesia catalyzes a paradigm shift by highlighting the dramatic differences in how individuals objectively see the world. It forces fundamental rethinking about how brains are organized.

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If you feel color when you are reading some text, click here

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In order to explore the fascinating world of synesthesia I thought it would be a good idea to organize an event here at Miraikan, where everyone can get a better understanding of what this condition actually means. In the first part of the event I will try to present the so-far acquired scientific knowledge concerning synesthesia, while in the second part a limited number of participants will be able to “experience” synesthesia by hearing colors. This will be made possible by using the audio-visual instrument that is called “Audible Color” that converts droplets of color into sounds. “The system of audible color is based on a marriage between basic color and music theories. The colors of red, blue, and green are the visual foundation for color-mixing and the music notes A, D, and F are the base triad that corresponds to the colors.”

 

The event will take place on Friday 14th December

Time: 19:00-19:30

Place: 3rd Floor, near the Laboratories

Language: Japanese

Audible Color was created by Hideaki Matsui and Momo Miyazaki, two Japanese designers, who currently reside in Denmark. For more information click here

(References:

The frog who Croaked Blue, Jamie Ward, Routledge 2008)

Wednesday is Indigo Blue, Richard E. Cytowic and David M. Eagleman, The MIT Press 2009)

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