Sunday, February 15, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] Reflections on the synesthesia discussion

Reflections on the synesthesia discussion

Dear fellows,

I have been following the discussions on synesthesia in the Yasmin list
in the last weeks. Today I received the long digest of the messages,
which offers me the opportunity to read the messages again and reflect a
bit on them; always good on a Sunday afternoon :-)

Teoman Madra wote:
"The synesthesia concept was mentioned already for me by mcluhan and
john cage in many of their texts. I have also a belief that can be
argued in all directions, that synesthesia art can be said to be a
synonym to multi media arts, surely, that are coming from new technology
possibilities. "

It is not so obvious we speak about the same phenomena when we speak
about synesthesia. The concept of synesthesia by McLuhan is quite
different from the concept of synesthesia that is being used nowadays by
Equalling synesthetic art to multi media art is too simple I think. As I
have argued in The Hidden Sense, there is a lot of multimedia art out
there but only a few examples give us insight in synesthetic

Elizabeth Seckel wrote:
"According to Dr. Ramachandran, synaesthesia is seven times more common
artists and poets than the general population. Why might this be?"

And Sean Day responded to her:
"We might want to reconsider and reevaluate that claim in light of the
following recent article:
Ward, Jamie, Daisy Thompson-Lake, Roxanne Ely, and Flora Kaminski. 2008.
"Synaesthesia, creativity and art: What is the link?" British Journal
of Psychology; vol. 99: 127-141."

Some studies find higher prevalences of artists among synesthetes,
others do not. In the mentioned article Ward and his collegues tested
synesthetes on a couple of psychological tests of creativity. The
synesthetes did not show to be more creative than nonsynesthetes (as I
remember well).
The point is that synesthesia does not imply that you are creative and
vice versa. Nonetheless, it is interesting to hear how some synesthetes
have used their synesthetic perceptions in their works and how the
(nonsynesthetic) audience responds to those works.
In that context of the artists workshop we could ask for answers to
Elizabeth's question: "For participants with synaesthesia, do you find
yourself being very metaphorical in general or is it limited to the
specific synaesthetic associations you have?"

Maybe Anne-Sarah Le Meur can respond to that, as she wrotes:
" Synesthesia, in a scientific meaning, links something to something too
or too directly - for me.
"When I hear a violin, I see something like a rich red wine"
This doesn't help me to feel art better, or to create differently."

Or Guto Nobrega who wrote:
" In the course of my research I have developed the artwork?Breathing?,
which involves a simple robotic system connected to a plant via
electrodes. The title ?Breathing? came after the observation that the
best way of dialogue (more significant from the point of view
of the experience) with the whole system was through the act of
In that sense I would like to ask: would the technical apparatus always
impose its embedded logic and make impossible any attempt to perceive
the world it takes part of beyond its own programmed
concepts? Is that possible that a shift from the hegemony of the eyes
to a more holistic embodied form of perception would offer ways to
overcome the limits of a recursive logic present in all technological
structures and the possibility to see creatively, beyond the black
box? Would be this "in between" Basbaum (as you have commented in your
last msg) a necessary position (no too close, not too distant) to
experience the phenomena emergent from a world mediated by

The technical apparatus is in the realm of the stimulus. Generally,
scientific experiments use very simple stimuli like single colors and
single frequency sounds. This breathing project could be an inspiring
way to explore how human perception responds to more complex stimuli. In
that case the senses have to collaborate and new perceptual processes
can be discovered. A way of exploring the ground "in between" as Sergio
Basbaum mentioned.

Sergio Basbaum wrote:
" How could somebody talk experiment grapheme-colour synesthesia in a
> pre-literate society, for example?"

Yes, sometimes I wonder, looking at the "audiovisual" young ones of
today that we end up in a post literate society :-). I agree that
questions concerning synesthesia should be considered in a wider
cultural and historical context too. The focus of the media is too much
on experimental results nowadays.

Herve Pierre Lambert supported us with interesting links to new articles
on synesthesia: food for thought.
Since he both suggested the article by Basbaum on synesthesia as
aculturally shaped phenomena and the article by Asher et al. on
synesthesia as a genetically determined phenomenon, I would like to ask
him (and others) how he relates the two articles?
To my present understanding the two articles represent opposite
perspectives on synesthesia. Or is their a way to unify these

I am looking forward to the responses on Yasmin!
Best from Holland,

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