Debra Smith


This conversation is closed.

The Man who tasted shapes! Have you ever experienced synesthesias?

1. The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.
2. The poetic description of a sense impression in terms of another sense, as in “a loud perfume

Ramashandran the neuroscientist says that people who can experience this can be as common as 1:40 in the population and that it runs in families.

If you or someone you know has experienced music as colour or one sense informing another we would love to hear your stories.
If you know of artists that work on that basis please include them or their work as well.

Closing Statement from Debra Smith

The goal of asking this question "Have you ever experienced synesthesias" was to demonstrate and help us realize that we do not all see the world in exactly the same way. We often assume that if someone could just stand in our shoes they would see the world as we do. The existence of Synesthesias and people who experience the world that way demonstrates that even in the ways our brains work there can be substantial and significant differences.

Some people learned for the first time a 'name' for their experiences. Others shared the reality that the experiencers are not alone in what they experience. Some of us simply marvelled at the complexity and uniqueness of the human journey.

I am deeply grateful for the generous contributions of everyone who shared their ideas, experiences and insights. The links that people shared were informative and I learned from them as I hope anyone who participated did.

Being human is an amazing adventure! It is easier with a llittle help from your friends!

Thanks again to everyone! It was a priveledge!


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      May 7 2011: Kathy! Utterly fantastic contribution- your own work or something you are quoting?
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          May 8 2011: Katy your words are very heartly. The inspiration that you feel are real ephifany and goes beyond any scientific paper. Freud use to say that when he reach some place in his toughts, he discover that a poet has arrived there before. Your words are sharp and a very clear example of sintesys. I'm gratefull to the Muses in your soul and yourself.
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      May 8 2011: Kathy K..brlliant and beautiful.through your words we are all synesthetes,and strangely home.
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    May 7 2011: Debra,

    I'm familiar with synethesia, it is in my family. There is a lovely book called "A Mango-Shaped Space", written for preadolescent readers that describes it.

    My family member perceives letters, numbers, shapes, sounds, tastes, words and people as colors and/or shapes beyond their cognitive understanding/relationship with them. And thought everyone does the same. It's not something they see as unique at all, just "how" they are. And noticed only by accident.

    I've spoken to several artists, but only two said they have synesthesia. Most artists tell me they try to develop the abilities. One went so far as to conceptualize an installation into which people could enter to replicate the experience (though his project is stalled at the moment).

    Benefits for my family member are quite good visual-spatial capacities, which were evident even from earliest childhood artwork. And cognitive sorting/filing abilities wherein colors are used to categorize things in the mind, which comes in handy for mathematical and scientific concepts.

    I'm of Howard Gardner multiple intelligences school of thought and believe all people have a mix of unique intelligences with some emerging as primary. That said, I do view synethesia as a distinct asset and gift.

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      May 7 2011: Andrea, I appreciate not only the link but your personal experience.
      I too am a fan of Howard Gardner - a good idea for another thread!
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        May 7 2011: Alo Debra...we really dont know so much about our brains....the neurosciences are in a prepaleostage of development. According with the Vedanta tradition, we have 64 senses, and in our disneylandized world use only two....we see and hear, but we forget the whole experience of living in the real present, here and now because we live anesthesiazed all day. If we want to arise and being capables of the experience of perception we have to consider to use our first 11 senses to seeing, hearing, tasting, olfating, touching, moving, spating, timing, loving, laughging, and the eleventh sense...the common sense, than is just the experience of all senses at the same time and space. Sens (the word) becomes from sanscript and sgnifies : go to some. (send).

        We cant goes out of time, but time has two dimenssions: Cronos and Kairos....Cronos is the time that goes in the clock....Kairos is the eternal tiime...we all born in Kairos and when grows up learn how to survive in Cronos. All the human creativity lives in Kairos and the synesthesia is the experience of being here an now. The being itself. I dont want to simplify this with words, because is a mistery. (from the greek MISTOS. : Without words. The scientists could write a lot about that...its good, but the words never reflect the real experience.
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          May 7 2011: I think I am in love with your brain!
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      May 7 2011: Andrea.....Bring the light to any darkness......the faith is celebration....maybe the science could explain the synesthesia some day, the meantime....celebrate¡
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        May 9 2011: Gracias, Jaime --

        Celebrate! What a wonderful way to illuminate.

        Your comment engages this thought: While science does its thing, we shouldn't forget to do ours, By accepting and engaging senses and expressing all we can. Perhaps no better way then to express, than -- yes!! -- by celebrating. Or is it the other way around? To celebrate via expression?

        Either way the outcome is engaging, uplifting, illuminating...

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          May 9 2011: Andrea when you celebrate something, the main thing is that you believes in that. Celebrating has nothing to do with demostrate. And if you dare to demostrate you loose the opportunity to believe because you have to use the science with his charge of doubt. Any celebration is a manifestation that use certain or determinated forms of lenguage and expression. The metaphores are one of the strongest and profound forms of celebration. Any mith is a complex metaphor, and any metaphor took us to go beyond any limit. In the other hand, science is the use of limits to mesure. Celebration has no mesure known. In the classic greek tradition, celebration is the highest form of knowledge without knowing...this is equal to wisdom. And one step below celebration (zoumazein) is episteme that means demostrated knowledge. The enlightment comes from a light source, but that light goes to the heart or to the intelect. The intelect is like a mirror to recognize what is and what is not. But the light in the heart is pure joy and sacred fire. That is celebration.
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          May 10 2011: Andrea...we all talk about feel, senses, synesthesia, brain, knowledge, etc etc....but I don't see much about deep feelings, emotions, love, tenderness, hate, will, friendship, astonishment, stupidity, forgiveness, empathy, sympathy, anguish, sadness....what if we explore some about these feelings that also are interconnected as senses?
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          May 10 2011: Jaime, we can have some experience of all those feelings only when we are able to see that they come from the very essence of ourselves. To experience syntesthesia, and to experience the similar interaction between feelings & emotions we have to open our hearts.

          If they come from another side probably it is because they are borrowed emotions or feelings, we're copying or reconstructing something we already live. It is very hard to find true and fresh emotions nowadays, i think.
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        May 9 2011: Jaime,

        A beautiful explanation.

        Its interesting to contemplate this, as I toggle between worlds of academia and diverse cultures. The former, particularly in science realms, remind me of the importance of using concrete communication to frame up abstract concepts. While the latter are more tolerant of vernacular-specific metaphors, but generally less so with non-familiar abstractions. All make for wonderful opportunities to embrace and make attempts at wisdom-seeking knowledge.

        And remind me of phenomenological research I've done. The point of phenomenology is lived integral experience. The only function of overlaying relevant texts (after, not before, phenomenological process) is to assuage exogenous needs.

        So a synesthete, here again a point you've made, is best understood from the inside, not the outside. The gifts they offer are glimpses of their integral experience in its "purest" form, accessed via a most direct route.

        When we receive it via heart, head or both we can for a moment connect with their gift. I'd add it's likely the synesthete is expressing from heart and head, which indeed are infused and more accessible in their being then they are for others.

        Here's where the celebration comes in, then, no? Perhaps even co-celebration. The integral sharing and receiving of wisdom-bearing gifts.

        Many thanks for inspiring deeper thoughts,

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          May 10 2011: Andrea I just realized, few minutes ago, that one of my paths to achieve a different state is when I rinse and clean the dishes after a meal. Put me in a "modus" that let me out of the physical sensation without cancelling that and go deeper in free stream, off the tiranic mind. Liberated and doing some usfull with the hands and the mechanical repetition of movements I remember one of the most dearest conseil of Saint Benoit..."ORA ET LABORA"...the very profound meaning of this advice gives me a strong sensation of being here and now...then, without any advice, something appears to give me the enlightement or the clue for some....this is for me the real approach...I'm not searching anything, just go in the eternal stream of intuition. Clean the dishes could be a mistery.
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        May 10 2011: I love the idea of exploring deeper emotions. Reminds me of a Dr. Seuss book My Many Colored Days. I won't presume to speak for my family member who has synesthesia.

        But I likely possess a bit of the phenomena, so I'll share a bit of little ways my emotions "come through."

        For example, I often follow my feelings in the way I chose to dress each day. While I keep in mind the environment and people I'll be interfacing with, beyond that I follow my moods.

        If I'm feeling happy or sassy I'll generally wear bold colors, often with some bold geometric pattern. Orange, sometimes yellow or bright green are favorites in these cases. If I'm feeling diminished or frustrated, I'll tend to wear a jewel-toned power color. Perhaps crimson or eggplant. If I'm feeling overwhelmed or need to really focus, I wear little if any color. Just black and white, maybe a brown pashmina.

        I recently hosted a development event and chose a deep sage scarf over a black dress. For two reasons. First, green is a favorite color, makes me feel calm and relaxed. Second, I was harboring the concept of color symbolism. Green is the color of US currency. In my easily triggered imagination I decided wearing it couldn't hurt raise money to our cause.

        Speaking of imagination. A friend with whom I often spar on political matters left his sweatshirt at my house. A big orange one with an emblem that screams of his political beliefs (at least in my mind). I'll sometimes grab it when I'm feeling some irony or defensive about my political beliefs--or wanting to have more empathy for his. People who know me will raise their eyes brows, and, as another bonus, it gives me a little private joke to myself. My friend has no clue I wear it. Though he will chuckle when he learns of it.

        In terms of other senses, I tend to favor somewhat fitted but flowing, preferably natural fabrics. Except when I am grumpy or tired. Then the threadbare jeans and cable sweater come out.

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          May 10 2011: I'll wager you have more influences of it than that in your genes Andrea.Ramachandran is certain it's genetic and watching you weave word and thoughts, your inetgrative way of hearing, seeing and expressing yourself must be on the same gene somehow. Would be interesting to see whether there are more lateral thinkers, more inventors and entrepreneurs who make intuititive leaps among families who have the more apparent form of synesthesia..the color-sounnd interwiring. What if the color/sound integrated circuits are only one manifestation of an overall circuitry that is more intergated and calls on more parts of the brain simulatneously. I'm guessin' I'm bettin'.(You probaly know all of Ramcnadrans bjt for others here is a link to one of four part sto a presentation given elswhere by our freind Krisztian
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    May 9 2011: I did not know that this is called somehow, but I too have certain strange associations. Numbers have colors, and some letters and numbers are interchangeable. This actually was a bit of a problem in school since I had to try very hard not to mix up letters and numbers in an assignment that had both. For instance b was always the same as 5 to me, 2 equaled a, and c, if I remember correctly was 7. These associations are not as pronounced now as they were then, but I think it's because I don't work with numbers anymore.
    I also have strange associations of smells and tastes. Some smells remind me of tastes that are not associated with the smell itself. And I usually can literary feel the taste of a particular thing, when I smell it. But this, I think, is not the same. Some colors invoke some tastes as well...
    However, my impression is that this all is somehow connected to my childhood. At least when I have that kind of association I feel that there is some kind of very logical connection between these things that I have long forgotten. Sometimes very random things can remind me smells and tastes from the past and having the number-color association or color-smell association feels somewhat similarly.
    It's a very interesting topic! Our minds are simply amazing and I this is one of the reasons it's so interesting being human :)
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      May 9 2011: " Our minds are simply amazing and I this is one of the reasons it's so interesting being human."

      I couldn't agree more Aurelija! Please read through the experiences of others and share insights with them if you have the time!
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        May 13 2011: Debra...being human is not only having and using (hopefully) the mind but to be aware of the whole capabilyties of being. Open the mind is a nice thing to do, but open the heart is magnificent.
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          May 13 2011: You are of course right, Jaime. Many of us tend to live in our heads far too much and need to reconnect with our hearts. Many people need to relearn how to live when life has hurt them. How about establishing a retreat for those of us who need life lessons?I would be the first one to jump on the plane- as long as you promise to teach me how to dance the mambo!
    • May 11 2011: "Sometimes very random things can remind me smells and tastes from the past"
      Thank you Aurelija, you helped me gain some insight, this is exciting for me as I am experiencing this more and more as I practice staying present with my intuition, my being, through opening the chakaras. Also memories are triggered of emotions, even those from dreams surface. I think perhaps scientists have put the cart before the horse as the brain is to serve our being, and our being creates the chemistry that manifests in the brain, but the brain is an awesome tool for getting us to where we, the mind wants to go.
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        May 11 2011: Lupe the brain is not a tool its an organ. Esentially the tools are developed by human intelligence that cames from ...the brain?...the mind?...the intuition?...the imagination?...the memory?.... and everything that you can remind comes from the past....with our memory we can't anticipate the future. Your words are confuse...the being, the chakras, the brain, the emotions, ....
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          May 12 2011: Jaime, do you think that we use words inexactly because they get so intertwined with our own metaphors? Couldn't Lupe be speaking metaphorically?
        • May 12 2011: Yes the brain is an organ. However my EXPERIENCE of the brain is that of a tool to serve my mind and the will of my being. I was thanking Aurelija for sharing her experience of the number-color association or color-smell association and its SIMILARITY to the associations of smells and tastes that are not related to each other but can be triggers to memories. This very much resonated with current experiences I have been having that seem to have been triggered by my explorations of the somatic energy frequencies that emit from the chakaras-energy centers. I was pondering if in the brain they reside adjacent to each other and if in this vicinity lays the bridge between mind and the brain These frequencies being tangible when brought to awareness and being thus an experience could in fact be confusing to one who has not has such experience and were only meant as a reference to my experience. It is however my experience that intuition is very much a present moment event with no necessary link to the past. It is important for us to keep in mind that as we explore we are sometimes looking through a different facet of the same prism and can have a different perspective of the same thing, neither of which invalid. It can be as simple as the difference between approaching a concept from the left brain or approaching it from the right brain.
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          May 13 2011: Hello Lupe, Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective. Metaphor is another exciting topic and it tells us a lot about how our mind works. When I was raising my sons I used to tell them that their brain was their strongest muscle. Of course they knew and I knew that the brain is an organ and not a muscle but I convinced them that using their brain to think their way out of trouble or a disagreement was a more powerful and acceptable way of handling life. It worked!
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        May 12 2011: I agree with Lupe, the brain is essentially a tool albeit a complex tool, along with the other organs, for the mind.
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          May 13 2011: Well... we can redefine:The brain is a complex hollistic metaorganic humantool usefull just with love.
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    May 8 2011: Here is a wonderful encounter with a synesthetic experience by a syneshtete
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      May 8 2011: Very valuable addition, Lindsay!
  • May 7 2011: Daniel Tammet relates each number up to like 10,000 with a specific emotion and mood.
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      May 7 2011: Great addition, Austin! Thanks- the information and description of Daniel Tammet's synesthesias starts at 7 minutes into the second segment of the video listed below.
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    May 6 2011: i had the most crazy sensation that this one color of blue sounded sad, and i think i tasted the color yellow before.
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      May 6 2011: Tim, take a look at the second link that Krisztian posted and then let us know more about your experience.
      Anyone else in your family who experiences it? Would you mind giving us idea of what you have chosen to do for a living or whether you are involved in creativity in your hobbies?
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    May 6 2011: bonus ted talk:

    and there are a lot of off-ted talks by ramachandran on the topic, for one:
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      May 6 2011: Thanks Krisztian especially for the second link which is directly about synesthsias: from molecules to metaphor.

      What did you think of the phenomenon? Any experience personally or anyone (other than Birdia that you know who has had the experience?
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        May 6 2011: no. i'm probably the most anti-synesthete person on the world. it pretty much manifests itself in my total hopelessness in creating any form of art. i can't draw, i don't play any instruments.

        so i find it fascinating :)
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    May 13 2011: fascinating Deb..thnaks for bringig this fascinating exploration to TED..Ramachandrans book the Tell Tale Brain a great place to follow up.
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    May 13 2011: In this expiring conversation I realized a lot of things...good things.... first the empathy with the participants specially you Debra, I'm gratefull....second the opportunity to expose some ideas, wrong or right but spreading...which is the aim of TED...specially the nurture form the multitude of concepts....but the most important thing is I feel in the same road as others and I know that we all are not alone. Our task if theres someone, is to be a kind of interdimenssional translators to achieve the soil and seed of knowledge and, if we are blessing with the wisdom, the realm of serenity from the enlightment.
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    May 13 2011: Calling all contributors! This is the final opportunity to share your experiences of synesthesias! All inputs are invited and welcomed- 4 hours to go!
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    May 12 2011: Cymatics is the study of the shape of sound, somewhat the synesthesia of the scientific realm. Here are some links...

    Cymatic plate, see the sound made with a bow

    This link is to an artist discussing and showing some of her cymatic prints.
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      May 12 2011: This is a new set of thoughts for me. I have never been exposed to cymatcs before and I wonder if it might explain the neurological events of synesthesias.

      It would certainly be fascinating to see if any research is being done with the concept.I find this to be an intriguing addition to the conversation!

      Thanks so much Thomas!

      I am so thrilled to see the creativity and explorations of every contributor!
    • May 13 2011: Thank you Thomas! Exploring frequencies, resonance and it's effects is so fascinating. It's exciting to know someone is collecting this data. I studied North Indian Raga for a couple of years with the intent to understand sound frequencies for healing modalities but it appears a kinetic approach is more my modality. It's great to see the visuals such as in Dr. Masaru Emoto's work.
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        May 13 2011: Lupe the resonance is more than simple sounds that you can hear. And of course I can assume that you know that. I reccomend to you "hear" the feels of the earth. You can find in the wind, the waterstream or the night, but the main rythm is in your heart, and this is an exclusive ressonance for you. Some day look just for a minute the ancient sounds of my mexican culture. Maybe its not so well-known as the Ragas, but they are equelly powerfull. Have you heard the Jorge Reyes music?
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    May 12 2011: Alo Debra we all can use the words as we want or we know...or can.....but as I said before ...the language is a precise skill...and the metaphor is one of the finest structures of the human expression...of course Lupe could said anything she wants....and I read it with respect and joy...but sometimes is nice to be clear and precise, specially when we argue abstract topics.
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    May 12 2011: Synesthetic music to hear, dance, feel, taste, touch, move, love, stay, smell and whatever you want...
    I present to your very fine attention this jewel from Mexico.... MOOOOOOOVE!

    Be syntesthetic... Get up from your chair and enjoy.
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      May 12 2011: Jaime! You invite us to use and enjoy the entirety of life. Con mucho gusto!Big hug to our Mexican ambassdor por la vida loca!
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    May 10 2011: Debra the clue is in the heart more than in the mind. In english lenguage you said RE MIND ( mind), but in spanish we said
    recordar: RE CORDAR (from latin CORDIS: heart) the meaning is so clear: goes again by the heart RE CORDARE....or see whats in the heart ( not in the mind).......mente (mind) from the indoeuropean mn-ti : mind think.....
    now go to spanish OLVIDAR from latin vulgar latin) oblitare.....form indoeuropean lei-w : slip ....for get resembles to trow, to let go.....
  • May 10 2011: I suspect that more than 1 in 40 have experienced this phenomenon, mostly because it's associated with a ppowerful memory of some event. Remembering the event pulls with it other sensory input occurring in the background of the event. If there is a really "good" association to this background, it can actually force a switch places with the actual event and become the memory. For example, an event outside a restaurant has an associated smell. At a lated time, having the experienxce of that smell will cause the event memory to become the smell. To my mind, synesthesia questions what we call reality. That's just my opinion - I could be wrong.
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      May 10 2011: Hi Robert! Welcome to the conversation.
      I may have misapprehended what you are relating but I do not think that we are discussing the same phenomenon. You refer, I think, to strong memories which are encoded at heightened levels with all their attendent stimuli so that, for example, the same smell will later trigger a vivid recall of the entire event with all the sensory events of that moment. It can also be triggered by the same emotional state in which it was experienced and that is then called mood congruent memory.

      Here we are discussing seeing a painting and 'hearing' the colours of it or feeling velvet and having the impression of colour, or having numbers represent not only a measured value but also a corresponding sound or colour. Please enjoy the vivid and interesting impressions of experiencers below or tap into some of the great resources that the participants have provided for more information.If, however, I did not understand you correctly, I sure hope you will come back and help me see what you are saying. I appreciate your input.
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        May 10 2011: Debra buenos dias.....Do you know the difference between : Remember & Don't forget?.......

        Why there are different expressions for this?.....Which one is better...and why?
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          May 10 2011: Buenos dias Jaime! I am delighted to try and answer because I anticipate that you will lead me someplace wonderful!
          To remember would be to access an encoded memory like a specific example of a picnic.

          Don't forget is and admonition to remind oneself to call something to mind at a future time.
          Cómo puedo hacer el profesor?
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        May 10 2011: I know that this is a topic that maybe is related to the synesthesia....maybe no?
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          May 10 2011: I am willing to learn anything you have to teach, Jaime- so lead on!
          PS Did you receive my last email?
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      May 10 2011: Wonderful contribution! Keep them coming EVERYONE!
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    May 10 2011: Debra ...I was disciple of Bruno Munari in Milano while i was studying design.
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      May 10 2011: Wow! You must feel very priveleged to have known him personally. Did he seem to have the same qualities that we are discussing here? Did you and he ever compare notes on your perceptions of the world?
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        May 10 2011: Debra I received a lot from him..... the courses was a real joy. He teached me with all senses.
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    May 9 2011: As I walked through school one day with one of my classmates back in 2nd or 3rd grade, I said to her, "I see the teachers in different colors and when I think of my friends, they look like a mix of bright, happy colors" and I remember being confused by those words after I said them, and laughing at the sound of them.
    This thread reminded me of that day.
    My mind works in ways I could never hope to understand,
    Instances like these I am vaguely aware of.
    It is the constant urge for their expression
    that led me to devote my life to art,
    to the gratification of the senses through different means,
    and the interpretation of my emotions on the page.
    This is the only thing that makes sense in the chaos..
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      May 9 2011: I wonder how much influence ridicule or the sense of being "weird' that was foisted on these kids contributes to the fact that many adults no longer experience synesthesias.

      I have no scientific foundation for the question - its just a gut instinct that ridicule and shame to talk about or express synesthesias could contribute to their extinction or supression.
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    May 9 2011: As a designer is very important to catch the moments when the material or the space or the shapes tell you through very unexpected reactions if the decision you're making is the right one. So, the communications among the senses is essential in order to reach the common sense (which is the common to all senses, but not the most common one).
    Sometimes I get surprised of how related are the shapes with the sound, or the flavors with the color, or the smells with the texture. I enjoy so much trying to translate the flavor of a fresh strawberry in shapes, or a musical composition into colors.

    Maybe you can take a look to the Kandinsky's work, how he puts and points the significances of his own art, and of art in general.
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      May 9 2011: Hello Adriana!
      I enjoyed reading about your playful way of experiencing synesthesias. I imagine that it would serve someone in the field of design very well.

      In fact, the idea for this thread arose from the menition of synesthias and Kandinsky in another thread where we were trying to understand schemas.

      There is a link to his work below for anyone who wishes to see a couple of examples.
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        May 9 2011: Hello Debra!
        I saw the link, I missed it the first time I read the conversation. I searched the Kandinsky's book 'Klänge', this man never stops amazing me! I love his work. And I love this one in particular because I'm a book lover. If you have some time take a look to the work of Bruno Munari, he has a lot of beautiful books for kids, and he (as Kandinsky) tried to find the real meaning of the book considering all its parts as a separate element.
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        May 10 2011: Debra, this link is from the italian editors of Bruno Munari, they have ALL his books and a lot of work around him among a lot of beautiful things that are thightly related to the topic of this conversation. Have fun!
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          May 11 2011: Thanks Adriana, I really appreciate that link.
          I hope you are having fun too!
  • May 8 2011: I am one who has this. It is amazing. I make music and this has been with me my whole life. It wasn't until I was about 16, that I was decsribing this to a classmate and she told me that what I have is synesthesia. Ever since then I have embraced it. For me its not just music, but also other sounds like peoples voices and the days of the week. With music, it works like this for me.... I don't see certain notes and tones in one specific color, every time I hear that note or tone, rather it is the whole piece of music that I see as a picture in my head. Each instrument has a shape as to what I would envision that particular sound to look like and they are layered on top of one another. It is almost like there is a train passing by in front of me and on that train there is the music that I am seeing as it builds and add more intruments to the piece. So as the music builds there are more layers right on top of it, and when there are vocals on top of it I picture the person singing it as if they are in the background and the music is in the foreground. Each piece of music has a main color(theme) and all ther instruments have their respective shapes and colors within the main color that I feel and see when I am hearing it. Also, if I am hearing someones voice singing and I don't know what that person looks like, I imagine in my mind what I think they would look like. So I can hear something and remember what it sounds like, by remembering what it looks like. Its always the same picture every time. This helps when I make music. I wish I could paint so I could express what I see because it is so hard to explain. Also with the days of the week, to me they look like the shapes of the states on a map, and each day has a distinct shape that never changes. Anyways, I really love this site and it is amazing to talk about things that we all experience and get to share about it. Hope my view of this sheds some light on to what people might experience.
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      May 8 2011: Welcome Alex, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Please read the rest ot the experiences if you have time and compare notes with others who have synesthesias.
  • May 8 2011: Hi, Debra, again, very intresting topic for me personally, because, quite recently I have been told, that I have a sort of synesthesia. I was really very surprised, I thought everybody saw that way, actually I didn't think about this at all!
    Wassily Kandinsky is meant to be heard, as well as Pablo Picasso or van Gogh, but they produce very loud compelling and disturbing sounds, I love them, but prefere posters of Marc Chagall in my living space.
    The most strange thing, maybe, but again, quite common for me, numbers have colours, when I try to recollect the phone number I failed to put down, I may see somthing red at the begining, then something brownish in the middle with a light green in the end, it means that the number in question started with 5, in the middle there was 3 and ended, most likelly with 4 somehow combined with 1, it's hardly applicable, that's why of no use :)
    I am not an artist, not even close, I have never produced anything artistic into the world, so I don't know...
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      May 8 2011: Natasha welcome!
      Could you elaborate on why your choose Chagall to live with. I think it will be enlightening to see what you expereince in interacting with a particular art form. What is it that brings about your comfort level with this?
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        May 8 2011: Alo Debra in this ver quiet Sunday morning I contemplate a Matisse painting and follow his quote: "Painting should be like a comfortable sofa." I'm hearing Petroushka from the sounds are colorfull. When I'm cooking y feel the red in the tomatoes like a flavor, smelling the acidity or sweetness but not tasting. Sometimes the texture of the ingredients advice me of the flavor. For me cooking is like design in all senses.
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          May 8 2011: Buenas dias! Jaime, You never fail to urge us toward a fuller and more vibrant life. I wonder if your capacity for living fully is informed or propelled by your rich synesthetic experience?
      • May 8 2011: I would, gladly, Debra, but I think, it's so quintessentially human to bring something comforting to live with, I have "La Mariee", "The Blue Violinist" and small coppy of "Cheval Bleu au Couple"
        They have the quality of soothing harmony, harmony forever, timeless. They don't provoke thoughts, not emotion, even, but create atmosphere of peace and comfort, and hope...The idea of happiness seems simple and natural, as existance, even inevitable...
        They sound also, but it's not a piece of music, at least I don't know anything to" serve as a sound track", it's a bell, a bell in a distance, through fog, slow and time sound, more like vibration..
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          May 8 2011: Natasha- that reminds me of the singing bowls of some spiritual practices- it sounds comforting indeed!

          I think you lucky synesthetes underestimate how much you have to offer us all!
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        May 8 2011: Debra really I don't know the answer, or if exist some answer.....maybe the scientists could get some attempts to respond that more accurately. I remember the words from our king-poet Netzahualcoyotl: "In the lake of the bellybutton of the moon are allt the answers, we have to make the right question."
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          May 8 2011: As you look over your life do you feel that you have always had 'espíritu de la vida' in greater measure or been able to plug it in more completely than your peers?
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        May 8 2011: Debra.....Sometimes i enjoy reading the Ecesistes and hear "Turn, turn, turn" bay the Byrds....right now im delighted with Brubeck, and maybe next some mexican baroque music. But not all is music, I'm designing a cilindrical book, a bookshelf with some high-hells red shoes, and a little puppet teather to present The Magic Flute from Mozart. The words have a magic power and our collectionof tiny books about mexican gastronomy are one of my pleasures. The flowers tell me a lot of secret stories and the flavor of a good chocolate is amazing when I analize a gold baroque retablo in a XVIII century church, here in Guadalajara.
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          May 8 2011: If you keep this up I will definately fall in love with your brain and I know you have a lovely wife! What's with the new picture? That strawberry dessert looked fabulous.
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      May 8 2011: very common in synesthetes to see numbers in colors..but recent studies of synesthetes with this particular attribute ( not all synesthetes have that attribute) have found that the sysnethesthes do not have the same color for the same that opens up all kinds of interesting questions especially aganst many stidies and explorations and traditions that associate colors with particular moods.Hope you are embracing your synethesia as a great and wondrous are in te good comany of some of the most brilliant and creative minds that we have ever known .thanks for sharing
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        May 8 2011: Morning Lindsay, I hope you will share some of the interesting particulars that you have learned about synesthsia. I may not remember to share interesting and important insights. Come share and play with these ideas with all of us!
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        May 8 2011: Lindsey,

        To echo your points. My family member who is a synesthete fits some of the conclusions that most see A as Red B as Blue and see a few other colors, but not all, in common. Most though are individual. They also see variations and hue and tonal differences. Most intriguing is how this lays out in their color perceptions of people. They don't always track one might expect ie: a "sunny" personality as yellow. This family member doesn't have an answer for why a person is a color. They just are. More interesting yet, some people are color blends, occasionally with shapes incorporated..

        To your point about research on the link between color and emotions. I wrote a number of articles on the topic, particularly on the effects of environmental color. And with few exceptions, most research shows color is highly influenced by individual experience, temperament or cultural mores.

        (Exceptions being that red raises blood pressure and green is universally favored--due to its ubiquity in natural environments--for which good research supports generalized positive mental and physical relationships.)

        But, as you point out, and certainly in my observation of the synesthete in my family, color theory, psychology, etc. seems to have little to do with how a synesthete perceives those things the come through as colors for them. Not to say they reject or don't understand common color conceptions, they do. And while they can and do apply them, they don't see the world through them, so to speak.

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    May 8 2011: Wow!!! Debra, I used to sense colors with different shapes and surfaces when I was a kid and teen and at university.... Some colures had smooth surface forms, while other had holes or hills of different forms and shape on them. For a long time this feeling didn’t let me alone and I used to see dreams full of these senses, but now it’s gone and I don’t remember much about it....I only remembers that this feelings were sharpening when I was studying modern directions of fine arts, event trying to drown or watching paintings of many genius people….
    Is this Syn•es•the•sia????
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      May 8 2011: Yes Kristine! It is. Further down in this thread I mentioned a book and its author (its the title of the thread too) which talks about your experience. There are several great videos included further down to help to see that there are others with this abiltiy. It is now considered a gift.
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    May 8 2011: Fascinating topic !
    We have this famous French poem by Arthur Rimbaud, Voyelles (Vowels) - i may find an English translation:


    A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
    Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
    A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
    Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,

    Golfes d'ombre ; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
    Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles ;
    I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
    Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes ;

    U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
    Paix des pâtis semés d'animaux, paix des rides
    Que l'alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux ;

    O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
    Silences traversés des Mondes et des Anges ;
    - O l'Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux !

    I had a few moments of synesthesias when i was young but i guess i discarded them as something unrelevant. I remember associating my brother's Godmother with Brown color and wednesday, and also with a plate.
    I'm wondering, when Bibi S says (below) ' The way the air smells when it just stopped raining makes me feel like when I was 7' : these kind of associations, are they synesthesias or rather anchored feelings created by strong emotional episode ?
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      May 8 2011: Such a wonderful addition! I am grateful for my inadequate French skills which let me understand these clear and concise words. This is exactly what a synesthesis is.
    • May 8 2011: I have thought about this myself before, but there is a difference between the way, for example, a certain song might me feel sad because it reminds me of something that happened when I first heard that song, and that particular feeling. Maybe I described it wrongy: it is not the memory of a feeling, or the memory of something that happened when I was that age (I did not have any 'strong emotional episodes' at that age, nothing that really impacted me). I literally feel this particular feeling. Later I connected that feeling to the summer when I was seven because the feeling reminds me of how I felt then, but the smell does not particularly remind me of that summer: I smell and that smell simultaneously creates a feeling (which happens to be a feeling that reminds me of my childhood and especially that summer), But then again, maybe all synesthesia exists because of certain connections that I have made when I was younger. For example, the seasons are particular colours to me as well: summer is yellow, autumn is brown, winter is white and spring is green. Those are very basic associations: if you would ask 100 people which colours they would associate with which seasons you would probably get a lot of the same answers. The difference is that for me, the seasons are those colours, I cannot think 'summer' without 'seeing' yellow in my head. Just like how I mix up may and march or thursday and tuesday all the time: they are the same colour to me, so it is hard to keep them apart mix them up.
      It is interesting that in it happens in different languages as well: 'summer' and 'zomer' (which is summer in dutch) have the same association with yellow. So whatever 'idea' I have of 'summer' and 'zomer', that 'idea' also exists out of the colour yellow. Just like how this smell refers to this particular feeling, and I cannot have one without the other.
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        May 8 2011: Nice clarification and additions. Keep the insights coming everyone!
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    May 8 2011: Every time I read a conversation.

    I have oft thought about the senses and have inevitably come to the conclusion that there is a point in the mind that the senses to converge. If the convergence was somehow not smooth it may lead to synesthsesias. Mayhap caused by some of the filters that separate the senses in the mind being missing. I would think the cause to be wiring in nature.
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      May 8 2011: There is a theory Thomas that as newborns all of our senses are intertwined and that every environmental stimulus is interpreted through every sense message. This might account for the exponentially rapid growth in learning that tiny humans go through. As time goes on it is proposed that most people lose the ability.

      There is other evidence though that it happens to some people as they mature or encounter an injury. Now many believe that it is a gift that human beings are growning into.
      For me the evidence is insufficient to decide.
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        May 8 2011: I was telling someone the other day how babies don't see objects, they just see. It's takes the development of their brain to be able to differentiate between visions. Interesting to think that this continues to all senses so at first they simply experience and later learn to differentiate the experiences. {Kinda goes along with the subconscious, or their progress into consciousness}

        If it is gift or not I'm unsure. While yes it would be neat to get a fuller experience out of things I could also see it causing confusions.

        If people represent numbers with different different colors, do they get different experiences from music? Are there masterpieces that give off the same feel to all the extra perceptual senses?
  • May 7 2011: I have a form of synestesia myself, although I have no idea whether it is in my family. I only quite recently found out that how I experience certain things isn't the 'common' way. Monday is white and saturday green, a square is slow while a triangle is annoyingly hyperactive. The way the air smells when it just stopped raining makes me feel like when I was 7. The number '8' is very friendly and 'stable'. It never occured to me that such strong relations between things that do not really have obvious relations was something strange, because to me they seemed so perfectly logical. Monday is white, it has to be, just like grass is green. I still don't really know the extend of my synesthesia, although I keep finding things every now and then. I do have the idea that it was 'stronger' when I was younger, say before I was 13. Especially with scents it surprises me sometimes how strong I can 'feel' something because of a certain scent, although it is mostly positive so no complaints here ;)

    I just read your post on Kandinsky, very intriguing becaus ever since I first saw his works I have been inspired and moved by it more than I ever had with other artists!
    I do enjoy making art a lot myself, unfortunately I am not very good technically. Maybe that's why I prefer photography ;)
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      May 7 2011: Bibi, welcome and thanks for sharing your experience!

      When you were in school were there any subjects that the synesthesias may have helped you with?
      When did you learn to define your experience as synesthesias? Has it ever been an obstacle?

      Please know that we would be delighted to hear any more that you are willing to share with us about your experience
      • May 8 2011: I don't think it really is either an advantage or a disadvantage in school. I do know that I tend to learn things differently than others, but I would not be able to tell if that is because of mmy synesthesia or not. I always have trouble though defining to which extend my synesthesia make things different for me than for others. When I was twelve one of my teachers said something about synesthesia, but I actually did not once consider that it was how I percieved the world as well. For me, it is absolutely normal, so there is really no way of telling whether it has ever been an obstacle. I cannot imagine how it is without synesthesia, because I have no idea how much it affects me. I only found out that I had it when I was talking with a very close friend and I explained to her how I always forgot whether her birthday was in may or in march because those are the same colour, and she just looked at me as if I had said something really weird, which it must have been for her. That was something like one or two years ago. Once I realized I suddenly noticed all these connections that other people don't make, and I was very surprised at how much of the things I believe to be logical actually aren't.
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          May 8 2011: "Once I realized I suddenly noticed all these connections that other people don't make, and I was very surprised at how much of the things I believe to be logical actually aren't. "

          I loved this statement that you made. The salient point is that they ARE logical FOR YOU.
          Hw exciting. I see it as an advantage that others don't have that you have two simultaneous pieces of data (the name of the month and green) for remembering things.

          Above Natasha reported being able to remember a phone number she forgot to write down by realizing colour clues too. I see these as amazing memory ads and extra gifts.
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      May 8 2011: Hi Bibi..thanks for sharing and facsinating..I have been very interested in synesthesia for a long long time and so have watched and read a lot about it. I don't recall any one having the same attributes you described with geometry or your sympathetic ( feelings related) connections to numbers)..shows how vast and varied the experience is. I also love your and other accounts coming out here that show many people who have synesthesia don;t know they have it, don't know it has a name, and don't even know others don't have it until someone points it out. Just fascintaing..Hope you are welcoming your synesthesia as a great gift..
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    May 6 2011: "Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many -- McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds. "
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      May 6 2011: Nice new point! many drugs promote synethsisias.
      It is one way that scientists (and hippies and this new generation) have worked on understanding how the brain works.
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        May 7 2011: Debra in our pre-Columbiian cultural tradition we have a lot of plants, flowers, roots, trees, seeds and leafs to expand the conscience to achieve altered states. Today all our native ethnical groups and tribes use some of these bridges to the other side. ¿Do you remember Carlos Castaneda books? The real hippies in the sixties were reduced to madness with the abuse of drugs prescripted in the MK- Ultra experiments. Maybe the best position is to follow the soul insights, than mind mumbbles . In the theological Roman tradition, the mind is the place where the hell resides, and the hell is the place where nothing connects with nothing and you have to do all eternally to obtain... nothing.

        In this forum we dialogue about the senses and synesthesia... let me introduce to all the words of the last Sacrament in the rites of the Roman Catholic tradition....:

        Imagine some person very ill that is almost dead...the priest tell him the final words:
        Let The Lord forgive you all the abuse and missuse that you have done with your senses....then, the priest traces the Holy Cross sign on his eyes, nose, ears, mouth and hands. ........No more than this final reminder of our nonsense. And if we look the ancient greek tradition in the Epicuro's garden....
        ¡Enjoy the present.!
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          May 7 2011: I find each of your postings to be a feast!

          I am not familiar with Castenadas books but i looked up your reference on Wikipedia.
          There is a long history of anthropologists learning from shamans. There has been much written about their mental explorations with drugs and some reference is synesthetic like experiences.

          The fact that the Roman Catholic tradition has determined that the mind is where hell resides is a huge and potentially incredibly fertile area for discussion and learning for me.
          How does the warning about the senses in the last rights and the misuse of them coincide with your admonition to awaken all of our senses and enjoy today?
        • May 8 2011: Jaime, Graham Hancock describes some of these altered states in one of his book. Now, I don't know what to make of Hancock himself, but his description of the altered states is intriguing.
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          May 13 2011: "altered states" are sometimes no more strage than the less altered ones.
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    May 6 2011: One of my most favorite topics . With no personal experience in synesthesa II won't be partcipating here. But I do want to point you Eri Yammomoto..japanese jazz pianist/composer..whether it was at her website or at a performance or both I am not sure but her account of her own "un nocticed" synesthesia is very fact,,she didn't realize it had a name and was called sysnthesia.would be so cool to bring her into this convesrsation. She has a jazz composition called "Colors" I think, and she usually introduced that song with aa description of wht is synestheisa. I will be monitoring and hope it collects a lot of fisrt person accounts.
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      May 6 2011: Thanks Lindsay for the heads up on Eri. The following is a link of Eri playing a jazz piece called Bumpy Trail.
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        May 6 2011: too funny you would know her too...imagine that..but I am serious..I think if you invited her she might speak of it here. When I spoke to her about it after a performance ( here on my island, can you magine?) she seemed totally unaware that other people had this expereience..perhaps many undiscoered synesthetes out there. Most agree Shakepeare was a synesthete and that is part of the power of his language and imagery. Back to Eri..the other thing that seems to run with musicians who are synesthetes is a very high level of collaboration. When Eri plays in collaboration it is as if she and the other are readaing from the same invisible score in even the most complicated improvsPS thanks for the link..I'll down load it.
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    May 6 2011: This is the post from another thread that inspired the question. Many people have amazing insights into this phenomenon.

    Birdia Tak Wai Chan 50+
    TED Translator
    1 day ago: Wassily Kandinsky, a 20th century painter, could see colors when he heard sounds. His paintings were mostly inspired by music (He loved Wagner's work) and he named a series of his work "Compositions", very powerful when I first saw them back in NYC many years ago, the vibrant colors brought tears to my eyes. Alongside his writings on art, he also published a collection of poems and prints named 'Klange' (Sounds). I do believe most artists who possesses multiple talents involving both music and art have synesthesia, I think it is because their senses are very sensitive and somehow integrated in an inexplicable way that fuses their work and imagination if they decide to follow their artistic instincts
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    May 6 2011: The man who tasted shapes is a book by author Richard E.Cyrowic (1993).

    He maintains that understanding "a bizarre medical mystery offers revolutionary insights into emotions, reasoning and consciousness.
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      May 7 2011: Debra ..I really believe that all we can do with synesthesia is a weak attempt to describe and explain the unexplainable and almost all times this is very lousy effort..... The mistery remain untouched. Sometimes its better contemplate the mistery than discover it. Its an attribute of the elegance knowing the opportunity to build a bridge and go to the other side.
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        May 7 2011: Alo, Jaime!
        Thanks for your wonderful contributions to the discussion. Neuroscience especially under Ramachanran is moving forward very quickly. Synesthesias are a wonderful clue to the complexities of the brain. By understanding drug states that trigger them, when injury triggers them, when they run in families significant progress is being made. Whether or not we will make much progress here, we will all be enriched by knowing other's experiences like your entry on Vedantra tradition and the 64 senses. Just sharing that with us entices us to live life more fully and with greater awareness of the stimuli and beauty around us.