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Synesthesia, some people perceive individual symbols, characters, numbers

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Frame Dragger
#19
Apr11-10, 04:51 PM
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Quote Quote by Pythagorean View Post
Ramachandran gives a good talk on it in his third lecture in this three-lecture series:


Do you know Dr. Ramachandran?! He's incredibly well respected, but he's usually on the damned opposite coast! I saw him once at Harvard and it was amazing to see that such a bright man was also such a capable orator. I think I'd actually say he's one of my heroes, and has been since childhood and especialy after learning about Phantom Limb sensations. Talk about someone who has an ongoing impact in research, and for clinicians.
StarkRG
#20
Apr11-10, 04:54 PM
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Quote Quote by Frame Dragger View Post
Alas, no, you completely misunderstood me. I was saying that a difference in perception doesn't make life EASIER. I believe I also made a very clear distinction (in that post and others) between what people CAN learn, vs. Synesthesia. Thanks for the 101 though.
Oh, ok, I see. Honestly I don't think that would be any more difficult than anything else we have to learn, it just gives us another route to learn it. Once learned it would be much faster since it would use the same routes that instinct and intuition uses, however, as I said before, it might take longer to learn to begin with.

However I could see where it might get really difficult if the words or numbers were printed in color.

While it's fairly easy to tell me what these mean: red, yellow, purple


If I colorize them wrong it makes it more difficult: red, yellow, purple

Similarly I can imagine having colored numerals would make it far more difficult to understand.

I can also imagine if there were other issues with ones brain (other learning disabilities and such) that they might be compounded by synesthesia.

Another thing that might make it difficult is that there's no tutor around that can help with it. This is mitigated by explaining the situation to parents and teachers. Since the colors associated with the various ideas and symbols differ from individual to individual there's no set way to teach it. We can, however make it easier to learn on ones own, for example, by not colorizing numbers and text very often (leaving it up to the individual to add their own colors) and by giving more time to learn things.
Pythagorean
#21
Apr11-10, 05:01 PM
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Quote Quote by Frame Dragger View Post
Do you know Dr. Ramachandran?! He's incredibly well respected, but he's usually on the damned opposite coast! I saw him once at Harvard and it was amazing to see that such a bright man was also such a capable orator. I think I'd actually say he's one of my heroes, and has been since childhood and especialy after learning about Phantom Limb sensations. Talk about someone who has an ongoing impact in research, and for clinicians.
No, not personally, though I asked him if he'd by my adviser on his facebook page, lol. I also asked Christof Koch. (No, I don't expect any replies back).
waht
#22
Apr11-10, 06:15 PM
P: 1,636
I think I have synesthesia.

For the longest time I thought that associating colors with letters was normal, until a pf member informed me that there is such a thing called "synesthesia." I did lots research on it and was quite surprised that it fit perfectly to what I experience as normal, and it never occurred to me that other people don't see things in color.

From my point of view, every letter in the alphabet has a unique color, and shade.

This is the color I strongly think of when I see an "A" for example:

A

I don't see a yellow visually, but I strongly think about it as yellow. For me, the letter "A" should be yellow no matter what its real color is.

Same thing happens with numbers, weekdays, months, and geometrical shapes - they all have different colors.
StarkRG
#23
Apr11-10, 06:30 PM
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Quote Quote by waht View Post
I think I have synesthesia.

For the longest time I thought that associating colors with letters was normal, until a pf member informed me that there is such a thing called "synesthesia." I did lots research on it and was quite surprised that it fit perfectly to what I experience as normal, and it never occurred to me that other people don't see things in color.

From my point of view, every letter in the alphabet has a unique color, and shade.

This is the color I strongly think of when I see an "A" for example:

A

I don't see a yellow visually, but I strongly think about it as yellow. For me, the letter "A" should be yellow no matter what its real color is.

Same thing happens with numbers, weekdays, months, and geometrical shapes - they all have different colors.
So, does it screw you up or make you think harder if I do this: A

What was wrong about what I've been saying? (keep in mind that your synesthesia is going to be different than someone else's. Difficulties you come across may be simple for others and things that are simple for others may be difficult for you.

My interpretations aren't based on first hand information, it's all from reading about it. Does having things associated with colors help or hinder? Do you get the thing where you'll see a mathematical equation having the color of the answer or the color of the parts that make it up? (I've seen reports of both, personally I want the first)

Also, I realize it isn't really seeing the color, but it's closer to how we "see" the color when we read the word: red. It's more that the symbol or collection of symbols brings forth the idea of the color.

Can you solve a math equation where the numerals and symbols have been replaced with the colors you attribute to them? In other words, if you saw 2, 3 and 5 as yellow, blue and purple, respectively, and + and = as green and orange you'd be able to correctly deduce that the following sequence ends in purple: ####

Or doesn't it work that way (in other words, it only works in one direction: symbols to colors, not the other way around: colors to symbols)?
waht
#24
Apr11-10, 08:09 PM
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Quote Quote by StarkRG View Post
So, does it screw you up or make you think harder if I do this: A
I can distinguish that this letter is red in reality, but I still think of a yellow color, a pale yellow to be exact. It was like this ever since learning the alphabet in the 1st grade.


My interpretations aren't based on first hand information, it's all from reading about it. Does having things associated with colors help or hinder?
There is no advantage and disadvantage. Ever since finding out a proper name for this condition, I had a lunch with a psychiatrist, and he never heard about synesthesia. As far I know it's completely harmless, and so it's not even listed in DSM.

Do you get the thing where you'll see a mathematical equation having the color of the answer or the color of the parts that make it up? (I've seen reports of both, personally I want the first)
This only works in few simple cases. For example, an entire word or number will usually take the color of the first letter or a number. I could if I wish and scan individual letters and they would have different colors. But the entire sequence of characters inherits the color of the first symbol. This is true is most cases.

In few rare cases this is not so. For example, a "7" is also a yellow, and a "4" is a very light grayish/opaque color.

But if I square "7" or yellow, the result "49" will also be a yellow, and not a light grayish "4" of the first number. But "48" is a light grayish.

This color squaring and square-rooting is same for numbers 1-9. I suspect the link was made when learning the multiplication table in grade school.

Also, I realize it isn't really seeing the color, but it's closer to how we "see" the color when we read the word: red. It's more that the symbol or collection of symbols brings forth the idea of the color.
That's a very accurate description. If you read "red" you think about a red color, and can link it subsequently with the context. For me this is true for the alphabet, numbers, weekdays, months, and geometrical shapes.

Can you solve a math equation where the numerals and symbols have been replaced with the colors you attribute to them? In other words, if you saw 2, 3 and 5 as yellow, blue and purple, respectively, and + and = as green and orange you'd be able to correctly deduce that the following sequence ends in purple: ####
There is no isomorphism between colors and arithmetic. All mathematical equations, integrals, and derivatives just appear to have different colors, that's all. The actual calculations are performed normally, I think.


Or doesn't it work that way (in other words, it only works in one direction: symbols to colors, not the other way around: colors to symbols)?
It's one way. If I look at a pale yellow color, I don't think of a letter "A"
Frame Dragger
#25
Apr11-10, 08:23 PM
P: 1,540
Quote Quote by waht View Post
I think I have synesthesia.

For the longest time I thought that associating colors with letters was normal, until a pf member informed me that there is such a thing called "synesthesia." I did lots research on it and was quite surprised that it fit perfectly to what I experience as normal, and it never occurred to me that other people don't see things in color.

From my point of view, every letter in the alphabet has a unique color, and shade.

This is the color I strongly think of when I see an "A" for example:

A

I don't see a yellow visually, but I strongly think about it as yellow. For me, the letter "A" should be yellow no matter what its real color is.

Same thing happens with numbers, weekdays, months, and geometrical shapes - they all have different colors.
That bolded part is what people with migraines often say of preceeding aura. "Doesn't EVERYONE see specks of light and colour, or smells before they have a headache?" I'd say that's pretty good evidence that as long as the input and output match, the internal process is intersting, but obviously just... different. Hell, if kids can recover from hemispherectomies (mostly), this is hardly even surprising. AMAZING, but not surprising.
Pythagorean
#26
Apr11-10, 08:56 PM
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Yeah, synesthesia isn't in DSM because it doesn't fit the three criteria of a mental disorder:

1) disrupting family, work, or social life
2) causes significant distress to self or others
3) behavior atypical of society or culture

You may be able to argue 3), but 3) alone isn't enough to be considered an illness and I would argue against those attempts anyway.

synesthesia is more of a neurological thing, like color blindness. It's assumed synestheses are wired differently, but importantly, that the unusual wiring doesn't negatively effect the networks involved with the broad spectrum of social and emotional tasks.
flatmaster
#27
Apr11-10, 09:48 PM
P: 504
This has been fascinating. I have a few questions that most likely have been studied, but I'm too lazy to look for journals.

Is there any reason to believe that the letter - color connection is unique to the individual with synesthesia? For example, Waht describes the letter "A" as having a yellow tint. Is A more likely to be yellow or does each person with synesthistia lear their own system.

This brings to mind the sound - color connection. Emotions are usually said to have a color; Anger is red while sadness is blue. Are individuals with the sound-color connection more likely to experience the color that most exemplifies the mood of the music?
waht
#28
Apr12-10, 09:47 AM
P: 1,636
Is there any reason to believe that the letter - color connection is unique to the individual with synesthesia? For example, Waht describes the letter "A" as having a yellow tint. Is A more likely to be yellow or does each person with synesthistia lear their own system.
Journal Link

This study shows that biases exist in the associations of letters with colours across individuals both with and without grapheme-colour synaesthesia. A group of grapheme-colour synaesthetes were significantly more consistent over time in their choice of colours than a group of controls. Despite this difference, there were remarkable inter-subject agreements, both within and across participant groups (e.g., a tends to be red, b tends to be blue, c tends to be yellow). This suggests that grapheme-colour synaesthesia, whilst only exhibited by certain individuals, stems in part from mechanisms that are common to us all. In addition to shared processes, each population has its own distinct profile. Synaesthetes tend to associate higher frequency graphemes with higher frequency colour terms. For control participants, choices are influenced by order of elicitation, and by exemplar typicality from the semantic class of colours

But in my case, the letter to color mapping is different than as explained in the paper.

"A" is light yellow, "B" is reddish, "C" is white/bluish.
Frame Dragger
#29
Apr12-10, 09:54 AM
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Quote Quote by waht View Post
Journal Link




But in my case, the letter to color mapping is different than as explained in the paper.

"A" is light yellow, "B" is reddish, "C" is white/bluish.
That makes a lot of sense, considering how tangled our senses are in each other. Sci-Am had a decent article about a study of mice, and an association between recognition of smells and SOUNDS. Not synesethsia mind you, normal association that SEEMS to increase sensitivity or recognition. (BIG maybes here, but it's just one nearly accidental study).

In fact, synesthesia, being a "different 'wiring'" rather damage, would be expected to rely on common themes that most people experience. In the same way that people with very specific injuries can be expected to experience similar phenomenoon, or that people in isolation can experience a predictable series of hallucinations... it makes sense that this would be the case as well.

Really, it raises a lot of questions about just how diffuse activity in our brains needs to be to accomplsh any given task. It seems to be a definite combination of increased activity in some regions, but the DMN sets the stage. It's... interesting.
rhody
#30
Apr12-10, 11:01 AM
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waht,

You have NO IDEA how bad I want to jump in here. To be fair, I am at the point in the book, "The Man Who Tasted Shapes" by Cytowic where he and a colleage conduct an experiment with a real time brain scan (baseline, and then under a synesthasia stimulus) and what they discover.

Needless to say I am amazed. If everyone can be patient for a bit longer, I will post a summary of all symptoms, tests performed, and a summary of what I have grasped so far. Needless to say I am quite taken with this subject as well, and I don't even know anyone who has it, or admits to having it. I will post everything I know to date in this thread versus the one I spoke of in my first post.

I now believe that most people who have it consider it a wonderful gift, for a number of reasons I will explain in greater detail this evening.

Rhody...
waht
#31
Apr12-10, 03:33 PM
P: 1,636
Quote Quote by Frame Dragger View Post
In fact, synesthesia, being a "different 'wiring'" rather damage, would be expected to rely on common themes that most people experience. In the same way that people with very specific injuries can be expected to experience similar phenomenoon, or that people in isolation can experience a predictable series of hallucinations... it makes sense that this would be the case as well.
Human physiology is pretty much homogeneous. People are more likely to respond similarly to similar conditions.

I'm still curious how the color to letters mapping actually occurs during childhood development. I suspect that roots of such mapping were already formed before learning the alphabet.

For instance, as a five year old you are constantly learning new vocab. If one learns what an "Apple" is and are exposed to a yellow color at the same time. That color would get mapped to a word "Apple." Then couple of years later, you are learning the alphabet in school and come across learning the letter "A" which then would conjure up images of an "Apple" and then a yellow color?


Really, it raises a lot of questions about just how diffuse activity in our brains needs to be to accomplsh any given task. It seems to be a definite combination of increased activity in some regions, but the DMN sets the stage. It's... interesting.
Yes indeed, there is an increased chatter in the brain between various areas. There are two theories as to why that happens that I'm aware of. One theory is that all people are predisposed to having the same number of neurons and their interconnections. But in case of a synesthete, some sort of chemical/hormonal imbalance causes certain neurons to fire more which leads to cross talking.

The second theory is that synesthetes are either born with, or form more neuron interconnections than on average, and that eventually causes permanent cross wiring.
waht
#32
Apr12-10, 03:49 PM
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Quote Quote by rhody View Post
waht,

You have NO IDEA how bad I want to jump in here. To be fair, I am at the point in the book, "The Man Who Tasted Shapes" by Cytowic where he and a colleage conduct an experiment with a real time brain scan (baseline, and then under a synesthasia stimulus) and what they discover.
We're not going anywhere, take your time. That sounds like a really interesting book.

Needless to say I am amazed. If everyone can be patient for a bit longer, I will post a summary of all symptoms, tests performed, and a summary of what I have grasped so far. Needless to say I am quite taken with this subject as well, and I don't even know anyone who has it, or admits to having it. I will post everything I know to date in this thread versus the one I spoke of in my first post.
That's great. I'll be interested in reading your posts.

I now believe that most people who have it consider it a wonderful gift, for a number of reasons I will explain in greater detail this evening.

Rhody...
umm, it sure does amazes some people at parties.
Frame Dragger
#33
Apr12-10, 04:44 PM
P: 1,540
[QUOTE=waht;2668939]We're not going anywhere, take your time. That sounds like a really interesting book.



That's great. I'll be interested in reading your posts.



umm, it sure does amazes some people at parties.[/QUOTE]

@bold: Beats being double-jointed or able to whistle a tune any day!

@Rhody: What waht said.
rhody
#34
Apr12-10, 09:22 PM
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After reading framedragger's last post and waht's last two posts I will try to keep it pithy if that is possible. It is good to see everyone feels good about this, I do not wish to embarrass anyone here, including myself by asking too many questions.

What synesthetes experience and are tested for summary (about the first half of the book)

1. Mingling of two or more of the sensations (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) in a cross modal fashion. Most commonly reported is sight and touch.

2. Synesthetic experience is constant and stable (same stimulus results in same response) for the most part. There is no known abnormal pathology known to it.

3. More women than men have it, or at least are reported to admit having it.

4. Seven of the forty two individuals studied by Cytowic had immediate relatives who had it, suggesting there is a genetic component to it.

5. There is no known agreement when those with mixed sensations of say color hearing when two individuals with that trait were compared, their experiences and descriptions were completely unique to the individual describing them.

6. Cytowic was impressed at how highly individualized the triggering stimuli usually are, explaining why the expression of synesthesia vary from person to person. It is an all or nothing trait, and some people seem to have it more than others.

7. Human imagination fill the gaps of those (without it) in trying to understand it. Those who experience it daily have trouble describing the "ineffable quality" of it, leading to bewilderment and confusion of those trying to grasp it. It must be experienced, and cannot be imparted or transferred to others.

6. Failure of tests for items 5 thru 7 above lead Cytowic to a more qualitative investigation of the triune brain, from the bottom up, from the primitive brain (brain stem structures), to the limbic system, and finally to the cortex to determine the origins) of the mixed sensations that those with syesthesia experience. Were one or more of these structures responsible, and if so which and why.

7. Cytowic designed and administered a series of tests designed to qualify what those people experiencing synesthesia were sensing, this result being what is known as "Form Constants", now believed to be a limited number of perceptual frameworks, that appear to be built into the nervous system and are probably part of our genetic heritage.

8. Synesthesia can be induced temporarily by those who use LSD. LSD exerts three physiological actions, two of which oppose one another. It enhances low-level synapses coming from the brainstem relay, the hypothalmus, and at the same time suppressing the synaptic connections between the hypothalmus and high brain areas. Third, LSD causes an overall alertness and enhancement of synaptic pathways to the limbic system, the part of the brain that gives meaning to events and is concerned with emotion and memory. This part is key, "by blocking the normal flow at a point before a unified experience is created, LSD makes it 'stick" at a detail of the perception, like when a phonograph needle skips and plays the same part of a record over and over.

9. Those with synesthasia have great memory for detail, and an indelible recollection of the synesthetic event itself.

10. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) can result in the joining of the elements of smell, taste, vision, touch and hearing, memory and emotion and epileptic synesthesia occurs in four percent of TLE events. A personal observation here, compared to people with lifelong synesthesia I can imagine it must be very frightening to suddenly be barraged with a 'mingling of the senses", whereas people who have synesthesia are used to its stimuli and effects.

11. Cytowic and Dr David Stump, an expert in measuring brain metabolism, used a cerebral blood flow (CBF) technique in which a radioactive isotope of xeon (harmless inert gas) is used to identify what areas of the brain are processing, given the blood and glucose is being delivered and consumed, with a helmet device fitted with radiation detectors (16) measuring 16 different brain regions while the subject engages in a task, in this case one that induces a synesthesia response.

12. A baseline state was taken, then two tests were conducted, one to simply stimulate the patient with a stimuli that resulted in a synesthesia response, and the second test, this time adding amyl nitrate (to boost the synesthesia response).
All three tests, baseline, normal stimuli, and normal stimuli with amyl nitrate went smoothly each lasting about eight minutes.

13. Review of the data yielded the following: baseline, low flow for someone the patients age, normal stimuli resulted in the blood flow to the left hemisphere of the patients brain at 18% less than in the baseline, that's right, than in the baseline, Holy crap !!! The amount of flow is three times below the accepted flow of a normal person's. This was the first time Dr Stump (who was stumped, pun intended) had ever seen a reduced flow during the activation task (in this case a stimuli that brings on the sensation of synesthesia). The same effect was observed when amyl nitrate was administered. Synesthesia does not occur in the cortex, basically it shuts down when it occurs. The energy is being stimulated in the limbic brain, in the area where zoobyshoe describes as the hippocampus, which up to now I was under the assumption has to do with the storing of new memories, which makes sense in that people with this trait are able to retrieve them in great detail. I just didn't realize that it may be an area where a mingling of the senses occur. One point to note, the limbic system is deep enough that its metabolic activity is beyond the range of the CBF test to detect it.

14. Drugs can either stimulate or block the effects of synesthetes as follows:
The human cortex as we will see later plays an important part in either enhancing or dulling the effect of synesthasia.

15. As a rule when the cortex is depressed (reduced blood flow results in enhanced synesthesia effects) and when stimulated (increased blood flow results in a dulling or blocking effect of the sensation), Amphetimines block or dull the effects of synesthesia, while alcohol and amyl nitrate enhance it.

I will continue in a day or two with how the brain works (new view versus old view).

My fingers and mind need to rest, this is a very shorthand view of my understanding, I have left out many fine details, but the gist of the first half of the book is summarized as best as my feeble mind could convey.

Rhody...
zoobyshoe
#35
Apr12-10, 11:49 PM
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Wow, I really have to re-read that book. I've forgotten masses of what was in it.

Rhody, did you mis-speak when you said the most commonly reported sense pairings were sight and touch? I remember it being sound and sight.

The low bloodflow data seems to say the cause of synesthesia is neither hyperactivation nor crossover ("crosswiring"), but the result of some normal elements of brain function being inactivated.
rhody
#36
Apr13-10, 04:46 AM
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Quote Quote by zoobyshoe View Post
Wow, I really have to re-read that book. I've forgotten masses of what was in it.

Rhody, did you mis-speak when you said the most commonly reported sense pairings were sight and touch? I remember it being sound and sight.

The low bloodflow data seems to say the cause of synesthesia is neither hyperactivation nor crossover ("crosswiring"), but the result of some normal elements of brain function being inactivated.
zoobyshoe,

You may be correct, I put that down without pinning it down in the book (one of the few places I didn't mark for facts), I will try again today, in any event we know that it is a mingling of two or more of the five senses.

To comment to your last statement, to be fair I haven't finished it yet, and there may be other extenuating circumstances. For now according to Dr Stump's and Dr Cytowic's findings the blood flow in the cereberal cortex is vastly reduced (abnormally so) at rest and even more so during stimulation which gives rise to more active response in the limbic area, that I said could not be measured with the CBF test at the time. I have to believe that up to date technology could do a better job on all fronts. I will do some research to see if more modern tests have been performed.

Rhody...


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