I was reading one of the BBC Reith Lectures of 2003 by V.S.Ramachandran, the famous neurologist. I would rather prefer to call him a ‘psycho physicist’ if there is a word like that. This lecture was on ‘synesthesia‘ and its implications as well as applications in the real world. It was a joy reading this essay. Its not just about knowing what synesthesia is. A wikipedia page will do to get a definition. It was the explanation, interpretation and getting it till – “evolution of language” – all done in a simple and easy to understand manner – that is making me write this post.
Okay, let me brief on what ‘Synesthesia’ is. ‘Synesthesia’ can be understood as a cross-relation between different senses. The typical example : mapping numbers to colors. (See this figure). In this figure, if you view the left hand side as the right hand side – it means that you are a synesthete :). Well, I didn’t. I did not see the triangle pattern of 2s when I saw the figure, because, I saw 5 as 5 and not “green” – thats exactly what synesthetes do.
And my doubts on the causes- The article mentioned four common explanations that were proposed for this issue:
1. These people are just crazy
2. They may be under the influence of drugs
3. They are just recalling some childhood memories
4. This might indicate how metaphors work
-For point 3, VSR mentioned a logic saying – But sinesthesia is hereditary. How can people have same childhood memories over generations? I wonder – doesn’t that logic apply for 2 and to some extent – 1? I mean – may be “craziness” is hereditary in some cases. But, sometimes it may not be right ? (Iam not a doc 🙂 I am just guessing that it need not be hereditary always). So, VSR’s logic should hold true for points 1 and 2 too – is my understanding.
The best part of this reading experience is that : if you are a neuro science person, you can enjoy this as a good technical read. If you are a lay-person like me – you can still enjoy reading this.
It was a joy reading this book – so far…
A text version is available on the BBC site here.
(I read it in the book – a collection of these lectures titled : “The Emerging Mind”)