“Synesthesia [also synaesthesia]  is an involuntary joining in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. In addition to being involuntary, this additional perception is regarded by the synesthete as real, often outside the body, instead of imagined in the mind’s eye. It also has some other interesting features that clearly separate it from artistic fancy or purple prose. Its reality and vividness are what make synesthesia so interesting in its violation of conventional perception. Synesthesia is also fascinating because logically it should not be a product of the human brain, where the evolutionary trend has been for increasing separation of function anatomically.” (R. Cytowic, “Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses”  quoted at  http://web.mit.edu/synesthesia/www/  ... Dr.Richard Cytowic http://wearcam.org/synesthesia/cytowic.html also wrote:


“Some people say they “see red” when angry, or they talk about “sharp” cheese, “cool” jazz, or “loud” ties. But do you see pink triangles on hearing music, or feel yourself on a prickly bed of nails when eating cherry pie? Do ordinary words, names, and voices have specific colors, peculiar shapes–even distinctive flavors?

If this sounds perfectly normal, then you may be one of a handful of individuals with synesthesia, the cross-wiring of the senses that is experienced in the first-person not as imagination, but as an external and involuntary sensation.

Neurologically, synesthesia involves only the left hemisphere, and relies on limbic structures for its expression. While we usually regard the cortex as the home of sensory perception, there is, during the multisensory synesthetic experience, a counter-intuitive collapse of cortical metabolism, without effecting subjects’ higher intelligence or normal behavior.

The implications of synesthesia lead to a multiplex model of brain organization that rejects the hierarchical supremacy of neocortex and the usual emphasis on objectivity. This multiplex model stresses limbic regulation, subjective experience, and non-verbal knowledge.”

OVERVIEW of SYNESTHESIA by Ramachandran & Brang


Artists (including cinema and stage production designers and directors) try to enlarge the observer’s experience by using multiple modalities (consider the gesamtkunstwerk.). Efforts at synthesizing synesthesia were part of the “decadent” 1884 novel À rebours  by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1884_in_literaturehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novel the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans (is this the yellow book that Lord Henry gave Dorian Gray?)


Great energy is expended  to visualize sounds or smells or tastes or sounds: see (for example) “Born of Sound” (sponsored content in WIRED magazine) (link needs repair)





DIARY NOTE–REMINISCENCE… “So they are going to replace MOMA ! In the old Museum of Modern Art there was a LUMIA in the basement … I visited this installation of Thomas Wilfred’s work on each of the few hundreds days I visited MOMA through the 1960’s (studying in the cafe or garden led to many happy thoughts and encounters).  During these visits a meditative few minutes visiting his light sculptures projected on a screen in a light-sheltered  tent was a great start.   Some computer media  players have a version of it … transforming sound into synchronized colored clouds … But Wilfred devised the “clavilux” that transformed strokes on a keyboard into projections of light.  The psychedelic light shows that accompanied a few favorite musical groups tapped into a deep reservoir of cognitive predilections:  the sensory vocabulary of most disciplines find alternative ways of communicating the experience  pathetically inadequate: tasters of wine, tea, coffee … sniffers of colognes … aficionados in any domain … we have all had experiences that cannot be adequately embraced by any one sensory domain … we do the best we can with words, but there is no vocabulary sufficient.  More holistic sensory representation – converging senses –  feel closer, but cannot be communicated.


|About LUMIA| Thomas Wilfred  

Watch: MoMA curator, Lauren Rosati’s “Curator’s Cut” presentation on Thomas Wilfred’s Lumia and Painting with Light






Fred Callopy’s project described in Leonardo and visit his site: “Rhythmic Light”;  Large Quirky Collection of Synesthesia Resources



[i] Catherine Taylor is a former deputy director of English PEN. She writes regularly for The Guardian, the Financial TimesNew Statesman, the Times Literary SupplementThe Economist and The Irish Times, and is editor of The Book of Sheffield: A City in Short Fiction (2019). The Stirrings, a cultural memoir of Sheffield in the 1970s and ’80s, is forthcoming.

Edited by Marina Benjamin