Sunday, November 16, 2008

(posted by Michael Bellissimo)

Synaesthesia is a neurological condition where the senses can mix together to create a new experience. The dictionary defines it as:
A sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.
Simply put it is where one can hear, feel or taste a colour, smell a sound, etc…

This video will further explain:

In the article
( written by Susan Gaidos in SCIENCE NEWS, expands on this subject. Synesthetes have specially wired brains, according to the author, and their senses are blended. This condition could be in as many as 1 in 200 people and can be hereditary.

Although science is still working on the reason this is happening a theory is that synaesthesia may be caused by "cross-wiring" between areas of the brain that process the senses. This may occur very early in life where:

“Our brain makes more connections than it needs, and then eventually prunes some of those away,” says Edward Hubbard, a post-doctoral researcher at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research who studies what causes synaesthesia.

Recently in the Netherland scientists used DTI (which stands for diffusion tensor imaging) measures how water flows in the brain, scanning 18 synesthetes, and non- synesthetes. In some brain tissue water flows more freely in one direction especially in an axon (message carrier) referred to as white matter. This method allowed scientist to see how many axons where in each brain region, these area will have more white matter.
The synesthete’s synesthetes had higher levels of white matter in different brain regions; one in the letter and word region of the brain, the other in regions involved in consciousness and awareness.


This video and article got me thinking about those people with perfect or absolute pitch. Are they synesthetes and don’t know it? I remember years ago when a product came out that you could buy for $90.00 that would give you perfect pitch by relating notes to colour. Everyone I know that tried it could not make it happen and that makes sense if the science is correct telling us that this starts in infancy, where you start becoming a synesthete. However what would happen if you started relating pitches and colour during infancy. Do kids who play with the little keyboards that have coloured keys instead of black and white keys, or the xylophones that have different colours develop a better sense of pitch or even perfect pitch? (DO I START THIS WITH MY DAUGHTER?)

More questions came up as I searched. What about people who are colour blind can they have synaesthesia? Well it turn out, yes, in fact scientist Ramachandran and Hubbard have produced many interesting findings, including a subject who referred to colours he could experience synaesthetically, but could not see.
Perhaps as music educators we should be implementing colour and pitch relationships in a systematic way including the instrumental methods book used in band programs. Or would we be adding another dimension to music learning that would slow the musical

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