Friday, January 13, 2012

Teach Yourself Synaesthesia

Can you teach yourself synaesthesia?
A form of synaesthesia in which people experience letters or numbers in colour may be trainable. The discovery could shed new light on how such traits develop.
Synaesthesia is thought to have a genetic component, but some people have reported synaesthetic experiences following hypnosis, so Olympia Colizoli at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and colleagues, wondered if it might also be possible to acquire synaesthesia through training.

To test the idea, they gave seven volunteers a novel to read in which certain letters were always written in red, green, blue or orange (see picture). Before and after reading the book, the volunteers took a "synaesthetic crowding" test, in which they identified the middle letter of a grid of black letters which were quickly flashed onto a screen. Synaesthetes perform better on the test when a letter they experience in colour is the target letter.

The volunteers performed significantly better on this test after training compared with people who read the novel in black and white.

The findings suggest that natural synaesthesia may develop as a result of childhood experiences as well as genetics, says Colizoli, who presented the findings at the Forum of European Neuroscience in Amsterdam last week.

I liked the idea of training myself to have Grapheme → color synesthesia. It is is a form of synesthesia in which an individual's perception of numbers and letters is associated with the experience of colors. Nabokov had this, he wrote in Speak Memory "Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl". Training yourself to be a poundland Nabokov sounded cool so I wrote a script to do that.

A quick look at stack overflow lead to this question "Changing color of every “r” in html document and I copied Boldewyn's answer. There is probably a better way to do it. If I find it I will post an update.

Warning the ColourChange script which I put here is a greasemonkey script that will make the web look like a geocities Christian site circa 1996

// ==UserScript==
// @name ColourChange
// @namespace http://localhost
// @description change the colour of characters
// @include *
// ==/UserScript==

var body = document.getElementsByTagName("body")[0];
var html = body.innerHTML
.replace(/(^|>[^<a]*)([a])/g, "$1<span style=\"color:red\">a</span>");

body.innerHTML = html;
var html2 = body.innerHTML.replace(/(^|>[^<o]*)([o])/g, "$1<span style=\"color:violet\">o</span>");
body.innerHTML = html2;

If people want me to and I remove any bugs I will stick the script up on userscripts to make it easier to install. If you survive the web via the medium of nyan cat let me know.

Many musicians are Sound → color synesthestic Leonard Bernstein, Franz Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Pharrell Williams and Stevie Wonder for example. Mnemonists with extraordinary powers seem to also associate sound with colours. like Solomon Shereshevskii in Luria's A Little Book About a Big (Vast) Memory. One of my favorite bands of last year was Colourmusic though so because of their name, their epic beards and mental videos here is one of their songs

I have set the synaesthesia script to colour a and o as these are letters I mix up. I also mix up p and b but I'll write a script for that if the vowel one helps. I was tested as a kid for dyslexia but they decided I was just stupid.

You could change it to match Dee Adams or Cassidy Curtis or whatever colours match up to letter for you. If you install the script using greasemonkey or you want to and need a hand doing that let me know.

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