Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience

Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience

Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience

Synesthesia: Perspectives from Cognitive Neuroscience

Synopsis

Synesthesia has implications for every major aspect of cognition: perception, attention, language, memory, emotion, and consciousness. It has recently received a lot of attention in the popular press and motivated a great deal of research and discussion among scientists. The questions generated by these two communities are intriguing: Does the synesthetic phenomenon require awareness and attention? How does a feature that is not present become bound with one thatis? Does synesthesia develop or is it hard wired? Should it change our way of thinking about perceptual experience in general? What is its value in understanding perceptual systems as a whole? This volume brings together a distinguished group of investigators from diverse backgrounds, who provideintriguing answers to these questions. Although each approaches synesthesia from a very different perspective, and each investigated synesthesia for very different reasons, the similarities between their work cannot be ignored. The research presented in this volume demonstrates that it is no longer reasonable to ask whether or not synesthesia is real-we must now ask how we can account for it from cognitive, neurobiological, developmental, and evolutionary perspectives. This book will beimportant reading for any scientist interested in brain and mind, synesthetes themselves, and anyone who might be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Excerpt

Synesthesia is not a new phenomenon. It has appeared in the written literature for centuries and has piqued the interests of many critical thinkers, including philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and theologians. It has now entered a different scope with new interest in the phenomenon by scientists who study vision, cognition, and the brain. Unlike color generated from light waves or odors by chemical compounds, the color, smell, sound, taste, or touch that is experienced by synesthetes is generated by a physical stimulus that for most of us is entirely unconnected to its induced sensation (e.g., middle C invokes the sight of red; the shape of a ball invokes the taste of chocolate). For instance, while wavelength induces color perception in both synesthetes and nonsynesthetes alike, additional inducers such as particular shapes or sounds can also evoke color perception for synesthetes.

The varied manifestations of synesthesia and its phenomenological nature have made it difficult to verify and study, and skeptics abound. However, recent scientific evidence, as indicated by the contributions to this volume, demonstrates that the question of its existence as a “real” phenomenon is no longer in doubt (although its prevalence remains debatable). Neuroscientific evidence using functional imaging techniques have shown brain activation in predicted areas that corresponds to synesthetes reported experiences (e.g., synesthetic color activates areas that normally respond to color). Behavioral data have also substantiated the perceptual reality of synesthesia, and cognitive scientists have moved on to questions such as how synesthesia might be related to perceptual learning, perceptual organization, and attention and to what degree the mechanisms that support synesthesia operate similarly to or differently from mechanisms underlying non-synesthetic experience.

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