Boing Boing Video presents a remix of "Synesthesia," a documentary directed by Jonathan Fowler, about people whose senses blend, or mix. For instance: a synesthete might see colors when listening to music, or taste flavors when hearing a spoken word.
Daniel Tammet is the author of two books, Born on a Blue Day and Embracing the Wide Sky, which comes out this month. He’s also a linguist and holds the European record for reciting the first 22,514 decimal points of the mathematical constant Pi. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Tammet about how his memory works, why the IQ test is overrated, and a possible explanation for extraordinary feats of creativity.
That form of synesthesia is naturally possessed by roughly one in 1,000 people, among them such historical luminaries as physicist Richard Feynman and writer Vladimir Nabokov, who saw "q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl." Observations like these, long dismissed as extravagant fantasy, are now considered a window into the mysteries of perception. But despite a surge of scientific interest, synesthesia's mechanisms remain unknown.
Although there may be some ways that metaphor is like synesthesia, when we add up the pros and cons, synesthesia as a metaphor for metaphor may not help us too much to understand the latter, and I seriously doubt that the two are linked in a more profound causal fashion (like a ‘gene’ for both synesthesia and metaphor). Similarly, attention-based failure to perceive something may be like blindness, but using one to try to explain the other is futile. In other words, not all metaphors are equally useful, and I’m concerned that the synesthesia metaphor for metaphor might do more harm than good.