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Synesthesia and Perception

Laura Cyckowski's picture
The Brain Constructing the World
A collaboration between Serendip and Painted Bride Art Center,
associated with the Synesthesia exhibit, April 3rd - May 16th 2009


Making sense of a "great blooming buzzing confusion"...


Look around at the Painted Bride. Look around here on Serendip using the links below. Visit Serendip's on-line forum to see what other people are saying about making sense of the world and to add your thoughts. Revisit this virtual exhibit from any computer anywhere anytime to see what has changed and to continue the conversation.





Materials from Serendip

Special new exhibit

Additional Serendip resources

Illusions, Ambiguous Figures, and Impossible Figures

Ambiguous Figures

Cezanne and Beyond... and Back Again

Contrast/Color "Illusions"

Brain and Behavior

Art & Science Guest Exhibitions

Commentaries on Synesthesia: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Resources on the web

Adventure to the Stars ... Telling Tales of Science and Art

Tactile illusions: seven ways to fool your sense of touch

When the Senses Become Confused

COLORFULLanguage... the diary of a synaesthete

Can You See With Your Tongue?

People Hear With Skin as Well as Their Ears (see also Aero-tactile integration in speech perception)

Painted Bride Synesthesia Blog On-line Forum



MrKap's picture


Someone already mentioned Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and I believe they are valid. Anyways these exhibits remind me of the early days in experimental film where the senses were the most important part of any audio visual presentation. They rented out atriums and projected 16mm film towards the ceilings. I only wish I was a part of those experiences. Now raves and concerts seem like they are the last line of popular experimental media presentations. Anyways, if you haven't seen any of the ASMR films they promise to be inspiring,

Serendip Visitor's picture


A newer phenomenon, or trend is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Apparently it shares very similar caharacteristics to synethesia.

Synesthesia tests reveal more about perception?'s picture

Very interesting comments

Very interesting comments here. I realize it's a bit late, but I can't help but offer my opinion on the way that synesthesia affects perception. Many known synesthetes have been tested and retested, and while much has been revealed, there is still much left to learn. For the purpose of art, though, I think that it can be quite beneficial to perceive our creations not much differently than a synesthete would. The most placating piece of art is one that placates the most senses.

jrlewis's picture

synesthesia and the brain

It occured to me that synesthesia may be an example of the brain thinking metanymically.  That is making unconscious associations between two unlike things.  For example, recognizing the color red when seeing the number four.  There is no story about why the person is experiencing this connection.  It is impossible to convey its meaning to another.  However, metanyms can be translated into metaphors, meaningful stories that can be shared.  Metaphors contain a concrete element called the vehicle that is chosen to carry the reader's conceptual understanding across to the abstract element.  So the challenge is making conscious and meaningful the connection between the two elements of the synesthetic (sp?) experience.
Liz's picture

Will have to go and see for myself

I am very interested in the Synesthesia exhibition and plan to take it in. I will be going with guarded optimism however because the link makes me think of what a rave or LSD experience might be like rather than anything to do with synesthesia.

"Guest curator Anabelle Rodriguez brings together a kaleidoscopic array of local and national artists who consider the scientific phenomenon of synesthesia, the blending of the senses."

The description above coupled with the posted pieces from the exhibit make me wonder:
1) if all of the displayed works are simply "considerations" based on research/observations by non-synesthete artists -or- if any of the artists are actually synesthetes of one type or another.
2) what does the Synesthesia exhibition intend for its message about synesthesia.

The photos (those posted - I haven't been to the exhibition yet) appear to represent synesthesia as a distortion of reality, as if one were having a frenetic mind-bending experience, were afflicted and in a psychiatric crisis or were in an altered psychological state. As a synesthete I can say that would be all too shortsighted and very much a disappointment. Synesthesia is by and large misunderstood by our culture and I hope that this exhibition helps to curb that error rather than further it or manufacture new misinterpretations.

anabelle rodriguez's picture

Dear Liz: I think your

Dear Liz:

I think your observations are very valid and would like to read what you have to say after you see the show. The initial concept for the exhibition was very much metaphorical in nature - that is, this is not a show of work by people who experience synesthesia or "have the condition", although at least one artist does. The curatorial statement explores the idea of synesthesia as part of the urbanized human condition - synesthesia as phenomenology rather than pathology. However, many of us who imagine synesthesia do think of it in terms of a heightened sense of perceptual awareness. After all, the synesthetic experience has been show to actually activate various regions of the brain at once! The one exhibiting artist who experiences synesthesia reports sensations that are overwhelming (like sounds that make her salivate) as well as other experiences described very much as hyper amplified sensorial phenomena. That being said, I don't think any of the artists or the curator pretend to be neurobiologists or experts on the subject, but many of us certainly drew plenty of inspiration from the idea that synesthesia is a common condition. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Paul Grobstein when he describes synesthesia as a continuum and not merely defined as "a" or "b". The quote you included was written by the someone advertising the show as one that is diverse and playful in nature and intent - I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed developing it and installing it in the galleries.

Paul Grobstein's picture

We all need to see for ourselves

Please drop by and leave thoughts again after seeing the Painted Bride exhibit, and checking out Perception: From Five Senses to Synesthesia and Beyond.  The point of the latter not at all that people with synesthetic abilities are "afflicted and in a psychiatric crisis."  To the contrary, synesthetic abilities offer a window into how everyone's brain works.  They provide a valuable reminder that we are all constructing "reality" all the time, that we all do it somewhat differently, and that the differences are valuable rather than something to fear or mistrust.  
Paul Grobstein's picture


Glad you stopped by, and hope you're enjoying both the Synesthesia exhibit at the Painted Bride and this virtual exhibit on Serendip.  Both exhibits are aimed at helping people think of new ways of perceiving.  You can become a part of that process, and of Serendip's virtual exhibit, by contributing your own thoughts here.  Its a place not for final words but rather for thoughts in progress, a place to leave ideas of yours that you think might be helpful to others and to read ideas of others that might be useful to you.  Visit, and comment, as often as you like.  Let's see what we can all make together.

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