Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seeing time: synaesthesia!

I read this really cool article on the BBC News website. I never thought about this before, but I'm pretty sure I have this. They found that some people are able to see time. They explain it way better than I could in the article, so I'll just let you read some stuff I copied below. You can read the whole article at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8248589.stm



Can you see time?

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Imagine if you could see time laid out in front of you, or surrounding your body. And you could physically point to specific dates in space.

Important dates might stand out - birthdays, anniversaries. And you could scan a visible timeline - to check if you were available - whenever you made plans. No actual diary necessary.

According to Julia Simner, a psychologist from the University of Edinburgh, there is a reasonable chance you can. And that you may use the experience, unconsciously, every day.

Dr Simner studies synaesthesia - a condition caused by an unusually high number of connections between two areas of the brain's sensory cortex, making two senses inseparable.

Synaesthetes, as they are known, have experiences that might seem extremely strange to any non-synaesthete.

The extra connections might be between the brain area that processes colours and the area that processes language.

"One of the most common variants is called grapheme-colour synaesthesia," says Dr Simner.

"People with this variant know the colour of letters of the alphabet. So they know that the letter 'A' may be red. But not just any red, it's a certain shade of crimson. And B is turquoise-blue."

These colours are different from person to person, but for one synaesthete they are very consistent.

"If you are a synaesthete with a red A, your A has always been red and will always be red. And it's so intrinsic, that many synaesthetes never question whether this is unusual."

But synaesthetic experiences are not only triggered by a sensory experience - hearing a sound or reading a word that starts with at coloured letter - they can also triggered simply by thinking about things.

In the case of time-space synaesthesia, a very visual experience can be triggered by thinking about time.

"I thought everyone thought like I did, says Holly Branigan, also a scientist at Edinburgh University, and someone with time-space synaesthesia.

"I found out when I attended a talk in the department that Julia was giving. She said that some synaesthetes can see time. And I thought, 'Oh my god, that means I've got synaesthesia'."

So what exactly does she see?

When I'm making plans I can look at my mental calendar -Holly Branigan, synaesthete

"For me it's a bit like a running track," she says.

"The track is organised around the academic year. The short ends are the summer and Christmas holidays - the summer holiday is slightly longer.

"It's as if I'm in the centre and I'm turning around slowly as the year goes by. If I think ahead to the future, my perspective will shift."

There are at least 54 different variants of synaesthesia and Dr Simner thinks this might be one of the most common ones.

"If you ask all the people at your work, or in your family, you're likely to find at least one person who has it," Dr Simner says.

But for those who have it, time-space synaesthesia can be useful, even fundamental to everyday life.

"When I'm making plans, I can look at my mental calendar," says Holly. "I always find it odd that other people don't have that."

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