Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crossed Wires in the Brain

A direct link to the above video is at

The above video is connected to a recent New Scientist magazine article about "synaesthesia" (click here for the article).

This is one of the things I have talked about here from other perspectives: each of us has our own unique grid of awareness - a way of observing that makes us each who we are. In my book I talked about the difficulties this causes for science fiction stories of mind-melds and personality transplants:

Marvin Minsky’s “Society of Mind” shows how many small processes can be linked together in hierarchies and feedback loops to create what we think of as “the mind”. These processes start in the womb and become increasingly multi-layered and intricate as we approach adulthood. But there are many, many ways to achieve that network of mental processes that becomes a functioning individual.

A common fallacy, then, is to presume that everyone sees and hears the same way you do. The fact is, each person has different ways of processing the data that is entering through their senses. What would it be like to drop into the mind of the dinosaurs we saw in the film Jurassic Park who (as explained in the movie) could only see things that are moving? The science fiction idea of dropping into someone else’s mind or trying to download someone else’s memories (ideas explored a number of times in the writing of Philip K. Dick) could be just as alien as trying to enter the mind of a T-Rex. For instance, some humans have a great deal more difficulty processing foreground sounds if there are too many simultaneous background sounds. Others will focus to the point where they may not even be aware that other sound sources (or echoes of the foreground sounds from surrounding reflective surfaces) are there. Some people experience a condition called synaesthesia, where their senses are mixed in surprising ways: they taste textures, or they see sounds, for instance.
In my book I also talked about the marvelous book by Dr. Oliver Sacks, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For His Hat", which chronicles various examples that show us just how strange and complex the process of consciousness and "mind" can be. Recently in my blog entry David Jay Brown and Psychedelics, we talked a bit about the idea that hallucinogens might also be able to reveal information about how our consciousness and the underlying patterns of reality are inter-related. And in blog entries like Magnets and Souls and Daily Parrying I've talked about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's book "My Stroke of Insight", which reveals some fascinating truths about how our interface with reality is so strongly mediated by separate and distinctly different patterns or grids of awareness that co-exist within what we've traditionally called "the mind".

Here is a link to a story from the UK's Daily Mail a few weeks ago about some other exotic examples of crossed wires in the brain. Persons mentioned in the article:

- Richard Murray of Birmingham, England, who 3 years ago suffered a stroke, had to re-learn how to speak, but mysteriously now finds that he speaks with a French accent.
- James Wannerton, a synaesthete who can taste words.
- Tommy McHugh, a builder who suffered a massive brain hemorrhage in 2001 and suddenly became a prodigious artist.

Looks go back to where we started. Here's that opening animation again, all by itself:

As it suggests at this CalTech page about this animation, just try clicking the animation over and over, and see if you think you hear a sound (obviously this test is best done in a quiet environment, free from other distractions). For that small percentage of the population who actually have some forms of synaesthesia, the effect should be immediate and obvious. For others like myself, they might be able to convince themselves that they hear a faint "hissing sound" associated with the motion after repeated viewings, but this is where the line between imagination and perception can become very tricky. In the above New Scientist article, it's suggested that synaesthetes who hear sounds associated with visual input might even have a certain advantage because of their blending of the senses: the article reports that most of us are better at remembering sound patterns than visual patterns. In a test that compared persons known to have sound/visual synaesthesia with a control group, everyone was about 85% accurate on the sound trials. With visual patterns, however, the control group remembered only 55% of the visual patterns correctly, while synaesthetes remained steady at 85%. Clearly, people who can "hear" visual patterns can actually be helped by their unusual ability in certain situations.

In items like Music and the Dance of Creativity, The Geometry of Music, and Information Equals Reality, I've tried to tie all these ideas into what the power of music reveals about how our brains are so finely tuned to memes that connect across time and space. "Crossed wires in the brain" give us another way of thinking about the patterns that create our reality, and how important our participation as quantum observers is in that process.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Top Ten Tenth Dimension Blogs, September Report

No comments:

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist