Monday, September 28, 2009

Seeing Time, Feeling Colors, Tasting Light

A direct link to the above video is at

Last time, as we looked at the results from Poll 48, we discussed the possibilities that some supernatural or physic phenomena might be giving us evidence of some of the ways that our reality is connected together "outside" of spacetime. But we also had to acknowledge that for someone who has never seen direct evidence of such possibilities themselves, it's extremely easy to dismiss such ideas as bunk.

Here's the video for an entry published in June this year, called "Do Animals Have Souls?":

A direct link to the above video is at

We've also started a new poll question over to the right that asks for people's opinions on this question. "Do animals have souls?" The three answers offered are (1): "yes", (2): "no, only humans have souls", or (3): "there's no such thing as a soul". Admittedly, there are many other more finely-nuanced answers people might like to give to this poll question.

Which leads us back to that age-old question, what exactly is a soul? In entries like Where Are You?, Creativity and the Quantum Universe, and You are Me and We are All Together, we've talked about how each of us is a unique quantum observer, right at the center of our own observer-region. And in entries like Alien Mathematics, An Expanding 4D Sphere, and The Statistical Universe, we've talked about how this observer-region extends in all directions to create what's known as our cosmological horizon. This horizon includes the CMB (the cosmic microwave background or "surface of last scattering" as it's sometimes called); and in The Holographic Universe we looked at how being the middle of the ocean gives us a way to visualize how no matter where we go in the universe we're always at the center: but the tricky part of this concept is we have to remember that the CMB and the cosmological horizon is not a space horizon but a spacetime horizon.

The idea that each of us is a unique quantum observer can lead us to some mind-boggling questions. What's real? What is invented within our minds as part of this observer process? In Local Realism Bites the Dust, we looked at the work of physicist Anton Zeilinger and his team in Vienna, who have convincing scientific evidence that our reality is much stranger than most of us can possibly imagine: essentially, their experiments have proved not only that distant events can instantaneously affect each other, but also that the world around us is nothing more than a probabilistic cloud until we observe it. Einstein asked, "Do you really believe that the moon only exists when you are looking at it?" He was reported to be equally uneasy with what he called the "spooky action at a distance" ideas of quantum entanglement, but the Zeilinger team's work is proving Einstein wrong in both cases.

So, what does it mean if the world around us is being created by our observation? I want you to look at a fascinating article from Scientific American called "Tasting the Light". Here's the opening paragraph of this article, which was written by Mandy Kendrick:

Paul Bach-y-Rita hypothesized in the 1960s that "we see with our brains not our eyes." Now, a new device trades on that thinking and aims to partially restore the experience of vision for the blind and visually impaired by relying on the nerves on the tongue's surface to send light signals to the brain.

"We see with our brains not our eyes": that's a powerful statement. You can substitute "mind" or "consciousness" or even "soul" into that sentence and still end up with a similar but profound idea which relates to the huge cloud of ideas we're playing with in this project.

Do you see, though, how someone learning to see with their tongue may not be that far away from someone with synaesthesia, an idea we explored in "Crossed Wires in the Brain"? Now check out this article from BBC science, which talks about a form of synaesthesia I had never heard of before, but which ties so wonderfully to the idea of the fourth dimension being spatial rather than temporal: the article, written by Victoria Gill, is called "Can You See Time?". Here's a few paragraphs from the article, which is about the work of Dr. Julia Simner, a psychologist from the University of Edinburgh:

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'."

"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.

I'm intrigued by this proposal that time-space synaesthesia might be one of the most common of all the variants of this fascinating condition. I would love to hear from people who feel they are able to "see" time, which might remind us of the conversations we've had about Kurt Vonnegut's fictional race of Trafalmadorians: for more about all that you might want to read Beer and Miracles, Connecting It All Together, and Dr. Mel's 4D Glasses. Of course, since I've spent so much time talking to people about my own unique way of visualizing space-time, perhaps I myself might have a form of space-time synaesthesia? Perhaps what I have really been trying to describe with my original Imagining the Tenth Dimension animation is my own visual perception of time and quantum probability? Since each of us is our own unique quantum observer, it's always hard to imagine how someone else's perception of the world around them might be fundamentally different from our own.

Here's a link to an article published by Pravda about a Russian man who says he can discern colors by touch. More evidence that our world is assembled together by our observation in ways that can boggle the mind? You be the judge.

Finally, here's a nice 10 minute clip from a documentary explaining how our reality is
constructed within our minds:

A direct link to the above video is at

Next time, we'll go back to Einstein's misgivings about the implications of quantum mechanics, and how my way of visualizing the dimensions might have helped: the entry is called "The Fifth Dimension is Spooky".

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton


JayyVee said...

As creator bio-engines, this is the 'gift' of humanity compared to other living beings - Choice. The ability to grasp at an infinite of realities and 'pull in' intuitively the one you desire; this is what makes us unique, our intelligence as a race is growing, but this is not what makes us 'unique butterflies'. Our ability as 3rd dimensional reality creators, is the key. We create our own Reality is an understatement; to say 'we choose from intinites to create our reality' is a little closer in my humble opinion. Which follows one thing I've said forever: Be the Change you want to See.

Mariana Soffer said...

Maurer and Mondloch hypothesize that if these connections between the senses are functional, as some experiments suggest, then infants should experience the world in a way that is similar to synesthetic adults.

In a variation of this theory, babies don't have five distinct senses but rather one all-encompassing sense that responds to the total amount of incoming stimulation. So when a baby hears her mother's voice, she is also seeing it and smelling it.

I found several other intersting theories that support that babies are synestetics at start. It is an intersting idea that one.

Hope you are doing well rob, I posted something you wrote on my comments in my blog, just one line, cause I really like it and I wanted to republish that along some other ones.

Myrtone said...

Olivers Sacks once met a gifted composer calle Michael Torke. When Michael was five years old, he said to his piano teacher:

I love that blue piece

Teacher:What do you mean that "blue" piece?

Michael:That piece in D Major...D

Teacher:D major is not blue for me, scales don't have colour.

40 years later Michael said the shock was still vivid for him.
If one has something like colour-sound synesthesia and D major is blue to them, one think of the associations as objective and thus everyone would have them. So Michael was shocked when he learned that his piano teacher did not have such associations.
When he was 14, het met another colour-sound synesthete who understood D major not as blue but as yellow.

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist