All posts tagged brain

Carol Steen / American Synesthesia Association

Synesthesia of the Day – Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia

Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia, also known as Time-Space Synesthesia, mixes the senses of space and time. People with this form of synesthesia see time as having a visible form. When thinking about the year, they might see it as a circle wrapped around them. A week or a month might be a sequence of rectangles laid out in a consistent pattern. A day is often a circle. Whatever form it takes for them, it does so consistently. For some, in addition to the shape, different parts can have different colors.

Credit Dankonikolic – CC-BY-SA – tap for larger

For as long as I can remember my year has been egg-shaped, with the pointy end centered on the last week in December and the broad end comprising the summer, particularly July and August. I know that makes the oval asymmetrical, with the spring side being longer than the autumn side, but that’s my egg. Depending on where I am looking in the year, I might see the months stretching out ahead and curving to the right, or behind and curving to the left. The winter end is darker and the summer lighter. The spring side is greener and bluer, while autumn is yellower and redder. There are many more details that show themselves under closer looking, and everything looks different depending on where on the year I am. I did not know that this was a form of synesthesia. If I had thought about it, I would have assumed that it was the same for everyone. Neither of these images looks like my year.

My months are graduated segments of the track of my year. My weeks are straight pieces with humps for the weekends. They can be parts of a month, or they can be isolated. My days are two twelve hour circles, bright or dark depending on the time. It seems obvious that these shapes are the result of how time was depicted in the culture I grew up in. I’m glad I grew up with analog clocks.-)

Here are a couple of links. This one is by a woman who tells a story clearly and well. This one is for people who like and understand phrases like projector-associator distinction and visual salience.

Does your year have a shape?


Scientific American has asked some scientists what they call “20 big questions about the future of humanity.” Not all of the questions are strictly about humans, but most of them are, and I think we can forgive them for those that are not. They’re still interesting questions.

We asked leading scientists to predict the future. Here’s what they had to say

Interestingly, they begin with the question, “Does humanity have a future beyond Earth?” Lifting the eyes, I guess. Setting the tone to think beyond the mundane. They asked Martin Rees, an established and well-respected British cosmologist and astrophysicist. To paraphrase his answer: yes, sort of, eventually.

I think it’s a dangerous delusion to envisage mass emigration from Earth. There’s nowhere else in the solar system that’s as comfortable as even the top of Everest or the South Pole. We must address the world’s problems here. Nevertheless, I’d guess that by the next century, there will be groups of privately funded adventurers living on Mars and thereafter perhaps elsewhere in the solar system. We should surely wish these pioneer settlers good luck in using all the cyborg techniques and biotech to adapt to alien environments. Within a few centuries they will have become a new species: the posthuman era will have begun. Travel beyond the solar system is an enterprise for posthumans—organic or inorganic.

Another question I found interesting has to do with consciousness, and whether we’ll ever understand it. The answer is not the usual one.

Some philosophers, mystics and other confabulatores nocturne (simply, people who make up stories in the night time – rjb) pontificate about the impossibility of ever understanding the true nature of consciousness, of subjectivity. Yet there is little rationale for buying into such defeatist talk and every reason to look forward to the day, not that far off, when science will come to a naturalized, quantitative and predictive understanding of consciousness and its place in the universe.

One of the questions that isn’t strictly about humans has to do with extraterrestrial life. I suppose it is about us in a way because the discovery of extraterrestrial life, or the prolonged lack of discovery, will affect us profoundly. I like this answer because it almost perfectly recapitulates what I said in my post, “Alien Life on Titan.”

If there is abundant microbial life on Mars, I suspect that we will find it within 20 years … Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan are more compelling places. Europa is a water world where more complex forms of life may have evolved. And Titan is probably the most interesting place in the solar system to look for life. It is rich in organic molecules but very cold and has no liquid water; if life exists on Titan, it will be very different from life on Earth.

There are many more questions and many more interesting answers in the linked Scientific American article. They discuss the brain, which is getting a lot of interest from researchers right now. Will greater knowledge of the brain affect criminal law? Will we ever figure out afflictions like schizophrenia and autism? Then there’s the planet itself. Can we stop Earth’s sixth great extinction? Spoiler alert: scientists tend by their nature to be optimistic people. Follow the link and check out the article for yourself. You might find it stimulates some questions in yhour own mind.

Source: 20 Big Questions about the Future of Humanity – Scientific American



Synesthesia of the Day – Fran’s Synesthesia

All of the people in the Green Comet series have some degree of synesthesia. As a first approximation, effay, they are all strong synesthetes, with at least two types. I’ve already described Elgin’s synesthesia, the main part of it at least, and now I’ll talk about Fran’s synesthesia. Her most predominant one, anyway.

Humans (and other animals too, apparently) have some specialized brain cells called mirror neurons. Put simply, these neurons fire when a person does something, and when they watch someone doing the same thing. Their function is not yet definitively described, but it is hypothesized that they could be useful in learning tasks, and in the areas of learning about other people and their intentions. I mention this because Fran’s synesthesia can be broadly thought of as mirror synesthesia, and there is a known form called mirror-touch synesthesia. In this simple form, the synesthete who observes someone else being touched will feel as if they are being touched in the same way. As I conceive Fran’s synesthesia, it is much more pervasive and encompassing than simple touch. If someone else eats an iceberry, she can taste it. She feels what people are feeling. To an extent, she knows what they’re thinking. This empathy allows her to be a great leader, but it can also be overwhelming to feel everyone else’s pain. Everyone who knows her knows this, and it makes them love her even more.

Mirror-touch synesthesia is not adequate to describe Fran’s synesthesia. One could go through all the senses and add mirror-this and mirror-that, and it still wouldn’t be enough. It would leave out all the perceptions beyond the basic senses. So, to make sure I cover it all, I call Fran’s synesthesia mirror-everything synesthesia.


Public domain

Public domain

In a previous post, I referred to some research that seemed to indicate that there is a link between having a cynical and distrustful personality and later getting Alzheimer disease. As I explained then, this does not mean that being cynical causes the disease. All it is is a correlation. If anything, it might mean that the same underlying cause leads to both the cynicism and the dementia.

Now there is some more research that seems to indicate that at least one form of hereditary Alzheimer syndrome is beginning to affect the brains of its carriers much earlier in life. There is evidence of brain shrinkage as early as age three in some children with the APOEe4 gene mutation. This mutation is known to make its carrier fifteen times as likely to get dementia as non-carriers. It’s alarming that about fourteen percent of people carry this mutation, and it seems to be implicated in 20-25 percent of Alzheimer cases. Researchers stress, though, that genetics increase the risk, but do not guarantee the result. alzheimer-boy Interestingly, the APOEe4 gene mutation is also known to make people more susceptible to disease in general. Might it be that we’ll be able to prevent at least some Alzheimer cases by treating some childhood infection? If so, then might it be possible that we’d also see a reduction in cynical, distrustful people?

Mind you, given the implications of potentially altering people’s personalities, and possibly their politics, what are the odds that there will be a huge campaign against the treatment? Or is that too cynical?



In 1983 psychologist Howard Gardener wrote a book describing multiple types of intelligence.  Before then, ability in mathematics and language qualified for intelligence, but other abilities did not.

If you click on the image at the top of this post, you will see an infographic showing the 9 types of intelligence described in Howard Gardner’s book, “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.”  If you click on the link at the bottom of this post, you will be taken to an article describing them in greater detail.

What other scientists thought were just soft-skills, such as interpersonal skills, Gardener realized were types of intelligence. It makes sense. Just as being a math whiz gives you the ability to understand the world, so does being “people smart” give you the same ability, just from a different perspective. Not knowing math you may not calculate the rate at which the universe is expanding, but you are likely to have the skills to find the right person who will.

Here are the nine types of intelligence, as seen by Gardner:

Naturalist (nature smart)
Musical (sound smart)
Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
Existential (life smart)
Interpersonal (people smart)
Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart)
Linguistic (word smart)
Intra-personal (self smart)
Spatial (picture smart)

Source: 9 Types Of Intelligence – Funders and Founders