March 9, 2021

Why do some people see A in red and N in yellow? Check if you are synesthetic | Science

Look at these two figures:

Why do some people see A in red and N in yellow? Check if you are synesthetic

One is Kiki and another Bouba. The question is: which is which? Almost everyone responds the same: the one on the left is Kiki and the other Bouba. It seems obvious, as if it could not be otherwise. But why? Is not it strange that we all agree on this? Does a form really have a name that is more than another? It's as if someone had the face of Carlos or Ana or Jorge.

It happens that when pronouncing the vowels / o / and / u / the lips form a circle that corresponds to the roundness of Bouba. On the other hand, when pronouncing the / k /, the palate closes, in a hammer blow. Thus, without any of this reasoning being conscious, we associate a sound with the form that the mouth takes when pronouncing it.

The thing about Kiki and Bouba is almost universal, but other associations change with culture. For example, in Europe and America we usually think the numbers in a line, with the small ones to the left and the big ones to the right. Why not the other way around? Well, because that's how reading works, from left to right. Those who have learned to read in Persian, where they read from right to left, imagine the number line upside down. And the Japanese order their mental number line from top to bottom, as they read. There are people with more curious arrangements, some place the numbers in spirals, as if they were calendars.

Some associations are even more curious. When we say "Christmas is coming", where is it coming from? This use of language teaches us that sometimes we relate time and space almost without thinking, as if they were the same. And in our culture it seems evident that the future is ahead and the past behind. But this is not the case in all cultures. For example, for the Aymaras, in South America, it is exactly the other way around: the past is ahead, and the future behind. So much so, that, in Aymara, the word nayra it means past, but it also means front. And the word quipa, which means future, also means what is behind. The Aymaras explain that the past is ahead, because it is the only thing the eyes have seen. The future, however, is unknown and therefore is behind us, where the eyes do not see. The Aymaras say that time passes as if they were walking backwards and that the future that was behind them is revealed and becomes progressively past, in full view.

These natural associations between senses are called synesthesia. We are all a bit synesthetic: we mix sounds with forms, time with space, temperature with colors, touch with music … One of the most common forms of synesthesia is that which relates letters with colors. Some people see the red A, although it is printed with black ink. Others perceive the C in a deep blue. For example, Nabokov, perhaps the most famous of the Synesthetes, saw the V of a rose quartz and the N of a yellowish color. So strong is synesthesia that it can work even in those who have lost a sense. A blind man with synesthesia can see a color when he hears a sound.

Synesthesia has always had an aura of genius. Many of the great mathematicians say that they can represent numbers as sophisticated landscapes, or as sounds, and thus play with numbers using the doors of perception. But so glamorous is the synaesthesia that has been filled with impostors. Writers, musicians, or artists who think it's good for them to tell that they see letters or musical notes in bright colors.

And so, my friend and colleague Edward Hubbard devised a device to separate the chaff from the wheat. It detects true synesthetes and reveals the abundant charlatans and impostors. It's beautiful, it works like that. Look at the image below and try to find a shape drawn between these numbers. It is very difficult, it takes a long time and sometimes we do not even manage it in time. Click on the image to see the solution.

Click on the image to see the solution

If it has been very easy for you, maybe you have some form of synesthesia. Because for whoever is and perceives the numbers of different colors, this image would look like you can check if you click on the photo.

And now, in this world of color, the triangle (the form that was hidden) becomes evident. So Edward found the true synesthetes and discovered that these have a great abundance of direct neural connections between the brain region that codes the letters and the one that codes the colors. And these brain highways make sensations in your perception mix in a fascinating way that others can barely imagine.

I know what you're thinking It's a series about brain enigmas. If you have met a person who seems ideal and yet something tells you to distrust. Or you get very angry about things that, if you think about them cold, are not worth so much. We are many on this list. Science observes, inquires, questions, investigates, to discover these forms that relate us in such particular ways. That's what it's about I know what you're thinking, of dyeing of science questions of every day, about how we are, about our virtues and our demons.

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