Communion Of Dreams


No surprise: it’s not that simple.

I’ve written previously about synesthesia, and most recently said this:

The implication is that there is a great deal more flexibility – or ‘plasticity’ – in the structure of the brain than had been previously understood.

Well, yeah. Just consider how someone who has been blind since birth will have heightened awareness of other senses.  Some have argued that this is simply a matter of such a person learning to make the greatest use of the senses they have.  But others have suspected that they actually learn to use those structures in the brain normally associated with visual processing to boost the ability to process other sensory data.  And that’s what the above research shows.

OK, two things.  One, this is why I have speculated in Communion of Dreams that synesthesia is more than just the confusion of sensory input – it is using our existing senses to construct not a simple linear view of the world, but a matrix in three dimensions (with the five senses on each axis of such a ‘cube’ structure).  In other words, synesthesia is more akin to a meta-cognitive function.  That is why (as I mentioned a few days ago) the use of accelerator drugs in the novel allows users to take a step-up in cognition and creativity, though at the cost of burning up the brain’s available store of neurotransmitters.

And now there is more evidence that synesthesia is a more complex matter than researchers had previously understood:

Seeing color in sounds has genetic link

Now, Asher and colleagues in the United Kingdom have done what they say is the first genetic analysis of synesthesia. Their findings are published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Researchers collected DNA from 196 people from 43 families in which there were multiple members with synesthesia. They looked exclusively at auditory-visual synesthesia, the kind where sound triggers color, which is easier to diagnose than other possible forms.

They expected to find a single gene responsible for synesthesia, but they found that the condition was linked to regions on chromosomes 2, 5, 6, and 12 — four distinct areas instead of one.

“It means that the genetics of synesthesia are much more complex than we thought,” Asher said.

No surprise there.  The article goes on to discuss what may be happening physiologically – researchers are still trying to construct a model of how synesthesia actually happens in the brain, and still tend to see it as something which “goes wrong” developmentally.  The supposition, according to the CNN article, is that there is a failure of a necessary “pruning” of cross-wiring in the young brain.

But what if it is instead a meta-cognitive function, something which is emerging as part of ongoing evolution of the human brain?  In other words, an enhancement of our current ability to think and remember, by allowing our brains a bit more complexity in the neural connections?

Hmm.

Jim Downey

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