Synaesthesia Discovery

Synaesthesia, Perception, Creativity, Invention, Culture, Food, Travel and more

October 24, 2016
by Spring
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I Live in the Future

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

……

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
.”

– The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

 

Once again, I am at a crossroads of my career. If I continue on the current path, I can finally slow down, and enjoy the fruits from years of hard work. I can comfortably support my boys until they finish their high school.

Most people probably would choose this path. Isn’t it an easy road to travel on? Why am I so unsettled?

Like Robert Frost’s poem, my heart always seems to take me to a less travelled road. I often see myself living in a future land surrounded by the beautiful and colourful scenery. On the other side of the land, there is a dark patch which represents the past. The further the distance is, the darker it appears.

This colour contrast of future, present and past is consistent with my timeline perception. A future date is always bright. When today becomes yesterday, it automatically turns dark in my mind.

Interestingly, last three months, I have noticed the significant change in my perception of “future”. A thought of “future” used to evoke yellow and gold, bright but simple. Now, I perceive “future” in a mixture of pink, purple and blue with patches of clouds. It is a view of an expanse of sky which is magical.

Subconsciously, I am aware of the reason of this change. The synesthetic perception was deeply influenced by two sets of photos I saw within a short space: one set was a skyscape of Shanghai, my childhood home; the other set was the sky of Melbourne, my home of the last 26 years, setting on fire.

The new perception change has brought out a much stronger sensation of me living in the future filled with happiness and excitement, with a touch of loneliness. My body and soul were awaken by the beautiful sensation. My crave for the future has led me to create a new business called ”iFuture Services”. While I was creating the website, one picture in the web builder really stood out as it was the closest to my perception of future. So I have chosen it for my home page.

I started thinking more and more about my new adventure: the business model, core services I want to provide, a Thomas Edison style invention factory in which I can experiment new inventions and innovative ideas. Colours were dancing around my thoughts, dominated by pink and purple, and getting extremely intense.

Today, I re-looked at the picture I have chosen for my home page, and have observed something extraordinary. A pier in the middle, which symbolised a road, has divided the view into two distinct sections. On the right hand side, the sunset filled the sky with orange and yellow, similar to how I used to perceive the future. On the left hand side, there was an expansive skyscape, my new way of thinking about the future. I sense that my fate is calling.

Reading a passage I wrote four months ago when I was struggling with my internal conflict, I know I am a step closer to live for my dream.

“I feel I have been, and perhaps forever will be, living with an internal conflict. My mind, body and soul are often placed in different places. 

I lead a western style life, but am trying hard to hold on to the Chinese cultural value. I work for a large corporation like a well fed caged bird, longing to fly away. I have searched for spirituality, after spending my childhood under the communist regime.

Every time, when I get away from the bustling city life, and return to the nature where my soul belongs, I feel in that sudden moment of relaxation, the internal conflict escalates to a new level. 

The dream of myself living on our own organic produce, sipping Chinese tea collected after fresh spring rain, writing heartbreaking stories and poems, dancing on a stage with mountains and lakes being my sole audience, I sadly find myself forever live in a dream.”

(Image source: Shanghai social media and Melbourne Life)

May 20, 2016
by Spring
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First Development of Synesthesia

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It was a hot summer day in January 2005. Skye recalled very vividly. He was less than 20-month-old. Even he did not know calendar dates at the time, he was certain it was mid January 2005, after he had his toy LeapFrog. It was the summer before Thomas was born.

The fan was running in Skye’s room at night to cool the room down. Skye fell asleep. Then he had a nightmare, the worst he had ever had. He dreamed that hundreds of fans were enclosing on him, and trying to suffocate him. His friend LeapFrog came to protect him by fighting against fans. At the end, LeapFrog was killed, and he was suffocated by the fans. It was black everywhere. He got waken up and was shaking.

He looked at the fan from his cot, and was still terrified what he had dreamed. All of a sudden, he noticed something unusual.

“What’s that?” Now he was more shocked than terrified. He saw black colour splashing everywhere around the fan. He knew that dream had changed him forever.

The whole week after the event, Skye was terrified seeing strangers passing his pram when we were out for a walk. He was on full alert making sure there was no fan coming to get him. He remembered a man’s deep voice which scared him terribly. That was the only week that he remembered clearly what happened while he was in a baby pram.

Skye developed his Grapheme to Colour synaesthesia shortly after. Now knowing he had an ability to see synesthetic colour around a fan, he started utilising the same method in areas he was really interested in. He associated letters and numbers he saw on LeapFrog with colours to help him remember and learn those new things. Some of the colour associations remained until today, but many have changed due to his exposure to new experiences.

Until today, the black colour can still be seen by Skye around a fan on a warm day. He is no longer scared of any fan, instead, it is a reminder of how his synesthesia had started.

On 22 January 2005, I bought Skye and myself two air tickets to Shanghai and I wanted to take the baby to visit my grandparents. I fell pregnant with Skye not long after I came back from my last holiday in China. I missed my grandparents especially my grandpa dreadfully. I was brought up in my maternal grandparents’ household. My mum was the oldest daughter of seven. Out of all my grandpa’s grandchildren, I was his favourite. I used to get so much privilege to be taken everywhere by him. Now I was a mother, I wanted grandpa to meet my treasure.

I was awake the first half of that night imaging how excited grandpa would be to see Skye in March. I decided not to tell him about our trip until Chinese New Year as I didn’t want him to get too excited.

I got woken up by an early phone call in the morning. It was my mum and she sounded distressed. After a minute or two, I finally understood she was telling me that my grandpa had passed away in his sleep. I froze, and finally let out a loud cry.

The trip to China went along according to the schedule. I did not bring it forward, and I missed my grandpa’s funeral. I was grateful at the end that I had not told grandpa about our planned trip. Otherwise, I would have blamed myself to cause his excitement and his death. Deep down, I knew my grandpa and I had a connection. I must have sensed that something would happen even there had been no reported major health problem from Shanghai. Grandpa passed away around the time I fell asleep, a few days after Skye’s first dream about death, and the start of his synesthesia.

(Image source: www.overstock.com)

April 9, 2016
by Spring
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Synaesthesia in Literature and Poetry – a Glance of Chinese Literature History

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Synaesthesia can be a powerful technique in poetry and novel writing. It is a form of figurative language works which brings out lively and strong imagery.

Synaesthete Orhan Pamuk, the recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, describes his view on the relation between sensory and novel in his book “The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist”:

Here is one of my strongest opinions: novels are essentially visual literary fictions. A novel exerts its influence on us mostly by addressing our visual intelligence–our ability to see things in our mind’s eye and to turn words into mental pictures. We all know that, in contrast to other literary genres, novels rely on our memory of ordinary life experiences and of sensory impressions we sometimes do not even notice. In addition to depicting the world, novels also describe-with a richness that no other literary form can rival-the feelings evoked by our senses of smell, sound, taste, and touch. The general landscape of the novel comes to life-beyond what the protagonists see-with that world’s sounds, smells, tastes, and moments of contact.

This article explores how synaesthesia related techniques have been used in Chinese literature, mainly poetry, from ancient to recent history.

Classic of Poetry – Shih-Ching

The oldest collection of poems in the world literature is the Classic of Poetry Shih-Ching. It is translated as the Books of Odes. The poems were compiled over a period of several centuries of ancient China, but most poems came from Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC), the longest lasting dynasty in Chinese history.

Zhou Dynasty has produced some greatest scholars and philosophers in Chinese history such as Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, the founder of Taoism. The period saw major advancement in Chinese literature and poetry. The poems in Shih-Ching were not complex. They were based on normal people’s stories and folk songs, and were often endearing and romantic. The concerns of the dynasty and politics were often expressed through those poems as well.

Whilst metaphors and allusions were frequently used, there was little evidence of the use of synaesthesia sensory mixing technique in ancient Chinese poem writing. The East Wind Sighs was a good example of the poetry style at the time.

The East Wind Sighs
The East wind sighs, the fine rains come:
Beyond the pool of water-lilies, the noise of faint thunder.
A gold toad gnaws the lock. Open it. Burn the incense.
A tiger of jade pulls the rope. Draw from the well and escape.
Chia’s daughter peeped through the screen when Han the clerk was young.
The goddess of the river left her pillow for the great Prince of Wei.
Never let your heart open with the spring flowers:
One inch of love is an inch of ashes.

Tang Poetry and Song Poetry – Development of Chan (Zen)

Two other dynasties in Chinese history during which poetry flourished were Tang Dynasty (618AD – 907AD) and Song Dynasty (960AD – 1279AD). Some most well-known poets appeared during those periods. Among them were the famous Li Bai and Du Fu from Tang as well as Su Dongpo and Lu You from Song.

The concept of Chinese Four Arts was introduced in Tang Dynasty. The Four Arts were considered as must have skills for a gentleman scholar. They were Qin (a stringed instrument), Qi (chess), Shu (Chinese calligraphy), and Hua (painting). A unique art form which blended poetry, calligraphy and painting, like the work in the attached image, became popular.

Tang Poetry was regarded as the pinnacle of Chinese poetry. The effect has been far reaching. Many poems have used object personification or person objectification techniques. Romance, separation, nature, travel, friendship, home sickness and social justice were common themes. Li Bai’s poems below provide some insights of the style from that era.

Sitting Alone on Jingting Shan Hill

A flock of birds is flying high in the distance,
A lonely cloud drifts idly on its own.
We gaze at each other, neither growing tired,
There is only Jingting Shan.

Seeing off a Friend

Green hills above the northern wall,
White water winding east of the city.
On this spot our single act of parting,
The lonely tumbleweed journeys ten thousand li.
Drifting clouds echo the traveller’s thoughts,
The setting sun reflects my old friend’s feelings.
You wave your hand and set off from this place,
Your horse whinnies as it leaves.

Long Yearning (Sent Far)

When the beautiful woman was here, the hall was filled with flowers,
Now the beautiful woman’s gone, the bed is lying empty.
On the bed, the embroidered quilt is rolled up: no-one sleeps,
Though three years have now gone by, I think I smell that scent.
The scent is finished but not destroyed,
The woman’s gone and does not come.
Yearning yellows the falling leaf,
White dew beads the green moss.

Under Tang Dynasty’s rich cultural environment, philosophy and spirituality once again have prospered. Through the influence of Taoism, a Chinese style of Buddhism called Chan has emerged. It has further spread across Asia especially Far Eastern Asia and was adopted by Japanese as Zen.

The literary period for Chinese Chan thrived in Song Dynasty. Chan (Zen) focused on meditation and insight into Buddha-nature. Zen poetics which reflected this philosophy employed a stronger use of sensory comparing to the prior period.

In short, a classical Chinese poem has been transitionally valued by some critics for its “resonance,” which is seen to bring language out of its cognitive structures and topographical certainties into the intuitive, supranational, or what Snyder might call language’s “wilderness.” By the sixth century, Chinese poetics had already formed a wide variety of terms that signal this importance of poetics “resonance.” An inchoate theory of resonance is grounded early on in the terms like yiyin (lingering sound), yiwei (lasting flavor), congzhi (double meaning or multivalence). But these terms are given a strong sotereological utility in Zen poetics, which one will not find in prior Chinese poetics.’ – Excerpt from: Jonathan Stalling. “Poetics of Emptiness: Transformations of Asian Thought in American Poetry.

One section of a Zen Poem “Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi” by Dongshan Liangjie (807-869) provided some evidence of the above statement.
………
Like the taste of the five-flavored herb,
like the five-pronged vajra.
Wondrously embraced within the complete,
drumming and singing begin together.

Penetrate the source and travel the pathways,
embrace the territory and treasure the roads.
You would do well to respect this;
do not neglect it.

Natural and wondrous,
it is not a matter of delusion or enlightenment.
Within causes and conditions, time and season,
it is serene and illuminating.

Qing Dynasty – Dream of the Red Chamber and Literature

Unlike Classic of Poetry Shih-Ching in which most poems were based on folk songs and stories of commoners, by Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), poetry belonged more exclusively to the upper class.

China at the time reached high levels of literacy. Four Arts have become the cultural identity for scholars and noblemen. The Qing emperors prided themselves in their superior skills in poetry and instruments. Chinese Opera has flourished and literature has reached a new height.

Dream of the Red Chamber, which has been regarded as the greatest classical novel in China, was produced in Qing Dynasty. The sheer complexity of portraying approximately 40 major and 500 minor characters was mind blowing. The author Cao Xueqin’s writing was to perfection. The book was rich in colour, fragrance, taste and sound. Poetry flew through the whole book with fluency and delicacy which left readers with more yiyin and yiwei.

The translation of this masterpiece has been a significant challenge. Although there have been some great attempts, no translated work could remotely match the original piece.

To illustrate synaesthesia in literature and poetry for Qing Dynasty, I have found a more appropriate example:
As exemplary illustration, I cite the poem entitled “Recited While Sick” by the Manchu noblewoman Mengyue (Qing dynasty), who was also widowed early. Mengyue fully exploits the attributes of femininity conventionally associated with women’s illness and the spatial location of the inner quarters in her self-representation:

Not aware that my fingers have turned slim, I find the dust heavy,
Surprised by the robe’s length, I didn’t realize that my shoulders had grown thin.
With empty mind, I quietly chew over the flavour of the Odes and History,
In the silent room, I frequently smell the fragrance of ink.
Since ancient times the zither strings have emitted unusual sounds,
So many wild phrases when I put the brush to write pure poetry.
From the flavour experienced in illness I attain true inspiration,
I savour slowly the hidden leisure beyond things.

- Excerpt from Paolo Santangelo. “From Skin to Heart: Perceptions of Emotioins and Bodily Sensations in Traditional Chinese Culture”

Like any form of artwork, poetry is a way of expressing feelings and concerns. The technique of using synaesthesia in writing is becoming more and more popular. Synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes are benefiting from this style of writing for its added resonance.

 

English translation sources for poems cited in this article:
http://www.chinese-poems.com/lbe.html
http://www.chinapage.com/poet-e/liyu1e.html#28
http://www.gardendigest.com/zen/quotes7.htm

Image:

http://www.visartsatrockville.org/studio-artists/bertrand-s-mao

February 27, 2016
by Spring
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Synaesthesia, Religion and Metaphor

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Synesthesia may be linked to a much more common mental functions that all of us employ everyday, the ability to make and use metaphors, of which religion is an important subset. A metaphor is the combination of two unlike things to create a new meaning.” … “Science also uses metaphors. In some sense, all human language is derived from metaphors (Ricoeur 1976). Religion can be thought of as something like the metaphoric confabulations of synesthesia, seeing nature and hearing the voice of God or the Buddha-nature in all things (Ramachandran 1998).” (Excerpt From: William Grassie. “The Neurosciences of Religion: Meditation, Entheogens, Mysticism.”)

Thomas perceives religion as a Master through his personification synaesthesia. A thought or an experience of religion gives rise to a smell of smoke, a taste of salt, a sound of bell ringing, and a feel of ashes or even brain.

Thomas is becoming more religious, a consequence I did not foresee so strongly before enrolling him to a Catholic school. In a way, Thomas has always been a spiritual person, thus fell in love with his new school much more than other schools during the first school visit last year.

This new school of his is part of an international network of Jesuit schools. The acceptance preference goes to children who come from Catholic or Christian families. When we went for the school interview last year, we were not sure of Thomas’ chance for being accepted.

Thomas’ remarkable caring nature and his desire to help people in need made a big impression on the Dean of the School. Since he was little, he set a goal to become a doctor to save people’s lives. He says he will work very long hours, and charge little as otherwise, poor people cannot afford to see him. If he becomes very rich one day, he will give all his money to people who need help.

The first week at his new school, Thomas learnt that every child in his class has been baptized except himself.

“Please bring me a bucket of water Mum.” Thomas urgently requested upon arriving at home.
“Why?” I was puzzled.
“Because I want to be baptized!”

A week later, Thomas could recite very complex and lengthy prayers without missing a word. His enhanced memory and his newly evolved synaesthesia towards religion are all helping him discover this territory of interest.

My husband and I started feeling that religion might be what Thomas has always been looking for. I sensed this could be an ultimate reconciliation between him and his fear of death.

When I was about Thomas’ age, I met a friend of my father’s who was an active member of Shanghai Buddhism Association. She later became my private tutor for Chinese literacy. Under her influence, I was soul searching the meaning of Buddhism. One stage, I was attracted to the idea of becoming a nun. This childhood experience left me with idealism such as seeing through the world of mortals. I suppose at the time, I was terrified by the concept of death, and desperately needed a way to find a reason why we were given the right to be born, yet were not given the right to live forever.

When I was sharing my experience and my synaesthetic response towards death and religion, Thomas confirmed he too felt religion, death, and life somehow intertwine. That was why he smelt an ash like smell and felt ashes when he thought about religion. When I was a child, I perceived Buddhism and Death through a smell of incense. I had not experienced this synaesthesia for over two decades until the death of my husband’s grandmother in 2014. We were given a few of Nana’s belongings to keep. One of them was a near new water kettle. The first time I looked at the kettle, an incense smell came through my nose so strongly that I felt myself traveling back to a Chinese temple.

Two weeks ago, we finally moved into our new home. Apart from our farm, this house is the most tranquil house we have ever lived in. It is elevated well above the ground, in a bush like setting. This Melbourne suburb, during the colonial period, was regarded by Martin Boyd as a suburb for people who appreciated views rather than social life. Today, high-rise buildings can be found within a short distance, yet, the pocket, where our new house is situated, enjoys the unspoiled tranquillity.

On the first day living in the new house, Thomas stepped through the garden and found lily pads in the pond. He felt synaesthetic touch on his palm as if frogs were landing on it. Skye came home from his boarding school. While he was staring at the trees in the garden, a synaesthetic image of raindrops appeared in front of his eyes.

At night, I was lying in bed, totally exhausted after the move, the spatial sensation of floating above the treetop came to me, a type of synaesthesia I experience every time I move to a different floor for work or living. Two years ago, after we moved to the upstairs bedroom in the old house, I had experienced the floating sensation for a week. But that time, it was more like under the cloud, instead of above the treetop.

Next morning, I was pleasantly surprised by Skye sharing his newly created metaphor.

Life is Like a Tree

It starts with a seed. It grows bigger. Whenever there is a life changing experience, a new branch comes out. If the branch is not the right branch for your life, it will soon stop growing and find its way back to the tree. Another life experience will bring out another new branch. Eventually, you will find the best branch for you to grow to the tallest and the strongest you can.

One day, when your life ends, the tree will still stand as it holds your spirit and legacy. Before you exit the world, you should take a look at many other trees around yours. You will notice that some trees are just taller and stronger than others as they have experienced more in their lives. And mine hopefully will be among the tallest and the strongest.

January 25, 2016
by Spring
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Synesthetic Perceptions Can Be Pictorial and Complex

One of the diagnostic criteria of Synesthesia, defined by Neurologist Richard Cytowic, is that synesthetic percepts are consistent and generic (i.e. simple rather than pictorial). Both characteristics, in a way, differ from those of my own perceptions as well as my children’s. The reality is that synesthetic imagery can be pictorial and complex.

I have known that my elder son Skye perceived me as a white swan on a green golf course for quite a long time, but what I did not know until this Christmas was that he physically saw this image around my face. What he actually sees, every time when he looks at me, is a white swan at the top and a few golf courses underneath where beautiful spring flowers blossom in one of the golf courses. Not only that, there are a few rectangle picture frames decorating around the image with the green colour floating above.

I was astonished by what I had heard. I almost could not breathe for a few seconds.

“Come on Mum! Why do you look so shocked? It’s just like hologram. It’s beautiful. I love seeing it.” Skye was re-assuring me again.

“Since when did you start seeing images around people?” I was still feeling hard to recover from the shock.

“Since very young. I remember when I was four, I used to see images around probably two out of five people. But after a while, I could see in everyone, even people I do not know.”

Skye gave me a few more examples:

  • He sees multiple images around his dad’s face. One with red and black stripes on his top right hand side, and a faded face on his left, but in distance, and a third image of coffee beans going through a coffee machine on his lower right hand side.
  • His grandmother has an image of a food blender mixing many different fruits such as nectarines and apricots. My mum loves fruits.
  • His grandfather’s is very complex. The images include one Kung Fu master, one pair of glasses, a very playful orange horse, and one dragon mask. Skye always thinks my dad is a knowledgable scholar. My dad is a Libra and was born in the Year of Dragon.

Still trying to get my mind around what I had just learnt from Skye, Thomas came to ask us to join him and his dad to play cricket. Skye ran out with Thomas with their usual boyish laughter. I put my walking shoes on, and set off a long walk around our farm.

I heard people say that writing a blog or a memoir is a healing process. Indeed through this process, I discover myself, and discover people whom I love. It also opens up unexpected things along the journey which requires courage to confront.

I asked myself why I was so overwhelmed, and what was the difference between what Skye saw around people and all those movie like scenes I saw when I read a book, and why our perceptions require validation.

The Christmas and New Year break slipped through, and I returned work in Melbourne while children were continuing their holidays at the farm with their dad and ponies. I tried again and again to put negative thoughts behind me, but the imagery of a white swan, green golf courses and spring flowers went through my mind over and over again.

The emptiness in me was like the house itself. However, I knew I was finding a new dimension of my life.

Children came home looking so tanned. I laughed at them and commented soon they would both look like country boys.

After dinner, I sat with Thomas and enjoyed my younger son’s questions. He knew I had been sick. He was asking me how I felt, and what I had been eating, and if I had been going to bed early.

“Thomas, can you tell Mum a secret if it is a secret?” I tried to open the dialogue.
“What do you need to know?” He gave me a very innocent and confused look.
“You are looking at me now. Do you see images around my face?”
“Yes, of course, but why?”
“Because Skye sees too. What do you see?” My heart was pounding loudly.
“I see fish swimming. Three black fish and one white fish.”
“Can you point them out to me?”

Thomas’ little finger pointed under my chin, then circled around to the left hand side of my face.
“They are here and there. They are beautiful.”

Being an intuitive and logical boy, Thomas said without me asking that he started seeing simple images, mainly things like fruits, around people’s faces when he was two. However, imagery became more and more complex after he turned four. He has been seeing fish around me for many years.

Skye came to join our conversation. He was very interested to find out similarities between what Thomas saw and what he saw. He could relate to almost everything Thomas said. They started giggling about some amusing imagery of their favourite teachers.

“I could see an image of Mr. C shaving himself. The same image duplicated all around his face.” Mr. C was Thomas’ classroom teacher from last year.

“Mr. D, Mr. D…” Skye was chuckling non-stop, and could hardly talk. “Mr. D was shearing a brown sheep.”

This time, I could not stop laughing. Both teachers have great sense of humour.

“So what are the benefits of you guys having this type of synesthesia?”

“Benefits? We can read people’s minds!” They almost answered simultaneously.

“Mum, but it is not just people, there are images around many things. For example, I can see a book above your iPad, I always see many ants crawling down this window frame.” Thomas offered more insights.

“Ants!? Aren’t they yucky?” I was surprised.

“No. I love ants. They can have many children, and their children can have many children as if they would never die.” Clearly, Thomas’ fear of death and desire to live forever have manifested into this association.

I was hugging my boys and telling them how special they were when they went to bed, and was wondering how I managed to have two boys with such incredible perceptions.

As I was walking out of Thomas bedroom after turning the light off, Thomas whispered quietly to me, “Mum, do you know those fish glow in the dark? They look very amazing.”

All of a sudden, I realised that the white fish must be me and the three black fish must be Thomas, Skye and his dad through Thomas’ perception.

“Yes, I am sure they look amazing. Good night sweetheart.” I smiled.

I remembered what were said in Andrew Solomon’s book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Each family in his book faced a lot of challenges raising their exceptional children. However, “parents not only learn to deal with their exceptional children, but also find profound meaning in doing so.

January 9, 2016
by Spring
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Ideasthesia vs. Synesthesia vs. Autism – Is Ideasthesia Less Common in Autism?

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Ideasthesia is often regarded as a more accurate term for Synesthesia. The name means “sensing concepts” or “sensing ideas” in Greek. The term was proposed by Dr. Danko Nikolić in 2009 and has brought out one of the most fundamental cognitive elements of Synesthesia, i.e., conceptuality.

I summarise the difference between Ideasthesia and Synesthesia as follows:

-                           Ideasthesia                     Synesthesia

Inducer              Concept                           Sensory
Concurrent       Sensory                            Sensory
Phenomenon    Semantic -> Sensory     Sensory -> Sensory

Over the last few weeks, I have been documenting many synesthesia types experienced by my family in the preparation of my first family memoir. I have noticed that almost all synesthetic perceptions were associated with concepts, and almost every synesthesia type was developed subconsciously due to the aided ability to Brian’s conceptualisation.

I have also observed the direct correlation between the degree of complexity of a synesthetic perception and the level of sophistication of a synesthete’s mind. In other words, the more complex a synesthetic perception is, the more information a mind is capable to hold, the more sophisticated a synesthete’s mind is, and the deeper one can reach the inner world and explore an uncommonly aware territory.

Recently, my younger son Thomas amazed me by sharing the reason behind his reverse colour synesthesia. This synesthesia was triggered by an event when he was two. The event has since deeply impacted on his perception. In his little mind, he realised that there always would be something bright on the dark side. Similarly, there always would be something dark on the bright side. Life might not be what it appeared to be, he should always try to look from an opposite perspective. How he looked at things depended on his own perception.

Since two, he has paired two colours as opposite colours, one he liked and one he did not like such as black vs. white, brown vs. yellow, green vs. blue, pink vs. purple. He also noticed that the colour he did not like appear more often or was more common than the opposite colour, e.g., most books were printed in black, but he liked white much more; green could be seen everywhere he went, but blue was his favourite. He developed his reverse colour synesthesia to make himself see colours he liked far more often than he otherwise could see.

If Thomas reads a book, his reverse colour synesthesia often turns the white page in black and black printed words in white so that he reads words in the colour he loves. When he plays cricket or watches a cricket match, he sees green ground in blue.

The understanding of Ideasthesia being the real phenomenon behind most synesthetic perception not only advances human knowledge in cognitive traits associated with Synesthesia, but also hopefully makes scientists realise the distinct differences between ideasthesia and autism: -

1. One of the common difficulties associated with people who have autism is to conceptualise or to comprehend an abstract concept. On contrary, conceptual and abstract thinking is one of the common strengths amongst synesthetes.
2. Another noticeable difference between those two groups is intuition. Synesthetes are usually highly intuitive whereas intuition is generally lacking in people who have autism.

I would like to take one step further, and hypothesise that the overlapping between the ideasthesia population and the autism population should be minimum. Putting it differently, ideasthesia should be very uncommon in autism. I have illustrated my hypothesis in the attached diagram.

If the above hypothesis can be proved true one day, it will lead to a bigger question, i.e., is synaesthesia less common in autism? My view is YES!

I think some scientists, especially those who have research background in autism, have been over emphasising the sensory part of synesthesia, and have been overly keen to make a ground breaking finding between those two neurological conditions without truly understanding or deliberately overlooking the key differences.

Of course, I am not saying that there is no shared characteristic between those two groups. There are only a certain number of categories to classify human beings and it all depends on how authorities classify us, e.g., by gender, by race, by age, by education. There’s no doubt that there are some shared characteristics across two classified groups, e.g., a tall male wearing glasses and a tall female wearing glasses; a fair skinned Asian and a fair skinned European; a young looking energetic 60-year-old man and an energetic 30-year-old man. The same happens to synesthesia and autism.

If definitions and classifications are too broad and every person fits in one size, then it is the time for the authority to introduce a new category so that we do not confuse one group from another, even though one differs so obviously from the other.




December 7, 2015
by Spring
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Synaesthete – an Artistic Life

imageSynaesthetes are almost destined for a career that demands creativity. It is surprising to notice that Synaesthesia and Perfect Pitch are likely the only two neurological traits that define or even predetermine the path for their bearers. It gives you a sense that fate cannot be twisted. You have to go along with the nature. If you try to deviate, you get dragged back sooner or later. Music, art, literacy and design are amongst the most popular career categories for synaesthetes. Even synaesthetes do not pursue this type of career as a profession, they tend to have immerse interests in these fields. One example was Richard Feynman who was recognised as one of the 10 greatest physicists of all time, and was often considered as the most colourful physicist in history, a lot to do with his synaesthesia. His musical talent was well known on the Manhattan project. While he was working as a professor in physics, he held an exhibition for his drawings.

Many people appreciate good art or music. The difference is that synaesthetes tend to have a strong need to get involved in the process of creation instead of purely being on the receiving side. No wonder statistics show that synaesthesia is seven to eight times more common in artists, musicians and novelists.

I grew up with a big passion in mathematics. However, I did not choose Maths as my major in university. A common view at the time was that for a Maths major to earn a decent living and achieve career height required years of study and a PhD degree. I did not have time and fund. The responsibility to make a living to support family was too real. I chose IT, an area I knew little about, instead. Just like the course brochure predicted, I was in demand. I received five job offers from a number of reputable corporations at the end of my second year of university, with two more years to go before completing my degree. I could not say that I had ever regretted my career choice as it has provided the financial security and lifestyle for people whom I love. However, deep down I always knew this was not enough.

Years later, I became an Enterprise Architect. Although it was not the same as a building architect, it was the most creative job I could do within my field of expertise. My job requires me to draw many diagrams and write up proposals just like a building architect. I have gradually developed a real passion in building architecture and literacy.

Three years ago, my childhood dream of becoming a mathematician was revived through my children who showed immerse interest in mathematics. Skye’s achievement in winning the state’s top prize in an international mathematics competition was an enormous boost for my hope of children becoming distinguished mathematicians or scientists. I said to myself my children no longer needed to worry about making a living early. Instead they could concentrate on their study and research, and make some real contribution to the mankind.

That dream was soon put in doubt once I realised my children’s extensive synaesthesia as I knew their interests and paths would divert, or at least would expand.

image
Last two years, apart from his interest in music, Skye has exhibited his sudden surge of his giftedness in art. His school reports from his art teacher says,

“He (Skye) often takes time to settle into tasks, yet once working has shown he has great ideas to offer. … His ability to problem solve and find solutions to tasks via experimentation is impressive. Sometimes these solutions can appear unorthodox but he is able to articulate them perfectly. Skye has particularly enjoyed the recent three-dimensional unit. His responses during this time were both sensitive and quirky, and demonstrated a distinctive personal style. …

He is a confident and imaginative student who always listens carefully to instructions and works independently to create artworks of a consistently high standard across a range of media. His motivated approach is impressive as is his ability to plan each artwork and work methodically to realise his ideas. …”

image
As a young child, Thomas showed no interest in art. His aptitude was displayed in engineering and trains. Skye, who sets his sight to become the King of Gahooulia, has assigned a big territory called Trainland (Tumlumdø in Gahooulian) to Thomas. Thomas was busy designing the transport system for Trainland until recently that the little boy announced that he no longer wanted to help Skye, nor wanted to live in Skye’s palace. He has decided to have his own country and live in his own palace.

That was a big blow to Skye who relied on his younger brother to build a traffic jam free country with a combination of submarines, trains and floating cars. Thomas’ rebellion went even further.

Skye has recently discovered that his birth date was one of the two most common birthdays amongst Nobel Prize laureates. He said excitedly that he would need to carry on the tradition by winning a Nobel Prize. Thomas immediately claimed that he would win a Nobel Prize before Skye, then he would stop Skye from getting it. Skye cried like a little baby. After a few days, Thomas had a change of heart. He did not openly admit, but we knew how deeply he admired his older brother. Now he is happily working for Skye on Trainland again.

Last Monday, I went to kiss Thomas good night. It was already quite late. The next day would be Thomas’ transition day at his new school.

“Mum, I am so stressed.” Thomas said with a serious look.

“Oh why? Are you nervous about tomorrow at the new school?” I sat down at his bed.

“No. I am stressed about building my palace. It may take a while.” He looked very serious. Thomas has been building his Trainland palace on his iPad game called Minecraft.

“Mum, all my friends have already finished building their houses. But my palace has 52 bedrooms, their houses only have one to two bedrooms. So it will take me much longer to finish.” Thomas has given me his grand plan.

“Why don’t you build a small one first like your friends?”

“That is so boring!”, declared Thomas, “I am going to be an engineering architect one day!”

On Thomas’ transition day, coincidentally, he met a new friend who also wanted to become an engineering architect. They became inseparable.

Yesterday, we had an early celebration for Thomas’ 10th birthday with many of Thomas’ school friends. From a child who could not think one name to invite for his 6th birthday during his first year at school, to one of the most popular boys in his grade, what a change Thomas has made!

There was more. Last week, Thomas brought home his school work at the end of the term. I was speechless looking at his artwork “Tessellation”.

Well, Thomas is a synaesthete after all :-)

(To mark Thomas’ 10th birthday later this month, we are sharing Thomas’ artwork “Tessellation” as well as a couple of my children’s photos in their early years.)




November 15, 2015
by Spring
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French Perception

“6 April 2013

We are now in France, and are having a great time. We visited the Disneyland yesterday. We had a lot of fun, but were all exhausted when we came back to the hotel after 10pm. Thomas said, ‘this is the 2nd best day in my life.’ I asked him which day was his best day. He said it would be the day he could take his own children to the Disneyland. He is writing down all the nice places and nice hotels we are visiting and staying so that he can one day take his children when he is elder. We all quietly laugh at him. He has also had his 2nd worst day in his life in France apparently, a comment he made when he was eating a yummy French cheese cake, sitting under the sun at Place Stanislas in Nancy. He said we were stressing him out by taking him to so many museums and making him walk too much. I replied, ‘if this is your 2nd worst day in your life, you must be having a bloody good life!’
……
We went to the top of Eiffel Tower today. Both children were very impressed. Now they want us to take them to Burj Dubai on the way home. …… Tomorrow I will take children to visit Champs Elysses and École normale supérieure (I am too crazy about ENS :-) )…… Then we will have a French dinner to celebrate my birthday.”

This was a journal entry I wrote during our family trip to Europe in 2013. Thomas was seven and Skye was about to turn 10. Reading the journal, it has certainly brought back a lot of fond memories.

While we were in Nancy, we visited the statue of Henri Poincaré, a French genius whose conjecture was proved by Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman in 2003. Poincaré conjecture was one of the seven Clay Mathematics Institute’s Millennium Prize Problems. I always have a soft spot for Poincaré, a polymath, whose originality, diversified interests, visual thinking method jumping from one idea to another, and his massive interest in inventing rather than solving problems remind me a lot of Skye.

Since Skye was little, he loved to create Maths questions for Thomas to solve. A few weeks ago, I asked Skye how come his passion in Maths had declined. He said he still loved Maths, but he found that there was usually only one correct answer for a Maths question whereas with arts, music and writing, there can be endless answers and are more open ended which gave him more room to create. I was intrigued by his view.

When we were asking for direction at a bus stop in Nancy, we met a retired university professor. He was well spoken, and was very kind to us. He made comments about how much he liked Australia and Australian people which really touched us.

The visit a few days later to École normale supérieure was another interesting one. It was my birthday. After leaving Champs Elysses, my husband headed straight to Louvre Museum as he did not share my passion in ENS and did not want to indulge my craziness by turning up at the university without any prior arrangement.

Determined that École normale supérieure, the school that had produced the most Nobel Prize laureates and Fields Medallists, would be the right school for Skye and Thomas to attend in future, I had no problem convincing the children, who thought going anywhere was better than visiting another museum, to join me. We set out the trip to ENS.

After some detour, we were finally approaching ENS according to the map. By then, Thomas had already had enough. “Mum, I don’t want to win a Nobel Prize. I have had enough walking! You and Skye can go by yourselves.”

“Mum, I don’t know why you even bother to bring Thomas along. He is still a baby. He is not going to win a Nobel Prize!” Skye was annoyed that Thomas walked so slowly and was wasting his time.

“We are here already!” I exclaimed. “Quick kids, stand in front and let mum take a photo of you.” Thomas declined my request, and Skye reluctantly stood there for a photo (see on the Facebook page).

The next 15 minutes were more dramatic. The school was shut for the Easter break. The door was locked. I knocked and knocked, but no answer. Children said what a waste of trip that was. I was quite disappointed as well. We were just about to leave, a student came through the door. I quickly grabbed the opportunity and begged him to let us in. He was really not sure what to do with us. I then explained that we came all the way from Australia to visit ENS because of its reputation. He was moved by my sincere effort and asked us to be quick.

So there we were, standing right in the middle of ENS and looking around, but were totally underwhelmed by the unremarkable buildings, a big contrast to the remarkable people the school had produced. This theme has resonated with me for a long time. I realised that one’s desire and one’s dream, but not physical surroundings, are what take us on the journey and make us eventually reach our potential. It reminds me of Martin Boyd’s quote:

Our minds are like those maps at the entrance to the Metro stations in Paris. They are full of unilluminated directions. But when we know where we want to go and press the right button, the route is illuminated before us in electric clarity.

Looking back, my husband and I have had a long love relationship with France, or anything French. French is my synonym of Synaesthesia, powerfully creative, incredibly open-minded, appreciatively aesthetic, mysteriously imaginative, and uniquely mind-twisting.

Watching French movies on SBS (Australian Special Broadcasting Service) was one of our favourite passing times. How we loved those twists and incredible endings!

Then it comes to French science and literacy. The unique Émilie du Châtelet was someone whom I have been hugely admiring for a long time. Her intelligence, her romance with Voltaire, and their shared residence at Chateau de Cirey have inspired my curiosity, learning and lifestyle in every possible way.

Recently, I have also got fascinated by two great French writers: Victor Hugo and Gustove Flaubert. I am in the middle of reading Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Getting more and more excited about our next house move and opening a new chapter of life, I had a heartfelt moment when I read this:

The first was the day of her going to the convent; the second, of her arrival at Tostes; the third, at Vaubyessard; and this was the fourth. And each one had marked, as it were, the inauguration of a new phase in her life. She did not believe that things could present themselves in the same way in different places …” (Excerpt From: Flaubert, Gustave. “Madame Bovary.” iBooks.)

While the nation is mourning the loss of the victims in France, we take time to reflect. Above all, we are finding the new courage to carry on the spirits of the lost ones.

Yesterday, Skye shared an Octopoem that he wrote recently at school. I would like to dedicate the poem to people around the world who are being affected by this tragic event, especially French people.

HAPPINESS…

HAPPINESS is like rising SCARLET,
Like the sweet maple syrup on well-cooked pancakes;
Like the beautiful sight of the spring breezy wind,
The smell of the autumn trees sitting by the nearby lakes.
HAPPINESS looks like the sunset of a Hawaiian beach,
The beautiful sounds of freedom on the shore;
OH, the lush feel of the tip of a dream,
SCARLET is the victorious colour always to HAPPILY energize, never to bore.




October 8, 2015
by Spring
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Hereditary Genius – Reflection on People to Community Synaesthesia

The book “Hereditary Genius” was published in 1869. It was one of the many important works by Francis Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, as a result of his extensive research into human variation.

I first came across Galton’s work while I was researching Synaesthesia. His name then kept coming up over the last three years in many areas of my fascination such as mental imagery, nature vs. nurture, and this time hereditary genius.

In Hereditary Genius, a book highly regarded by his cousin Charles Darwin, Galton assessed the number of eminent relatives of eminent men, and showed that the number of eminent relatives was greater with closer degree of kinship. The work no doubt had its constraints and limitations, but it nevertheless has set an important foundation of studying various contributing factors of people who are considered as geniuses.

Last year, I got immensely interested in my husband’s paternal family history. It was triggered by a NZ colleague of mine telling me that one of my husband’s relatives in his grandfather’s generation was the idea behind geothermal energy which eventually led to the establishment of the Wairakei Power Station in NZ, the first of its type, and the second largest geothermal power station in the world.

It came as a huge surprise. I have been admiring this scientist relative of ours for a long time. Alternative energy was not his prime field of work. I have since looked into the history and indeed, he was one of the first in the world who had proposed the idea of geothermal energy in his early twenties. He was prominent in NZ’s science history. One of his brothers was a high court judge.

My husband’s great-grandfather was a first cousin of a world record holder sportsperson, as well as a first cousin of a very well known English writer whose classical novel still remains on the list of the 100 best novels all time.

Looking at my own family, there was a cluster of child prodigies amongst my first cousins and sibling.

Last year, I read Martin Boyd’s semi autobiography “The Langton tetralogy”. Boyd was a member of an Australian artistic dynasty. The Boyd family produced generations of artists who had dominated their respective fields.

Galton has coined the phrase “nature vs. nurture”. This debate has been ongoing for more than a century. However, if you look back on Chinese history, an ancient Chinese proverb had made a brilliant categorisation of two types of population: people who were born with the knowledge, and people who acquired knowledge through learning (from others). The first category implied that a genius was innate. Self learning from an early age is a typical trait amongst those people who have superior inherited talent.

I am convinced that a person’s gene (nature) is the primary factor and the environment (nurture) is the secondary factor in producing an eminent man. Both factors are important, but without the primary gene, the chance of having a genius by pure nurturing is relatively low though not impossible. It is like baking a cake. Without the right ingredients, doesn’t matter how skillful a baker is and how state of art the equipment is, it is hard to produce a perfect cake. On the other side, by having the right baker (teacher or guidance) and equipment (environment), the ingredients have a much better chance to turn into a superior cake.

This view of mine is also based on my observation of my son Skye’s prodigiousness. When Skye was a toddler, I used to walk him from our old house to my parents’ house a few streets away. He loved to spell out simple words along the way like this one: “S-O-L-D, SOLD, the house is sold.”

One day, an elderly man was saying hello to us from the front of his house. Skye pointed to his mail box and said “L-I-A-M, MAIL, this is your mail box.” He occasionally spelt words from a different direction in those days. The man looked quite shocked.

When I was half way through my pregnancy with Thomas, my husband and I took Skye to Sydney. Upon checking in a hotel, we were given the room number 1723. Skye ran to the lift and pressed the button for us. As soon as we got in the lift, without us saying a word, he pressed the lift button with the right floor number 17. An American lady in the lift was amazed and commented how incredible Skye was as he was only two at the time. What happened the next was even more incredible. We got off the lift, there were two signs, one pointing to the left with something like 1701-1715 and the other one with an arrow pointing to the right for the higher room numbers. Skye looked at the signs for a second or two, turned right and found the right room for us. My husband and I looked at each other, and were indeed shocked.

We hardly ever taught Skye much when he was little. Many years later, I was told by Skye that he had learnt reading from playing Leapfrog, an interactive toy. So I do not think the influence of an environment has played a key role in the development of Skye’s early intellectual ability.

Skye went through another major intellectual transformation at the age of four. He likes to believe it was the year that he reached zero year old as he started to think much more clearly, and had a better life outlook. He considers his age at his actual birth was -4. It was also the year that he started inventing things.

Recently, I was quite stressed by the impending house move. I asked Skye if he could see himself one day settle in one house and never needs to move again. His answer was straight forward: “Mum, when I am in my 40s, I will move to my palace. Then I won’t move again.” He has set his goal firmly to become the King of Gahooulia, a country he had invented.

After Skye’s transition camp, he joined us for the rest of school holidays at the farm. One day, we were talking about characteristics of different people.

“Mum, when I was four, I invented a house system based on people’s personalities. Each person has a Special Home which is the home that person is in at present, as well as a Deservation Home which is the home the person deserves to be in. I know ‘Deservation’ is not the right word, but remember I was only four and did not know a better word, so I invented this word. I still call it Deservation Home.”

He explained further that he had first created 10 homes. Then he got to meet more and more people, and the number of homes has grown to nearly 30. Last two years, the number has been quite stable. He thinks it is a form of synaesthesia which he calls People to Community Synaesthesia. I am not certain, but nevertheless I was astonished by his creativity especially after learning what each home means, who are in it, and how people sometimes can migrate from one house to another once their personality has changed. Here is the list.

1. The Home of Interest (People who are very interesting. My mother and I are found in this house.)

2. The Home of Multi-culture (People who love different cultures or people who are from a different culture especially people who have dark skin. This is a special home for my husband who is fascinated by other cultures. It is also Skye’s Nana, my mother-in-law’s deservation home due to her interest in multi-cultural music.)

3. The Home of the Average Model (People whom Skye does not know much such as a stranger, or a person who is very quiet, or simple.)

4. The Home of Lots of S%@t (People whom Skye does not like.)

5. The Home of the Dreaming Beauty (People who are sweet and say amazingly beautiful things. He finds a few attractive girls there. My husband’s middle sister is in this home.)

6. The Home of the Oldie (People who look old fashioned. They are not necessarily old in age.)

7. The Home of Driven Expression (People who are persuasive. His Head of House at school is in this home.)

8. The Home of Power (This is Skye’s Dad, Pop and Thomas’ deservation home.)

9. The Home of Care (People who are very caring or care about many things. It is Thomas’ special home.)

10. The Home of the Investigator (People who like investigating, or bad people who don’t want to be investigated, or people who want to get out of other people’s attention.)

11. The Home of the Universal Heaven (People who are similar to Skye, or people who respect him a lot. This is Skye’s special home and deservation home.)

12. The Home of How We Do Stuff (People who are bossy and tell other people what to do.)

13. The Home of the Crazy YEAH! (People who are always excited and enthusiastic of doing things. But sometimes can have stupid people in the house as well.)

14. The Home of The, The, Like, The, The Somewhat Confused (A home for people who always get confused, or talk with a lot of ‘the the’ pauses appearing confused.)

15. The Home of the Special (People who always really up themselves and think they know all. Or people who think they are very special, or are genuinely special. He finds most homosexual people in this house.)

16. The Home of the Romantic Kiss (People who are very aesthetic or people who are passionately in love with another person with a different sex (if the same sex, he/she migrates to the Home of the Special).)

17. The Home of OUCH! (Really sad people who are normally troubled, or who are not very popular to anyone.)

18. The Home of the Puzzled Question Mark (People who are not particularly intelligent.)

19. The Home of the Fashioned Café Linderal Pupil (People who are interested in wild life and aesthetic, and people who live in a great life. I used to be in this house, but migrated to the Home of the Interest. His godparents are in this house.)

20. The Home of Justin’s Thys (Only for boys who are attractive to girls.)

21. The Home of the Seventh Street (People who are sharp and love to do right things and be popular. Skye used to be in this home, but moved to the Home of the Universal Heaven.)

22. The Home of the Eighth Street (People who are similar to the 7th Streeter, but are not as sharp and can sometimes take a while to figure out things, and are usually very cute. Thomas used to be in this home while he was a baby. There are lots of babies in this house.)

23. The Home of the Exceptional Dimension (People who are very different and great at a lot of things, and don’t brag.)

24. The Home of the Spiritual Dimension (People who are a bit similar to people living in the above home except not as good, but have a lot of good spirits.)

25. The Home of the [Piece]-ful Dimension (People who are really annoying and can’t stop doing gross things such as spitting.)

26. The Home of the Entertainer (People who are good at amusing other people.)

27. The Home of the Master (This house is similar to the Home of the Universal Heaven, but is for people who are a bit elder. My father is in this home.)

28. The Home of the Remake (People who change their characteristics too much, and get put in this home for the staging purpose until their characteristics are more stablised before they get migrated to another home.)

I rushed to the phone to ring my dad up and told him what I had just learnt from Skye.

“Isn’t his house system amazing? You are in the Home of the Master! How did he come up such an idea? He was only four!” I was sounding more and more excited. I realised that my dad had not said a word.

“Dad, are you still there?”

After a long pause, my dad finally said two words.

“Born genius.”




September 22, 2015
by Spring
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Reverse Thinking – Person Objectification Synaesthesia vs. Object Personification Synaesthesia

“Thomas, I cannot believe how disrespectful you were in front of other parents!” My husband was furious. We just came out of Skye’s new school after dropping Skye off for his boarding transition camp last Saturday morning.

Thomas was stealing the whole show in front of other parents.

“What’s your name?” Asked a few parents.
“I am Skye’s elder brother Mr Opposite.” Thomas tried to be matter-of-fact.
“Oh, how old are you?”
“I am 13 turning 14. Skye is 12.”
……

“You are just as guilty.” My husband now turned the anger towards me. I was still trying hard to hold my amusement.
“But why didn’t you try to stop him yourself?” I shot back.
“Because I didn’t want to embarrass ourselves!”

Thomas has two nick names. One is “The Why Boy”. Since he was two, he has never stopped asking questions. He has been capped to 10 questions per day by his classroom teacher, and he usually reaches that number before the first class even starts each day.

His other nick name is “Mr Opposite” due to his reverse thinking. One of his most predominant synaesthesia types is reverse colour synaesthesia where he perceives the colour in the opposite to what is displayed, e.g., white or grey in black.

Thomas thinks many things in an opposite way, a thinking method he has naturally developed from a very young age. For example, if he hears us saying we will soon confiscate his iPad, he quickly ‘confiscates’ it himself before we are able to react. His logic is pretty simple, i.e., rather he himself not knowing where we will hide his iPad, it’s better for us not to know where the iPad is.

I always appreciate Thomas’ unique and advanced way of thinking as much as I appreciate Skye’s profound creativity. I have learnt a lot over the years from Thomas’ reverse thinking technique. I often apply this method to my work or problem solving which is very effective.

Now remaining in silence for the most of the trip to our farm house, I felt sorry for Thomas who sat behind me in the car. Every now and then, I turned around to look at his cute guilty face which was greeted by his whisper “my C-Girl”. C-Girl is what Thomas calls me these days. I rather like that name as it reminds me of a seagull.

Sunday afternoon, my husband left for Melbourne to pick Skye up from the camp. Thomas felt very relaxed to be left with me alone. He was busy putting away his dad’s pillows and moving his pillow from his bed to my bed.

We were lying in bed watching TV for a while. Thomas pointed to a white swan on the TV screen, “Mum, that’s you!” I had known Thomas perceiving me as a white swan for a long time.

“Yes, I know. What’s dad again?” I asked Thomas what his synaesthetic perception of his dad was.

“Black coffee.”

“Oh yes, I remember now. I think Skye has similar perceptions. He sees me as a swan on a green golf course, and your dad in a coffee shop.” I remembered what Skye said a couple of years ago.

My husband is fairer than me. Of course, there is no surprise that Thomas thinks I am white and his dad is black through his reverse thinking.

All of a sudden, the words “Person Objectification Synaesthesia” came to my mind. How come I did not think about this earlier? What Thomas had just described was opposite to “Object Personification Synaesthesia”.

I remember quite clearly that I had both of those synaesthesia types, i.e., seeing a person in object and seeing an object in person, when I was a child as well. I used to think my paternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was fruits as my grandmother had fresh fruits placed in front of my grandfather’s portrait to pay respect. My grandmother was dark brown smoked fish in my young eyes. Smoked fish was her signature dish, but she mainly prepared this dish during ceremonial periods for the deceased. My grandmother was a very strong, independent and intelligent person, coming from a lower middle class family, and married into a wealthy family. She fought hard to establish her status in the extended family. The family soon benefited from her genius like mind. My grandfather had hardly ever worked since the marriage as my grandmother ran the whole business for him and built up massive wealth until the communist took over their business. My grandmother was not a person who would easily give in. Upon losing their business, she was able to rent their mansion to the Chinese Communist Party as an army training base for the next 16 years so that the rental income was enough to feed the whole family.

Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution started, and the mansion was confiscated by the government. My grandfather died from a heart attack prematurely. Some of his relatives in the same generation suffered much worse fate. One jumped off his apartment, one hung himself and a few others were imprisoned. My grandmother became the head of the house for the remaining of her life. She died at the age of 93 in 2012.

Smoked fish reminded me of my grandmother, a truly tough, powerful, intelligent and delicious lady.

Nowadays, I hardly associate any person with an object. My Object Personification Synaesthesia has also been weakening for many years. However, whenever I move to a new company or start a major project, it comes to help me and gives me those what I call “Professional Embarrassment” moments.

I am now on a program looking at a new operating model for the IT business. My company is paying millions of dollars to an external consulting firm to evaluate centralisation and decentralisation options for each business unit within the organisation.

A few years ago, my company eliminated multiple shadow IT departments as part of IT consolidation. Now with the power of business units becoming stronger, a question has been raised if the centralised model is still fit for the purpose.

Hearing the word “Centralised” makes me think of communism, and the word “Decentralised” makes me associate with the home of a Chinese emperor.

Whilst each emperor in history tried to rule the entire country using a centralised model, his own home, to me, was run by the owner of each house, i.e., the empress and concubines. If the empress had sufficient power and backup, she could control the internal palace by forcing other houses to comply. However, this model was unable to survive once the power was in the hand of other concubines. Empress Cixi was a typical example whose power surpassed that of the original Empress.

Running a company with multiple business units is perceived by me as having an empress (Corporate business unit) and concubines (other vertical business units). Consolidation and peace are all short lived. Once a concubine has the power, it goes back to the decentralised model. History repeats, so does a company’s operating model.

“So what is the architectural recommendation? Shall we centralise or decentralise?” My big boss will soon ask me this question.

“The architectural recommendation is to decentralise.” I may be pretty confident in answering this question.

“Could I please see your evaluation?” It will be reasonable for my boss to look at how the million dollars have been spent to come up this recommendation.

“Ohhh, the evaluation was based on my Object Personification Synaesthesia, so it did not cost a few million. My synaesthetic perception tells me that this model works better when a concubine has more power than the empress. The emperor’s focus should be on internal integration and external competitiveness. With the right integration strategy, all concubines can live in harmony. We will then devote our energy to compete externally in the marketplace.”

Thinking amusingly what I was going to say to my boss, my thoughts were interrupted by Thomas’ breathing. Thomas was fast asleep. Looking at my younger son’s beautiful childish face, visualising him seeing me as a white swan, I felt nothing, but love and blessing.




September 11, 2015
by Spring
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Where the Heart Belongs: School Campus to Taste Synaesthesia

Skye was washing his hands after a bathroom break at his school. All of a sudden, his synaesthesia escalated to a new level and brought him new sensations. He rushed out to the school oval in excitement. A large mixture of tastes spontaneously came to him. “Starch, pepper, salt, sugar, spice, flour, fat. Mmm, great!”

He ran to the tree behind the chapel oval with joy. “Hang on, this place tastes slightly different. What’s missing?” He tried again, “oh, no fat! Needs more pepper and salt. Interesting!”

Skye continued onto a few other places around the school ground. Each place gave him a distinct taste through his synaesthetic perception.

The Dining hall, one of Skye’s favourite places, tasted the same large mixture except no flour. The old drama area had a taste of starch, sugar, spice and salt.

“The Beehive has only moderate and sweet stuff Mum, all bad things were gone! Oh, do you know what I mean by bad things?” Skye realised that I might not have understood what he meant.

Seeing my puzzled expression, Skye explained, “I perceive pepper, salt, and spice as bad things; starch, flour and fat as moderate and alright things. You must have guessed that I associate good things with a sweet taste. I often enjoy visiting the school’s Beehive, but I am always worried that I may become diabetic one day if I stay there too long.” I burst out laughing.

“What about the Equestrian centre?”

“I don’t like the place as much as you think. It has the same mixture except no sugar and no fat.”

This synaesthesia was developed on the 8th day after starting at his current school, Skye still remembers vividly. Although the taste association for each place has remained consistently since, more and more synaesthetic responses have gradually evolved.

Moving to Skye’s current school, one of the most prestigious schools in Australia, was a life changing experience to the 10 year old boy at the time. Skye loves the tranquility of the campus which is as big as a typical university campus. He loves walking on the colourful and tree-lined main street, passing different historical and contemporary buildings, and enjoys his synaesthetic perception throughout a year.

The school has educated generations of world leaders, Australian executives and artists. Skye feels very safe there with a group of like-minded friends and understanding teachers who encourage individuality.

“Mum, I will never ever have that much synaesthesia in any other school.” Skye said with a bit sadness.

“Not even the new school you are going to next year?” I asked hesitately, and was given a no answer.

Both Skye and Thomas are moving to their respective new schools after this year. That’s part of the family’s consolidation plan due to the more and more challenging logistics. Skye will also commence his boarding.

Putting Skye through boarding at a young age was not an easy decision. I attended a boarding school in my senior school years, and understand how much he is going to miss home and how much we are going to miss him. But knowing Skye whose dreams will most likely take him to somewhere far away from home one day, boarding can be a good transition.

What he looks forward to the most and the least is there will be no girls in his new school.

Last night, on the way home after Thomas’ school performing art night, Skye complained in the car, “Thomas, it’s very unfair that your school has so many good looking girls! Girls at my school are really average looking.”

“I hate girls! I don’t look at them.” Thomas replied simply.

February 25, 2016
by Spring
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Synesthesia and Religion – Life is Like a Tree

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Synesthesia may be linked to a much more common mental functions that all of us employ everyday, the ability to make and use metaphors, of which religion is an important subset. A metaphor is the combination of two unlike things to create a new meaning.” … “Science also uses metaphors. In some sense, all human language is derived from metaphors (Ricoeur 1976). Religion can be thought of as something like the metaphoric confabulations of synesthesia, seeing nature and hearing the voice of God or the Buddha-nature in all things (Ramachandran 1998).” (Excerpt From: William Grassie. “The Neurosciences of Religion: Meditation, Entheogens, Mysticism.”)

Thomas perceives religion as a Master through his personification synaesthesia. A thought or an experience of religion gives rise to a smell of smoke, a taste of salt, a sound of bell ringing, and a feel of ashes or even brain.

Thomas is becoming more religious, a consequence I did not foresee so strongly before enrolling him to a Catholic school. In a way, Thomas has always been a spiritual person, thus fell in love with his new school much more than other schools during the first school visit last year.

This new school of his is part of an international network of Jesuit schools. The acceptance preference goes to children who come from Catholic or Christian families. When we went for the school interview last year, we were not sure of Thomas’ chance for being accepted.

Thomas’ remarkable caring nature and his desire to help people in need made a big impression on the Dean of the School. Since he was little, he set a goal to become a doctor to save people’s lives. He says he will work very long hours, and charge little as otherwise, poor people cannot afford to see him. If he becomes very rich one day, he will give all his money to people who need help.

The first week at his new school, Thomas learnt that every child in his class has been baptized except himself.

“Please bring me a bucket of water Mum.” Thomas urgently requested upon arriving at home.
“Why?” I was puzzled.
“Because I want to be baptized!”

A week later, Thomas could recite very complex and lengthy prayers without missing a word. His enhanced memory and his newly evolved synaesthesia towards religion are all helping him discover this territory of interest.

My husband and I started feeling that religion might be what Thomas has always been looking for. I sensed this could be an ultimate reconciliation between him and his fear of death.

When I was about Thomas’ age, I met a friend of my father’s who was an active member of Shanghai Buddhism Association. She later became my private tutor for Chinese literacy. Under her influence, I was soul searching the meaning of Buddhism. One stage, I was attracted to the idea of becoming a nun. This childhood experience left me with idealism such as seeing through the world of mortals. I suppose at the time, I was terrified by the concept of death, and desperately needed a way to find a reason why we were given the right to be born, yet were not given the right to live forever.

When I was sharing my experience and my synaesthetic response towards death and religion, Thomas confirmed he too felt religion, death, and life somehow intertwine. That was why he smelt an ash like smell and felt ashes when he thought about religion. When I was a child, I perceived Buddhism and Death through a smell of incense. I had not experienced this synaesthesia for over two decades until the death of my husband’s grandmother in 2014. We were given a few of Nana’s belongings to keep. One of them was a near new water kettle. The first time I looked at the kettle, an incense smell came through my nose so strongly that I felt myself traveling back to a Chinese temple.

Two weeks ago, we finally moved into our new home. Apart from our farm, this house is the most tranquil house we have ever lived in. It is elevated well above the ground, in a bush like setting. This Melbourne suburb, during the colonial period, was regarded by Martin Boyd as a suburb for people who appreciated views rather than social life. Today, high-rise buildings can be found within a short distance, yet, the pocket, where our new house is situated, enjoys the unspoiled tranquillity.

On the first day living in the new house, Thomas stepped through the garden and found lily pads in the pond. He felt synaesthetic touch on his palm as if frogs were landing on it. Skye came home from his boarding school. While he was staring at the trees in the garden, a synaesthetic image of raindrops appeared in front of his eyes.

At night, I was lying in bed, totally exhausted after the move, the spatial sensation of floating above the treetop came to me, a type of synaesthesia I experience every time I move to a different floor for work or living. Two years ago, after we moved to the upstairs bedroom in the old house, I had experienced the floating sensation for a week. But that time, it was more like under the cloud, instead of above the treetop.

Next morning, I was pleasantly surprised by Skye sharing his newly created metaphor.

Life is Like a Tree

It starts with a seed. It grows bigger. Whenever there is a life changing experience, a new branch comes out. If the branch is not the right branch for your life, it will soon stop growing and find its way back to the tree. Another life experience will bring out another new branch. Eventually, you will find the best branch for you to grow to the tallest and the strongest you can.

One day, when your life ends, the tree will still stand as it holds your spirit and legacy. Before you exit the world, you should take a look at many other trees around yours. You will notice that some trees are just taller and stronger than others as they have experienced more in their lives. And mine hopefully will be among the tallest and the strongest.

December 31, 2015
by Spring
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Synaesthesia in Astrology – Skye the Bull

What happens when a bull’s journey starts? He gets lots of support from his best friends, the fish, the crab, the maiden and the mountain goat. He experiences tonnes of interesting characteristics from his other friends, scorpions, in particular. But the bull’s life may not be as easy as you would’ve thought! The bull will certainly encounter creatures whom they do not like at all. This mainly includes the water bearer and the lion. The bull experiences other people too, including the twins, the scales (another one of the bull’s great companions), the centaur and the greatly admired, outspoken ram. But Skye, as a bull, has a gift which definitely not many other bulls have! It’s a gift, where you can see the other creatures in colours which not many other creatures in this WORLD can ever possibly imagine with the tip of their naked eye. And it’s not just colours, it’s also personalities, tastes, feels, smells and sometimes, even sounds! All, in which sounds absolutely crazy to many other ‘ordinary’ creatures, but not to Skye, the Bull.

If he looks at the ram’s (Aries’s) sign (♈), Skye will always notice a light shade of red, now THAT’S something unique which even a ram will certainly appreciate the unique spirit of and THAT certainly does not happen very often, that’s for sure! When he looks at his star chart, he is looking at all the flowing colours going around the chart, particularly to the few planets positioned in Aquarius, which explains why Skye is a bit eccentric, all thanks to his special gift! And as well as all the wild, exciting, vivid and equally as eccentric colours that Skye the Bull can see, there are also the times when Skye can feel and touch as he looks at astrology too.

For instance, if he looks at his chart and finds very bad aspects, he will immediately feel very warm and he will feel like he has a shocking headache even though he does not. However, if he spots a very good aspect, he will feel a very breezy wind as if he is being kissed on the lips by any random girl! Sagittarius is one of Skye’s favourite signs, when Skye thinks about Sagittarius, he will always see really cute colours flowing around him, and he will feel very good and very sugary things. He will also hear very friendly noises of his good Sagittarius friends. He even smells a very strong carpet kind of smell, because Skye believes that carpets match the Sagittarius’ personality. All this is information which probably not even an imaginative Sagittarius could imagine. In fact, it’s not just Sagittarius, it’s every single unique sign, all which he sees, smells, tastes, feels and hears.

Aries causes Skye to think out of the box. He will see a fair bit of magical light red and will feel slightly above average heat. He will hear people yelling at each other even though Skye likes the sign Aries very much, and will taste slightly sweet sugar. Taurus gives Skye a more relaxed feel, but every once in a while, he sees a very dangerous red in them, as well as very nasty bull behaviors. But overall, green and red are the colours which Skye sees in this patient sign. As it is his own sign, he tastes a very sweet, tropical fruit drink, and weirdly, he also tastes a bit of straw and wheat. He will hear gusts of wind and a few birds chirping and a few insects making their sounds too. It’s very relaxing. He also smells some fresh air. Skye feels a lot of wind flow onto his cheek, as if a girl would be kissing him.

Here is a slight flavour of SYNAESTHESIA IN ASTROLOGY that Skye the Bull experiences.

This closing blog of Year 2015 was written by Skye. The featured synaesthesia types Astrology Charts/Zodiac Signs to Colour/taste/Smell/Touch//Sound/Personality/Temperature are the most memorable synaesthesia types Skye developed in 2015.

Some time in the new year, you will see the publication of “Brilliant Young Minds: A Synesthesia Family Memoir“, a book which assembles stories of my family especially stories of my two children, from the pregnancy and birth, to the events which started each of their synesthesia, to their growing up journey. The book documents approximately 100 synaesthesia types shared between them. Stay tuned!

Thank you all for your wonderful support in the past year. I hope you continue enjoying Synaesthesia Discovery in 2016. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!




November 26, 2015
by Spring
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Synaesthesia Colour My World

An average human is said to be able to perceive a million different colours. There are some people, though very few, can see even more.

Since Skye was in kindergarten, he sensed that he was able to see more colours than his peers. He could tell subtle differences in two very similar colours. His colour vocabulary was vast for his age. He did not know why.

Skye did not know that other people only could see the colour in display. He thought everyone was seeing multiple colours on each object if an object gets noticed. When one day, he finally realised that other people did not share his perception, he was totally shocked. He even went silent for a period of time. In his young mind, he tried to work out if there was something wrong with him.

Taking colours away from him was impossible. It was like all of a sudden, a little fish was told it could not swim in water any more. Colour is like life oxygen to Skye, spontaneous and beautiful. It is a way he expresses his thoughts, it is a method he conceptualizes, it is a dear friend who helps him create music and art, it is a teacher who shows him complex Maths and science.

The word “Synaesthesia” then entered our household. Skye no longer needs to worry, and he let his colour run wild.

In this world, Skye perceives the majority of things and beings in colour. This adds to his synaesthetic taste, smell, touch and sound, his mind naturally non stop receives information from multi-dimension and multi-channel which increases his brain capacity and complexity more and more.

Skye is hardly overwhelmed by his multi-sensory perception. He thinks the biggest shame is that he cannot share what he sees, often extraordinarily beautiful, with his friends or other people around him. When he gets a strange stare, he needs to remind himself not to carry away too much.

Skye is spiritual, but is not religious. He visits the school chapel once or twice a week as part of his religious study. The biggest joy of visiting chapel is to see amazing colours around different lights.

Light colours change depending on what he thinks at the time. He is currently planning a trip to Scandinavia with his two best friends when they turn 18 which is six years away. Whenever he thinks about Finland, it comes the northern light. The lights in the chapel turn into purple, blue and green.

Sometimes, he pictures himself as a hobo when he is 30. This thought brings on black and white stones falling and rising from the light. He quickly turns his thought to be the King of Gahooulia, his invented country, a golden rainbow starts appearing. Like a normal rainbow, his golden rainbow has seven colours as well. They are gold, silver, bronze, platinum, diamond, emerald and azure.

When he is tired of looking at dark colours, his eyes turn to candle lights. For some reason, candle lights add yellow orange stripes to the same colour perception triggered by thoughts as per normal lights, except all dark colours get removed.

“Skye, stop looking at the lights! You should be looking at Father H.” He is often worried that his teacher would soon notice. But the golden rainbow is so beautiful that he is willing to take a risk of looking away from Father H.

“Mum, can you see what I see?” Skye looked at me curiously.
“I wish I could :) ” I was full of envy.

August 24, 2015
by Spring
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The Days of the Week Synaesthesia

After more than a year’s break from writing my blog Synaesthesia Discovery, I feel that the temptation of re-starting my blog is rising.

The year has been hectic. I have been fully occupied by a large program at work. One day, waking up at the news that the program would no longer continue due to the downturn of the economy, I could not help but re-assessing my life priority.

Children have grown so much taller last 12 months. Skye is now above 170cm and is proud of being taller than his mum. Thomas is close to 145cm in height. The two brothers still have the ‘love and hate’ relationship, competitive and funny together.

This Melbourne’s winter has been colder than usual. Thomas caught a bad cold last week, and is still recovering today. I stayed home with him and had a nap in the afternoon. When Skye arrived back after a long day at school, he was surprised to see both Thomas and me in PJ.

“I wish I stayed home with you guys! I hate Mondays!” Exclaimed Skye.

“I love Mondays. I wish I could be at school!” Responded Thomas, adding a remark, “I see myself in an Indian restaurant on Monday.”

“That’s the problem. I don’t feel anything because Monday is becoming so boring.” Skye almost felt sorry for himself.

“That’s like my Tuesday. Tuesday is my least favourite day of a week. I feel myself in a dump.” Thomas could very much relate to how his brother felt about Monday.

The talk continued at our newly introduced ‘Family Conversation Hour at the Dinner Table”. This new program, suggested by a couple of my friends, aims to build a strong family bond by sharing what each of us has done during the day.

Once at the dinner table, I asked children if I should go back to write my blog. Thomas immediately declared that he no longer had synaesthesia. He has been going through a synaesthesia denial phase. I was surprised that he had initiated this conversation today.

“I don’t feel anything on Wednesday, but Thursday I see myself eating a parmajarma at Mrs Parma’s restaurant. I think Friday as 750 because 7:50pm is when footy starts, and I picture myself in a pub drinking beer and watching footy on TV.”

We all laughed. Skye was quick to compare notes, “Tuesday I see myself eating bok choy and buying groceries as Tuesday is very green. I also feel like climbing a rocky mountain. Wednesday is a bit strange, I am at Clive Palmer’s party playing guitar! I don’t know why. My favourite synaesthesia out of all of the days of the week is Thursday as I travel all over the place: taking a trip to heaven, going to Ireland and then Turkey to get good luck and get drunk!” He later on explained that ever since he was a baby, he associated Thursday with the country Turkey which resulted in a sensation of travel.

“Friday is my favourite day. My synaesthesia brings me to a resort. Throughout the evening, I go out with friends to scenic places to have dinner. At 10pm, I go out with a girlfriend. Remember, this is very futuristic.”

Beer, political party, and girlfriend in their synaesthetic perception!! Haven’t my children grown?

“What about weekends?” I was getting more and more intrigued.

Thomas was first to speak, “On Saturday, I am at a religious place with a lot of nice religious people. Sunday is an ice cream day, and I feel like in an ice cream shop.”

“I don’t feel I am at anywhere on Saturday, but I always see beautiful rainbow like colours, a bit of blue, green, yellow, orange, a tiny bit of red, white and black. As far as Sunday goes, I am at a park playing on a swing and eating an ice cream sundae.” Skye explained.

“Mum and dad, what about you guys? What do you feel about the days of the week?”

It was hard for me to answer, “I don’t feel much unfortunately except Monday is fresh and crispy. I want to dislike Monday, but I find it difficult. Oh I do see Monday and Tuesday on my left, Wednesday in front of me, and Thursday and Friday on my right. It’s hard to explain Saturday and Sunday. They move from my right hand side up to the sky and turn into a cloud like shape.”

“Dad, your turn!”

“I just get up everyday and go to work, don’t think about anything.” My husband answered calmly.

We all laughed loudly. Simplicity is always better than complexity :-)

July 29, 2014
by Spring
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Timeline – Growing Up in Australia

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Growing Up in Australia is a long term study, conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The study follows the development of 10,000 children and families across Australia. It tries to identify key contributors, such as social, economic and cultural environment, to children’s cognitive development and wellbeing. Since its inception of 2004, Growing Up in Australia has provided policy makers and researchers some very valuable statistics which further influenced government’s family legislations.

As early as 2003, not long after Skye’s birth, we were contacted by Growing Up in Australia to ask for the permission to be included in the study. Our cross-cultural marriage might be one of the reasons why our family was selected. We became one of the first families in Australia that joined this longitudinal study.

Last week, a new interviewer came to our house to conduct this year’s interview. The previous interviewer, as we were told, has retired. Looking at my husband and Skye, a wave of sadness suddenly rushed over. I realised how much my husband and I had aged, and how much Skye had grown up. Skye was in his baby rocker when the first interview was conducted. He was waving, kicking, and making all kinds of noises in excitement. Now he is over 160cm in height, a young man with a striking presence and great sense of humour.

Each of Growing Up in Australia interviews brings back memories: memories of the great anticipation of becoming a parent, memories of the birth of our first child, memories of the growing up journey of our children …

Easter 2003, my husband and I spent our last holiday at Byron Bay, as a couple, before the birth of our first child. We were anxiously waiting for the arrival of our son.

Byron Bay is a coastal town located close to the border of Queensland and New South Wales, two hours drive from Brisbane, a city where we lived at the time due to the re-location of my job. Byron’s artistic atmosphere and its well known alternative life style attract many tourists year after year.

After checking in the B&B, we went for a walk on the main street to enjoy some fresh air. All of a sudden, we saw a man running rapidly from the other side of the road towards us. The man was in his 50′s. Judging by his appearance, we gathered that he was one of those local hippies.

“Man, this boy, this boy,” he was pointing to my heavily pregnant belly and trying to grab his breath at the same time, “is going to be extraordinary! You are pregnant with a God.” His voice was full of excitement. “You must look after him! You must!”

He left just as quickly as he’d appeared after giving us an encouraging smile. I stood where I was, trying to comprehend what had happened. My husband put his arm around my shoulder.

“Please don’t take it too seriously. He might say it to every pregnant woman he sees.”
“How did he know it’s a boy? How did he know?” I was indeed shocked.

That scene, until today, resonates with me. I have never talked about this with anyone again, but I often recall that moment and wonder if there is something in this world that is pre-determined.

A few weeks later, after a difficult and prolonged labour, my beautiful boy Skye was born. He weighed close to 10 pounds. We could never forget the first look he gave us. His large and curious eyes stared straight at us. Then he started looking around the room as if he was checking things out. My husband fell in love with his son at the first sight.

Skye turned out to be a very healthy and happy baby. Before he was one month old, he was already sleeping through the night, 11 hours straight. During the day, apart from a decent nap, he was awake most of the time, and kept me entertained.

We never felt anything unusual about our first born. As new parents, we did not know any benchmark, and assumed all babies more or less behaved in the same way, and reached milestones at a similar pace.

One day, when Skye was one, my mother-in-law commented how extraordinary that Skye remembered a teddy he had lost at a supermarket six weeks earlier. Around the same time, he had learnt basic shapes and colours from reading two baby books.

The purchase of an interactive toy called “LeapFrog” was yet to uncover more of Skye’s self learning and discovery abilities. By 20 months, he was reading picture books with words at the bottom. He also had mastered numbers up to 100. Sooner after, he started doing sums. Years later, I asked him how he learnt reading by himself, his answer was simple, “from LeapFrog!” That was completely unexpected. I was also told that was the time Skye developed his Grapheme -> Colour synaesthesia. He associated letters and numbers he saw on LeapFrog with colours to help him remember and learn those new things. Some of the colour associations remained until today, but many have changed after his exposure to new experiences.

The arrival of our second boy Thomas was a reality check for us.

“This is green. The colour is green.” I was patiently teaching my two year old Thomas, a task I had never performed on Skye.
“Sweetheart, what colour is this?” I tested Thomas the next day.
“Blue, this is blue.” Thomas said in confidence.
I asked my husband if we should get Thomas’ vision checked.

Thomas was slow with learning colours. His strength was in numbers like Skye. When he was 2.5, he was also able to read a digital clock down to a minute, and calculate how many minutes left before his train would depart. But his real strength is people and negotiation skills.

“Mummy and Daddy, my brother has been a good boy, can you PLEASE please let him play computer games?” Our two year old was negotiating on his elder brother’s behalf, and our five year old was hiding behind his bedroom door pleased with his little brother’s performance.

“Why didn’t your brother come to talk to us himself? Who are you?” I was a bit annoyed.

“I am Skye’s manager.” Thomas certainly had received a big promotion from Skye who believed everything could be outsourced to his younger brother as long as he was capable.

It was not until later, we were told by some medical professions that our second born was actually normal, and our first born was not normal. Then our worries were reversed.

A sharp statement made by Thomas one day really summarised what the definition of “Normal” might be. We were dining at a restaurant close to Disneyland in Paris. Skye was thinking big things and doing something unusual again. My husband asked him why he could not be a bit more normal like Thomas. But then my husband looked at Thomas and commented with a sigh that Thomas was not particularly normal either. Thomas offered a brilliant explanation, “daddy, that’s because I am not as a genius as Skye, but I am probably still a genius myself.”

As the years go by, for my husband and me, each of those Growing Up in Australia interviews has become a checkpoint of our family life, our marriage, and our career. As we are getting elder, we appreciate more and more what our family life means to us, our children, parents and siblings. The true happiness is from within.

I have spent a long time to recollect some events happened years ago, and to re-appreciate some wisdom I learnt from my own children for this blog. I am writing to pay tribute to those families who have lost the loved ones, especially children, in the fatal MH17 flight. The rights of growing up were stolen from those children. Words cannot adequately describe how much I was affected by this tragedy……

July 7, 2014
by Spring
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Synaesthesia Marches into the Soccer World Cup

imageThe early exit of Australian socceroos at FIFA World Cup 2014 has not dampened the nation’s enthusiasm in soccer. Soccer is on the rise to become more and more popular in Australia.

Both Skye and Thomas participate in soccer training and soccer games at school. Before the end of last term, Skye’s team represented his school to compete at a regional tournament.

Skye’s interest in soccer was developed through his love of an iPad game called Head Soccer. The game involves players from many countries. His synaesthesia very quickly made him see country flags in synaesthetic colour. Not only that, those flags try very hard to communicate with him. Within no time, Skye was able to recognise all country flags in Head Soccer. After some research on Internet, his knowledge in country flags expanded further. He now can recognise close to 100 different country flags.

Skye wrote a few examples of his synaesthetic responses associated with geographical flags.

Algerian flag: I do not see a colour, but I see a shining object made from glitter and glass.

Australian flag: I see a huge mixture of colours, most of them talk to me like “I am beautiful”, a few others say to me, “I am unique”.

Canadian flag: I see red, yellow and green. The colours are on autumn trees. The colours don’t speak.

Chile flag: The colour I see is the same as many other country flags. It’s a unique rainbow colour.

Côte D’ivoire flag: I see the same rainbow sort of colour. Only very few colours involve voices.

The first time Skye kicked a soccer ball many years ago, he noticed a splash of lime green. From that day, kicking a soccer ball often gives rise to his colour perception. Interestingly, different ways of striking a soccer ball trigger different colours. A splash of lime green is what Skye sees if he kicks a ball with the side of his foot whereas a splash of red is associated with a kick using the outside of his foot. The third colour, i.e., orange, is evoked when his toe kicks a ball. Even though Skye is mainly a projector synaesthete, this particular colour perception is more associated than projected. Occasionally, he sees colour on a ball, but most of time, a synaesthetic colour immediately and involuntarily comes to his mind at the time he strikes a ball.

There are more complexity involved in his soccer synaesthesia. The colour perception described above occurs when Skye is playing a real match. However, if he is in a training session, he sees a light orange colour hanging around him.

In a real match, Skye feels himself as a computer. At the sight of a ball coming towards him or going further away from him, he moves left and right feeling as if he was a computer applying a pre-programmed action. This is a true reflection of human evolution! The young generation of synaesthetes unconsciously integrates more and more modern technology with their synaesthesia.

Skye and Thomas are on school holidays. They are having very lazy days playing their games, and making up their TV shows based on their new favorites “Total Drama Action” and “Total Drama Island”. After each self made episode, they sing the theme song “I Wanna be Famous”. I asked them how come they had changed their minds as I thought they didn’t want to be famous. Thomas said, “mum, I definitely don’t want to be famous. How annoying to have so many people follow me and look at me.”

But Skye sighed. He said he didn’t think he had a choice. He figured that the only way he could fund his own country Gahooulia was to become a child actor ASAP. He worked out the first step was to become a voice actor. I have to say I am very impressed by his voice acting skills. He often voices for five to ten characters in one self made episode which is extremely effective.

One day, he rang up the 1800 number advertised on the “Total Drama Action” show hoping to discuss any voice acting opportunity with the producer. But he got a recorded message to say something like “Optus advises that your call will be monitored for the training and quality control purposes”. He had a shock and quickly hang up.

To celebrate my blog Synaesthesia Discovery’s one year anniversary, and to thank my children, family, friends (especially my friend Sophie who does not allow me to give up writing) and readers, I will finish this blog with the lyrics of “Total Drama Island” theme song “I Wanna be Famous”, as per request from two real characters of my blog Skye and Thomas:

Dear Mom and Dad I’m doing fine,
You guys are on my mind
You ask me what I wanted to be
And now I think the answer is plain to see
I wanna be famous

I wanna live close to the Sun
Pack your bags ’cause I’ve already won
Everything to prove nothing in my way
I’ll get there one day
‘Cause I wanna be famous

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na
I wanna be
I wanna be
I wanna be famous
I wanna be
I wanna be
I wanna be famous

June 24, 2014
by Spring
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Does Synaesthesia Provide Benefits at a Workplace?

Synaesthesia has been commonly recognised as an asset for musicians and writers, but does synaesthesia provide benefits to ordinary people like myself at a workplace? I have been wondering about this question for a while.

My work is hectic. Every day, I rush from one meeting to another. Five to six meetings a day is normal. 5pm is the time that I can finally sit at my desk, and start doing my work without much interruption.

In the old days, I used to notice my colleagues taking their notepads to meetings, and writing down meeting notes page after page. I felt embarrassed that I hardly ever took any notes. So I decided to copy what everyone else did, and pretended I was writing down things. But I have never gone back once to check my notes after a meeting. I concluded that everyone was just doing this to please their bosses or meeting organisers.

One day, a few years ago, I was waiting for the lift to go to a meeting on a different floor. One of my close friends joined me as he was heading to the same meeting. As usual, he was holding a pen and a notepad. I sighed, “I wish everyone could stop pretending taking notes. It’s such a waste of time.” He looked confused. I added, “oh, please don’t tell me you seriously read your notes after a meeting.” He said of course.

Finally, I realised that people were not pretending. That was quite a discovery from my side, and made me wonder why I could remember everything, but most of other people could not.

One of the reasons, I think, is to do with the ability of seeing calendar images. I use my work calendar extensively. If I want to be organised, I put things in the calendar. For some reason, once a meeting or an action item is in calendar, the image of the calendar comes up in my mind whenever I need the information. My work calendar is jammed with meeting invites. The image of those meetings sitting in swimming lanes, based on time, helps me remember which meetings I have been to, and what topics were discussed, and who were at the meetings. I suspect it is a result of my time space synaesthesia. I also notice items sitting under a future calendar date invoke clearer images. Once a date has passed, it turns into a darker picture and eventually fades away, but the picture of the next day becomes much brighter.

I have to admit with my increased meeting commitments, to remember so many action points coming out of so many meetings each day is no way an easy task. I recently started using my iPad to capture a few points at some meetings. Even though I still do not usually go back to check my notes after meetings, the image of iPad notes alone does the magic trick.

What happen if I forget some action points? There is nothing to worry about. Sooner or later, I will remember. A name or a face is the strongest trigger for me to recall what I need to do for that person. I sometimes do a floor walk just to trigger off my work list. Whilst I am walking, any person passing by, or sitting at his/her desk who was at a meeting I attended or whose name was associated to a topic can definitely invoke the image of the meeting room where the topic was discussed. After a few minutes of floor walk, I mentally take back to my desk a few items to action.

People may not relate this kind of behaviour with synaesthesia. But I become more and more convinced that it is a form of synaesthesia. I find it very beneficial to my busy working life, not only help me organise my work, but also make me learn a wide range of concepts quicker.

June 10, 2014
by Spring
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Holograms – Smell to Vision and Vision to Smell Synaesthesia

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“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”
― Jonathan Swift

Synaesthetic vision is holographic like vision, according to Skye. Images are multidimensional which can be seen clearly, but are not touchable.

While Skye was learning aboriginal history, he always saw a synaesthetic boomerang going around him. It did distract him a bit as he was too busy looking at the boomerang rather than his classroom teacher.

On the weekends, children like coming to our bed after they wake up. The smell of our bed triggers off a lime green colour for Thomas. It makes Skye see fire on the bed like what is shown in the attached picture. He also randomly sees ashes dropping off one corner of the bed. The image gives him a warm feeling. He jumps on the bed with his arms fully extended as if he was touching the fire. He loves this sensation.

Skye’s smell to vision synaesthesia has weakened in recent months, but Thomas’ is as strong as before. The smell of donut is white, the smell of lavender is purple, whereas the aroma of Indian spice is blue, Thomas’ favorite colour.

I often take children to a fruit and vegetable shop at a close-by shopping centre. The shop has a large variety of fruits on display. Being fruit lovers, both kids like helping me pick fruits, and enjoy synaesthetic colours they see.

One of Thomas’ favourite kind of fruits is persimmon. The smell of persimmon gives rise to a very dark orange colour which sits on top of the reddish orange skin. Similarly, green is the colour floating above an avocado whereas pink is the colour he sees on a plum.

Last weekend, my dad and I took Skye, Thomas and their 8 year old cousin to the farm. Their cousin is also a synaesthete, but I didn’t know he had smell to colour synaesthesia prior to the trip.

“Oh Thomas, please keep the gas in! It gives me such an awful purplish yellow colour!” Their cousin complained.
“Oh fresh! I love the smell.” That’s a typical statement of Thomas’. “I see blueish yellow. Why don’t you like purplish yellow? I think it’s beautiful!”

At the end of their amusing conversation, I asked the boys where they usually see their synaesthetic colour triggered by a smell. Their answers were quite fascinating.

As projector synaesthetes whose synaesthetic vision gets projected into the space, both Skye and Thomas see colour on an object where the smell is originated.

“But Mum, if an object is invisible, the colour comes in front of me and straight into my eyes.” Skye offered more explanation.

Thomas visualises colour moving around him if he cannot see where a smell comes from.

As an associator synaesthete, their cousin sees colour in his mind. He was pointing to his forehead when he answered my question.

On Monday, Thomas and his cousin were watching a kids game show called “Steam Punks” on TV. The contester was asked to match a smell with a labelled container.

At the sight of the “Peanut Butter” label, both boys called out, “must be peanut butter, I can smell peanut butter”.

“Really?” I tried to smell peanut butter, but I could not.
“Do you guys really smell peanut butter?” I asked.
“Yes, I can smell it very well.”
“Me too!”

I asked my nephew if he wanted to know the term that describes his neurological trait. He declined my kind offer. But he added that he always suspected other people could not see colour or hear sound when they smell something. Sometimes, he was not sure if other people could smell an item such as the “Peanut Butter” label.

When my husband and I first discovered our children’s in-depth synaesthetic perceptions, we “blamed” each other for passing on the gene. It took us a while to accept and appreciate this incredible phenomenon. My children are now fully aware of their perception difference. My nephew is on a journey making his own discovery.

I often think synaesthesia is like the opposite to what described in a proverb:

Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.

The beauty of synaesthesia is those who are inside do not want to get out, but I am not sure if those who are outside want to get in either.

May 23, 2014
by Spring
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Does the Imagination Age Make Synaesthesia More Attractive?

The term “Imagination Age” has captured my attention at a technology conference I attended last two days. Some people believe that the period of economy has gone from the Agricultural Age, to the Industrial Age, to now the Information Age, and is transitioning into the Imagination Age. With so much information readily available, the primary creator of economic value for the next period will be Imagination.

I think imagination has been a driving force behind the progression of every period in the human history. By calling the next period the Imagination Age will give more focus on the importance of imagination, but it should not underestimate the significant role it has already played for thousands of years.

Many scientists, writers and leaders recognised this importance a long time ago, and have expressed through their quotes:

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
“Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere.”
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
― Albert Einstein

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
― Maria Montessori

“Reason is intelligence taking exercise. Imagination is intelligence with an erection.”
― Victor Hugo

“Imagination governs the world.”
― Napoleon

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”
― Jonathan Swift

Einstein’s another famous quote has beautifully crafted the difference between an intuitive mind and a rational mind. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

If our society is now at a turning point of recognising and promoting individuals who have real imagination, my prediction is that synaesthesia will attract more and more attention.

Scientists put a lot of emphasis on researching neural basis behind synaesthesia. They probably have overlooked one of the key contributors, i.e., imagination. My personal experience is that my Object Personification Synaesthesia was a direct outcome of my childhood imagination. I often notice personification synaesthesia and imagination come hand in hand. Being imaginative appears to be a common characteristic amongst synaesthetes.

One of Skye’s “bad” habits is thinking too much while walking. While we were in Paris on the way to visit Notre Dame, he kept walking into people.

“What the hell are you thinking now?!!” My husband finally had enough.
“I am trying to figure out what I can do to save the world if World War III happens?” Skye replied in his serious tone.
“I can tell you how.” Thomas said in matter-of-fact.
“Really?” Skye’s eyes were popping out.
“Just ignore it.” That was the simple answer offered by Thomas.

Skye’s science teacher at school said to him that it would be wonderful if he could become a doctor one day.
“Can’t I be a bit more successful?” Skye was unsatisfied at what he heard.
“What can be more successful than being a doctor?” The teacher was surprised.
“The King.”
“The King of what?”
“The King of Gahooulia, my invented country.”

Skye is very certain that his dream will come true. He will be the King of his own country and have his own palace. He felt sorry that I had to update my resume as his occupation will not require him to have a CV.

“Mum, everyone in my country will be kind to each other. There will be no bullying. Everyone lives a happy life. Oh by the way, being the king is actually my part time job. I will have lots of other jobs at my leisure time. I will help to solve a few hard Maths problems, find a cure for cancer, invent a time machine for us to live forever, give concerts to public ….” He gave me a big list of things he wanted to do.

When Skye was little, my husband once asked me if his son indeed came from another planet as Skye’s “crazy” ideas often puzzled him. I gave him a straightforward answer. “Oh yes, of course he is from another planet. I am so glad about that.” Years have gone by, we are all used to those “crazy” ideas. Everything seems normal now to us.

If the Imagination Age is to turn virtual reality and dreams into reality, I will be living forever as the mother of Gahooulian King. Who can say no?

(I dedicate this blog to my beautiful boy Skye who turned 11 this week, and whose imagination entertains us, and occasionally challenges the way we look at the life we are leading ……)