Synaesthesia Discovery

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Mental Imagery, Intuition and Synaesthesia

One of the most interesting articles that I have read about the reasons behind different types of synaesthete was Dr. Julia Simner’s September 2013 publication on Frontier titled “Why are there different types of synesthete?”. The proposal was that synaesthetes with poor visual imagery abilities were “know associators”.

Equally, those with extreme imagery abilities might be those we recognise as projectors, because their high imagery allows their synesthetic associations to become “scene-like” to an extreme extent……

Nonetheless, Simner et al. tested somewhat unusual synesthetes with an unusually large array of synesthetic forms …… Superior performance in behavioral imagery tasks might therefore be tied to “superior” (more extreme) synesthesia.

This article has significantly advanced my understanding of synaesthesia image projection, and various synaesthesia qualities which further led to the discovery of the uniqueness of my children’s thought processes.

I have known that my children are strong projectors for a while. Both have superior visualisation skills. But what I did not know until now is that their, especially Skye’s, thought processes are predominately in pictures rather than words.

An interesting difference I have observed at this early stage of discovery is that Skye’s strongest images involve things he sees in the future whereas Thomas sees images related to present events.

If Skye forgets to do his homework, he immediately sees a picture of his teacher talking to him next day, “Don’t worry, other children have not done their homework either.” He feels relieved. If Thomas makes him cry, a mental image of his dad rushing to them and giving Thomas a whack appearing. In his own words, Skye usually sees pictures that he hopes things to happen or does not want them to happen.

Thomas’ images are usually related to what he is thinking at that point of time, e.g., his projected calculator helping him do sums; his projected words helping him do spelling. He is a more practical child than Skye.

Everyone more or less has some imaged thought I believe. However, it does seem that synaesthetes who are at the more extreme end of the spectrum are likely to be real picture thinkers which are very uncommon in general population. Their unusually heightened intuition can well be a result of their imagery thought process.

When Skye received a top prize award in a global Maths competition two years ago, a Maths extension teacher interviewed him and asked what strategies he used for those challenging problem solving questions. Skye looked at her innocently and said, “Strategies? I don’t have any strategies. I just know the answer.” The teacher thought he didn’t quite understand her question, and explained it a bit further. “Do you apply strategies like working backwards, or using a table?” Skye looked a bit confused. He shook his head slowly and said, “I don’t know what working backwards is. I don’t need a table. I see everything in my head.” I was a bit embarrassed, and apologised to the teacher that it was true that Skye had never been taught any strategies, he had never written down any steps either, he somehow just knew what the answer should be intuitively.

One of the most famous picture thinkers was Albert Einstein. He once told a friend, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge……All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration…. At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.” (Calaprice, 2000).

“If what is seen and experienced is portrayed in the language of logic, then it is science. If it is communicated through forms whose constructions are not accessible to the conscious mind but are recognized intuitively, then it is art” (Calaprice, 2000). Einstein expressed his logic through intuition. He believed that great scientists were also artists, and imagination was more important than knowledge.

I wish I had read those quotes of Einstein’s before that interview!

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