In this commentary we discuss a predictive sensorimotor illusion, the size-weight illusion, in which the smaller of two objects of equal weight is perceived as heavier. We suggest that Grush's emulation theory can explain this illusion as a mismatch between predicted and actual sensorimotor feedback, and present preliminary data suggesting that the cerebellum may be critical for implementing the emulator.
Jones and Coleman are among a handful of otherwise normal as a child and the number 5 was red and 6 was green. This the- people who have synesthesia. They experience the ordinary ory does not answer why only some people retain such vivid world in extraordinary ways and seem to inhabit a mysterious sensory memories, however. You might _think _of cold when you no-man’s-land between fantasy and reality. For them the sens- look at a picture of an ice cube, (...) but you probably do not feel es—touch, taste, hearing, vision and smell—get mixed up in- cold, no matter how many encounters you may have had with stead of remaining separate. ice and snow during your youth. Modern scientists have known about synesthesia since Another prevalent idea is that synesthetes are merely being 1880, when Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, pub- metaphorical when they describe the note C ﬂat as “red” or say lished a paper in _Nature _on the phenomenon. But most have that chicken tastes “pointy”—just as you and I might speak of brushed it aside as fakery, an artifact of drug use (LSD and a “loud” shirt or “sharp” cheddar cheese. Our ordinary lan- mescaline can produce similar effects) or a mere curiosity. guage is replete with such sense-related metaphors, and perhaps About four years ago, however, we and others began to un- synesthetes are just especially gifted in this regard. cover brain processes that could account for synesthesia. Along We began trying to ﬁnd out whether synesthesia is a gen- the way, we also found new clues to some of the most mysteri- uine sensory experience in 1999. This deceptively simple ques- ous aspects of the human mind, such as the emergence of ab- tion had plagued researchers in this ﬁeld for decades. One nat- stract thought, metaphor and perhaps even language. ural approach is to start by asking the subjects outright: “Is this A common explanation of synesthesia is that the affected just a memory, or do you actually see the color as if it were right people are simply experiencing childhood memories and asso- in front of you?” When we tried asking this question, we did ciations.. (shrink)
This article supplements our earlier paper on synaesthesia published in JCS (Ramachandran & Hubbard, 2001a). We discuss the phenomenology of synaesthesia in greater detail, raise several new questions that have emerged from recent studies, and suggest some tentative answers to these questions.
We studied two otherwise normal, synaesthetic subjects who `saw' a speci¢c colour every time they saw a speci¢c number or letter. We conducted four experiments in order to show that this was a genuine perceptual experience rather than merely a memory association. (i)The synaesthetically induced colours could lead to perceptual grouping, even though the inducing numerals or letters did not. (ii)Synaesthetically induced colours were not experienced if the graphemes were presented peripherally. (iii)Roman numerals were ine¡ective: the actual number grapheme was (...) required. (iv)If two graphemes were alternated the induced colours were also seen in alternation. However, colours were no longer experienced if the graphemes were alternated at more than 4 Hz. We propose that grapheme colour synaesthesia arises from `cross-wiring' between the `colour centre' (area V4 or V8)and the `number area', both of which lie in the fusiform gyrus. We also suggest a similar explanation for the representation of metaphors in the brain: hence, the higher incidence of synaesthesia among artists and poets. (shrink)
(1) The induced colours led to perceptual grouping and pop-out, (2) a grapheme rendered invisible through ‘crowding’ or lateral masking induced synaesthetic colours — a form of blindsight — and (3) peripherally presented graphemes did not induce colours even when they were clearly visible. Taken collectively, these and other experiments prove conclusively that synaesthesia is a genuine percep- tual phenomenon, not an effect based on memory associations from childhood or on vague metaphorical speech. We identify different subtypes of number–colour synaesthesia (...) and propose that they are caused by hyperconnectivity between col- our and number areas at different stages in processing; lower synaesthetes may have cross-wiring (or cross-activation) within the fusiform gyrus, whereas higher synaesthetes may have cross-activation in the angular gyrus. This hyperconnec- tivity might be caused by a genetic mutation that causes defective pruning of con- nections between brain maps. The mutation may further be expressed selectively (due to transcription factors) in the fusiform or angular gyri, and this may explain the existence of different forms of synaesthesia. If expressed very diffusely, there may be extensive cross-wiring between brain regions that represent abstract concepts, which would explain the link between creativity, metaphor and synaesthesia (and the higher incidence of synaesthesia among artists and poets). Also, hyperconnectivity between the sensory cortex and amygdala would explain the heightened aversion synaesthetes experience when seeing numbers printed in the ‘wrong’ colour. Lastly, kindling (induced hyperconnectivity in the temporal lobes of temporal lobe epilepsy [TLE] patients) may explain the purported higher incidence of synaesthesia in these patients. We conclude with a synaesthesia-based theory. (shrink)