Newly described synesthetes “experience time as a spatial construct”

Via New Scientist:

Synaesthesia is the condition in which the senses are mixed, so that a sound or a number has a colour, for example. In one version, the sense of touch evokes emotions. To those variants we can now add time-space synaesthesia.

“In general, these individuals perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind’s eye,” says David Brang of the department of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. “These calendars occur in almost any possible shape, and many of the synaesthetes actually experience the calendar projected out into the real world.”

One of Brang’s subjects was able to see the year as a circular ring surrounding her body. The “ring” rotated clockwise throughout the year so that the current month was always inside her chest with the previous month right in front of her chest.

Brang and colleagues recruited 183 students and asked them to visualise the months of the year and construct this representation on a computer screen. Four months later the students were shown a blank screen and asked to select a position for each of the months. They were prompted with a cue month – a randomly selected month placed as a dot in the location where the student had originally placed it. Uncannily, four of the 183 students were found to be time-space synaesthetes when they placed their months in a distinct spatial array – such as a circle – that was consistent over the trials. A second test compared how well time-space synaesthetes and ordinary humans could memorise an unfamiliar spatial calendar and reproduce it. Time-space synaesthetes turned out to have much better recall than the time-blind majority.

Brang suspects that time-space synaesthesia happens when the neural processes underlying spatial processing are unusually active. “This enhanced processing would generalise to other functions of spatial processing – mental rotation, map navigation, spatial manipulation,” he says.

I wonder what Einstein would have to say about this. (Specifically, is he jealous?)

For that matter, I wonder what Leibniz, KantHinton, and McTaggert would have to say about it.  The latter four not because they ever touched upon the truth of time –for quite the opposite reason, in fact–but because their mistakes were and are so endlessly fascinating. For me, the literature of idealistic metaphysics is appealing for the same reason fantastic literature is; at their best, both instruct in the human experience by way of the impossible.

Full disclosure: To my undying shame, I’ve never been able to sort out the A-series and B-series of time-description. A warm cookie to whatever commenter provides an explanation a moron could understand.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: