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No. 68: Mar-Apr 1990

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Higher Sight

In the January 4, 1990, issue of Nature, G. Humphreys reviews a book that is just too expensive for us to consider buying. The title is: Synesthesia; A Union of the Senses. It costs $75 and is published by Springer/Verlag. The review, however, is expansive and provides some facts about synesthesia worth passing on to our readers.

Syesthesia is an "oddity" of human perception in which words, musical instruments, objects, concepts, evoke sensations sharply different from what is actually being processed by the brain. For example, specific musical tones elicit specific color sensations; that is, B-flat evokes the color green; A-sharp, yellow, etc. Or the phenomenon may be more complex, with Mozart being green; Wagner, red, etc. Most "synesthetites" seem to experience colors, but geometrical figures sometimes appear in response to particular stimuli. As for the stimuli that call forth these exotic sensations; they are usually music or numbers. To some synesthetites, the cardinal numbers are associated with specific colors.

The books's author is R.E. Cytowic, and he has provided some very interesting observations about synesthetites: There is much consistency among them; that is, if the number 5 evokes a red sensation with one, it does with most others, too. Also, synesthetites seem to run in families. Perhaps most significant is the observation that synesthetic experiences seem to be correlated with changes in cortical blood flow!

(Humphreys, Glyn; "Higher Sight," Nature, 343:30, 1990.)

From Science Frontiers #68, MAR-APR 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987