Synaesthesia Part Two: The music in colour

Composition VIII, Kandinsky

Music has been for some centuries the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomenon, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound.” Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Wassily Kandinsky is considered one of the greatest art philosophers of the XXth century, as he was the first man to produce a theory about abstract art. He was able to do so because he had synaesthesia. For him, sound and colour were intimately related and by representing different forms in a certain way, one could create rhythm. For him, this was not merely to provide an entertainment; both colour and form were meant to create spiritual harmony: pleasure not only for the eyes who look but also for the soul who feels.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Composition_6

Take a look at Composition VI and really consider it with an open mind. What does the explosion of colour that is drawn towards the centre makes you feel? Do you see the violent tension that the use of black lines creates?

Not everyone can see and feel what Kandinsky intended since one must educate the senses and learn to awake feelings through aesthetic experiences. But also, because being synesthetic helps, Kandinsky called this being a “more sensitive soul”. When contemplating a painting, there are two steps: first, the physical impressions; second, the psychic effect: “(Colours) produce a corresponding spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the elementary physical impression is of important.” Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art

Kandinsky’s search for spiritual harmony through painting is an important stepping-stone for abstract art, as he was more interested in representing feelings rather than imitating nature. He studied the effects of colour on men, for example the aggressiveness of yellow and the spiritual in blue. He also experimented with lines, as they are the ones that give colour its shape and together they create meaning, a harmonic meaning for the spirit.

Next time you encounter an abstract painting: make your soul listen to its music.

-ana-

Sources:

KANDINSKY, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in art. Boston: MFA Publications, 2006. Originally published in 1911.

KANDINSKY, Wassily. Point and Line to Plane. Mansfield: Martino Publishing, 2013. Originally published in 1926.

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Synaesthesia Part One: The Science Side.

brain-scans

Tasting colours, hearing shapes and seeing numbers’ personalities might seem to some as an experience available only to those on illegal hallucinogens. Well, you’d be surprised, but many people have these experiences on a daily basis.
What happens is, they have a brain condition called Synaesthesia.
Now, the word condition makes it sound like a disease, but really, it’s far from a disease.

Synaesthesia is the simultaneous perception of different senses. 
For example, seeing a colour when presented with a letter or seeing shapes when listening to music. Everybody perceives it in a different way, and there are many possible ways of having it, depending on what senses are mixing.

But why? Or how?
Two main theories have been formulated to try to explain the condition:

1. Hyperconnectivity due to defective pruning in early development.

Quite a mouthful, but it’s not a very difficult concept to understand if we understand neural pruning.
Often described as “Use it or Lose it” neural pruning is the process through which your brain gets rid of connections which you don’t use anymore. This is done so that the brain runs more efficiently. Neural pruning doesn’t happen because “you’ll run out of space” in the brain. That’s not very plausible, considering a human brain has approximately 86 billion neurones. Pruning helps ensure that energy is not wasted on connections which are not being used.
During early development, the human brain makes an insane amount of new synapses every second, many of which, become irrelevant by the time a child turns 2. This is why the brain gets rid of many of them, losing up to 50% of these synapses by the time a child turns ten.
It is hypothesised however, that people with synaesthesia have some connections in their brain that should have been lost during pruning. This causes some cross-activation in their brains. For instance, if one area of the brain is activated (let’s say a person receives an musical input) then another unrelated part of the brain is activated simultaneously (the visual cortex perceives a colour).
Researchers believe that in babies, these coincidences happen frequently, whereas in adults, they are a lot more rare.
This could lead us to believe that through pruning, most people lose that relation between the senses. Well, it seems like synesthetes do…

2. Disinhibited Feedback.

What this theory suggests, is that synesthetes’ brains are not very different from normal people’s.
Multiple pieces of information received by the brain will typically be sorted out so that they make sense. They remain in the central processing area and all the extra information is inhibited.
However, in a synesthete’s brain, this electrical feedback is not ignored and so it is free to travel down to other ares of the brain and activate them, causing a seemingly unrelated experience.
This theory is supported by the experiences of people who use hallucinogenic drugs and experience similar things to synesthetes.

Both of these theories have been supported by research and both seem like good explanations of this condition.

Next week, my sister will tell you all about how synaesthesia has influenced art in the second part of this exploration.

In the mean time, if you think you experience synaesthesia or want to learn more about it, I highly recommend VS Ramachandran’s paper: “Synaesthesia- A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language”, which I based a lot of this post on. Also make sure to check out the websites I consulted, as they offer a lot more detailed information.

A is definitely red, E and 3 are blatantly green and the number 5 is overwhelmingly yellow… Do you feel the same way?

-teresa-

Sources:
http://neurowiki2013.wikidot.com/individual:why-synesthesia-occurs
http://synaesthesia.com/en/Information/einfuhrung/
http://synaesthesia.com/en/information/state-of-science/synasthesie-generell/
http://courses.evanbradley.net/wiki/doku.php?id=the_disinhibited_feedback_theory

VS Ramachandran, “Synaesthesia- A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language” http://www.imprint.co.uk/rama/synaesthesia.pdf

Image credit: https://kitchen-theory.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/brain-scans.jpg

Hombres cultos

Ignorance strength

Durante mi paso por la universidad, una universidad española, he tenido que leer distintos textos del filósofo español Ortega y Gasset, como La rebelión de las masas o La deshumanización del arte. A  la gran mayoría, profesores como alumnos, el concepto de “hombres masa” les parece acertado, además de no tener problema alguno con el hecho de que el autor establece distintos niveles de personas, unos mejores que otros, según su acercamiento a la cultura.

Este latente deseo de algunos de aferrarse a la jerarquización de las personas, haciendo a unos mejores que a otros usando como referencia el concepto de cultura, me resulta escandaloso.

Cuando pienso en la típica persona “culta”, lo primero que me viene a la mente es una hombre europeo de unos 60 años que a menudo acude a la ópera, tiene amplios conocimientos de arte barroco, colecciona muebles antiguos, lee novelas realistas francesas y es acérrimo enemigo de las películas de superhéroes.

¿Quién decidió qué es exactamente “alta cultura”? El mundo globalizado en el que vivimos, donde la interculturalidad está presente, no hace ya coherente la creencia de una cultura elite. Esto se debe a que la noción de “alta cultura” no solo pretende establecer una jerarquía entre personas, sino también entre sociedades. Se coloca en la cima a la cultura cuyos héroes son hombres, blancos, heterosexuales en su mayoría y de determinadas condiciones sociales. Esta cultura tan elegante y exclusiva ha ignorado durante siglos las manifestaciones artísticas de varios continentes, además de grupos marginales. En el mundo actual, donde la diversidad es motivo de dicha y no de desprecio, no hay cabida para una “alta cultura”.

No por ello habría que concluir que ya no existen hombres cultos. Más bien, la definición se vuelve más compleja, pues admite distintas visiones sobre la realidad. Una persona culta es quien puede desenvolverse en distintos ambientes, pues posee conocimientos y experiencias sobre un amplio número de cuestiones y es, por tanto, capaz de reflexionar sobre la realidad humana.

Establecer distinciones entre “la masa” y “los hombres excelentísimos” no hace más que crear una brecha entre unos y otros que fomenta la ignorancia de todos. Los académicos que se enorgullecen de no tener Facebook y de no saber quién es Miley Cyrus son tan incapaces de entender al hombre como aquellos que nunca en su vida han abierto un libro.

-ana-