Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia And The Search For Transcendental Knowledge

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9780300206395: Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia And The Search For Transcendental Knowledge

In a conversation with his physician, a nineteenth-century resident of Paris who lived near the railroad described sensations of brilliant color generated by the sounds of trains passing in the night. This patient-a synaesthete-experienced "color hearing" for letters, words, and most sounds. Synaesthesia, a phenomenon now known to science for over a century, is a rare form of perception in which one sense may respond to stimuli received by other senses. This fascinating book provides the first historical treatment of synaesthesia and a closely related mode of perception called eideticism. Kevin Dann discusses divergent views of synaesthesia and eideticism over the last hundred years and explores the controversies over the significance of these unusual modes of perception. Celebrated at the turn of the century as a uniquely creative form of consciousness, synaesthesia became embroiled in a debate between Romantics who championed it as a desirable harbinger of a new, more spiritual age, and positivists who denounced it as primitive and irrational. The author debunks Romantic notions of the transcendental nature of synaesthesia and shows that although novelist Vladimir Nabokov was a true synaesthete and eidetic, other individuals the Romantics considered synaesthetes were not. Drawing on studies of autism and hallucinogenic drugs, Dann offers new perspectives on synaesthesia and eideticism and how they relate to the evolution of human consciousness.

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PREFACE

The first thing that we ask, when someone sees something that the rest of us do not, is whether it is "true." Such subjective visions demand evaluation because they call into question our own perceptions about the nature of reality. If others do not dismiss the visions as mere hallucinations, then these frequently take on a certain numinous quality; they are thought to hold more truth than the pedestrian perceptions of nonvisionaries. Nearly every contemporary historian, whether sympathetic to it or not, is familiar with Max Weber's view that Western European history is characterized by die Entzaubuerung der Welt, the "disenchantment of the world." In opposition to the "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart"-Weber's oft-quoted assessment of modern humanity-the Western Romantic tradition has endeavored to rescue human beings from a deadening objectivism by celebrating the subjective, the invisible, the imaginary. As materialism established its final stranglehold on Western civilization, Romantics posited the existence of worlds other than the material one. From the visions of William Blake to Swedenborgian Spiritualism to contemporary parapsychology, many of the attempts to make contact with other worlds have been chronicled by historians. Historical treatments have not necessarily had to come to grips with whether the phenomena in question-whether paranormal psychological effects or visions of gods, angels, demons, and other discarnate beings-have any empirical validity, because their existence as cultural and intellectual artifacts alone gives them sufficient ontological weight for historical inquiry. In the eyes of contemporary historians, angels may not have had much effect on history, but the belief in them certainly has, and the same goes for the belief in spirits, elves, fairies, and pixies and the invisible realms in which they dwell. Whether seen as barometers of social change, protests against an increasing rationalist and materialist worldview, or attempts by traditionally disempowered social groups to gain some measure of influence, those Romantic ideas, along with the individuals and organizations devoted to them, have been thoroughly domesticated by historical scholarship, regardless of whether they have been interpreted by historians as successful or unsuccessful. Witches in seventeenth-century New England villages become ciphers in demographic dilemmas, and the disembodied spirits of nineteenth-century seances are turned into players in the gender wars. For most modern historians the force of the transcendent is mostly political, economic, and social, not spiritual.

More than all the Romantic literary explorations of the imagination, the phenomena of Spiritualism introduced the disenchanted to the possibilities of an unseen realm. Westerners, no matter how "disenchanted," have exhibited a perennial curiosity about the invisible world. Latter-day Romantics argue that the positivist worldview is limiting to the human spirit and that human cognition needs to include engagement with nonvisible realms; the manifestations of that invisible world are marshaled in evidence. Synaesthesia-the manifestation of an unseen world examined in this book-is not, like paranormal phenomena, ignored or scoffed at by scientists but is thoroughly documented scientifically. Still, it has generated an enormous amount of what can only be described as religious sentiment. I argue that because Western culture has lacked a suitably inclusive model or description of human consciousness, synaesthesia has repeatedly been mistaken for a unique, desirable "higher" state, enjoyed only by exceptional individuals.

Three years ago, I was in a bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. When I came up to the counter with two books to purchase-Robert Sardello's Facing the World with Soul (1991) and Daniel Cottom's Abyss of Reason (1991) the sales clerk exclaimed "What a dichotomy!" When I asked him what he meant, he said that soul, which he identified with emotion, and reason are antagonistic, polar opposites. I encouraged him to explain. He said that there was a way to reconcile the division between emotion and reason-"synaesthesia." How did he know this word? I asked. He explained that he was reading a new book on synaesthesia, and that it was one of the books he was featuring in that week's display window on psychology. (The bookstore's entire upper floor was devoted to psychology, New Age, and self-help literature.) I probed a bit more about what "synaesthesia" meant for him and why he had offered this obscure Greek word as a solution to the problem of modernity-call it the mind-body problem, the reason-emotion dichotomy, or the war between the head and the heart. In his response he kept pulling in other scientific terms-"synchronicity," "black holes," "chaos"-and used all metaphorically, extending their original meanings into new territory, just as he had done with the word "synaesthesia." He seemed to be performing some of the same imaginative leaps that had been executed for the past century, as Western science and art repeatedly came face to face with the rare psychological phenomenon known as synaesthesia. Once more I asked myself how so many hopes and desires had been pinned on something so idiosyncratic.

As I left, he told me to look at his handiwork in the display window. There in the center of the window was the book on synaesthesia-Richard Cytowic's Man Who Tasted Shapes-surrounded by Terence McKenna's True Hallucinations, Stanislav Grof's Beyond the Brain, Howard Gardner's Creating Minds, and a host of other titles-Gateway to Inner Space: The Self-Aware Universe, a book about Milton Erickson's hypnosis techniques, another on neurolinguistic programming in psychotherapy, and many others. Though all were ostensibly about the mind, it struck me that the themes uniting the books were the celebration of unseen worlds, the capacity of some people to see extraordinary visions that not all of us can see, and the suggestion that the ability to perceive unseen worlds might represent the "next step" in human consciousness. Out of the many ideas contained in these books, the bookstore clerk had chosen synaesthesia as the path to liberation from the prisonhouse of the senses and their tyrannical overseer, reason. This liberation has been the continual theme in the Romantic fascination with synaesthesia. Synaesthesia has always been a magnet for Romantic ideas, because it seems to validate the belief in the primacy of imagination in human cognition, as well as to ratify the original wholeness, continuity, and interfusion of immediate experience before its division into atomistic sensations. Most of those who have seized on synaesthesia for support have also maintained that the ultimate function of literature and the arts is to manifest this fusion of the senses. Believing in a primal unity of the senses, Romantics have naturally been fascinated by individuals who seem to be living examples of that unity-synaesthetes. Synaesthetes' senses lack the boundaries that for the rest of us segregate seeing from hearing or smelling or tasting or feeling at any given moment. Synaesthesia has been and continues to exercise a powerful attraction for those who want to "reenchant" the world. To the Romantic nonsynaesthete, synaesthetes seem to have escaped the full consequences of the fall into rational consciousness suffered by the rest of us.

My own view is that this is a mistaken notion, that most of those who have championed synaesthesia have not understood what it really is, and that the continued appeal of synaesthesia and other apparently anomalous states of consciousness results from Romanticism's never having "come of age." The two-centuries-old Romantic call for new ways of seeing, and with them, new ways of being, has stagnated, often owing to insufficient understanding of how consciousness has evolved. In particular, liberatory Romanticism has routinely ascribed to synaesthetic percepts an absolute, transcendental value, as if these bizarre sensations contained esoteric truths that we needed only to learn how to decipher. Because of its persistence as a Romantic ideal over the last century, synaesthesia-a rare psychological anomaly and the arcane, apparently trivial fancy of a small group of artists and intellectuals-has become a lens through which it is possible to see the limits of modern and postmodern attempts to escape the fetters of the Enlightenment. Synaesthesia invites historical reflection unencumbered by deadening positivism and rationalism, but also by liberatory excess. While debunking a century of extravagant claims about synaesthesia and eideticism as transcendental knowledge, I welcome the possibility that these phenomena do point to a new development in human consciousness.

It is difficult to set this study within the context of academic cultural history as it is currently practiced. The topics of synaesthesia and eideticism have no historiography. Even as an entry point for a critical study of modern Romantic ideas about the evolution of human consciousness, synaesthesia may seem an arcane choice. It is admittedly abstruse, but as demonstrated by the bookstore clerk's enthusiastic borrowing of synaesthesia as an explanatory principle and tool for cultural critique, synaesthesia is also a modern apparition with a certain irresistible quality that invites speculative thought. Through imaginative speculation, it seems possible to begin to see the unseen, any era's most fundamental Romantic desire. INTRODUCTION In 1922, Edgar Curtis, the three-and-a-half year old son of Professor O. F. Curtis of Cornell University, heard the report of guns from a nearby rifle range, and asked his mother, "What is that big, black noise?" A few days later, as he was being put to bed on the sleeping porch, Edgar heard a high, shrill chirp and asked "What is that little white noise?" When his mother told him it was a cricket, he protested while imitating a typical cricket call: "Not the brown one, but the little white noise," and then imitated this shriller, higher, unfamiliar insect sound. Listening to the resonating buzz of a more distant cricket, Edgar pronounced it to be red. For Edgar, the whirring of electric fans was orange, the humming of vacuum cleaners black, the rhythm of a moving street-car yellow. Alone in a room with a piano, he tentatively touched the keys, crying out with delight the different colors they produced--middle-C red, bass notes black, high notes white. One day, upon seeing a rainbow, Edgar exclaimed, "A song! A song!" "M," the seven-and-a-half year-old daughter of a Dartmouth professor during the 1930s, also saw colors whenever she heard music. Asked by psychologists to match the colors she saw to a chart of one hundred different hues, she would usually say that the color was not on the chart, and would point to two or three hues and suggest that the color she saw was a mixture of them. The blotches of color she saw sometimes seemed to be within her forehead (high tones), sometimes near her ears (low tones). The colors varied in size with the pitch of the tones: middle range tones were between one and three inches in diameter, the high tone of a whistle "as small as a pea." People were also different colors to her: "K. is grey, sort of silverish. A square would be greyish white or silverish; a circle would be gold. Sometimes shapes of objects give colours but mostly living people. K. is silverish, because his head is sort of square. E. is purplish blue, dark orchid, her head is sort of plump and bobbed haired. My mother is medium purple--sort of plump, her hair goes behind and makes her look that colour to me. S. is white, whitish brown, due to the shape of his face. P. is orange, due to the sharpness of his nose." Asked what color black people were, the girl answered: "I haven't known them well enough to know what colors they are." An audience was "very bright orange with a black outline. All

strangers look like that. As I know them better they get mild blue or pinkish orchid." Asked what color Dartmouth students were, she said that they were mild orange, without the black outline, since they knew her better than professors, who were bright orange and outlined. People in motion pictures "move[d] so fast" that she could not make out any colors. In the 1960s, psychologist A. R. Luria described the case of a Russian man whom he called simply "S" (for the man's surname--Shereshevskii) who saw different colors for different voices: according to Shereshevskii, "there are people who seem to have many voices, whose voices seem to be an entire composition, a bouquet. The late S. M. Eisenstein had just such a voice: listening to him, it was as though a flame with fibers protruding from it was advancing right toward me. I got so interested in his voice, I couldn't follow what he was saying. . . To this day I can't escape from seeing colors when I hear sounds. What first strikes me is the color of someone's voice. Then it fades off. . . for it does interfere. If, say, a person says something, I see the word; but should another person's voice break in, blurs appear. These creep into the syllables of the words and I can't make out what is being said." Shereshevskii had a similarly idiosyncratic response to letters. Here is how he described some of the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet: "A is something white and long; moves off somewhere ahead so that you just can't sketch it, whereas is pointed in form.

is also pointed and sharper than e, whereas

is big, so big that you can actually roll right over it. O is a sound that comes from your chest. . . It's broad, though the sound itself tends to fall.

moves off somewhere to the side. I also experience a sense of taste from each sound. And when I see lines, some configuration that has been drawn, these produce sounds. Take the figure

. This is somewhere in between e,

and

is a vowel sound, but it also resembles the sound r--not a pure r though . . . But one thing still isn't clear to me: if the line goes up, I experience a sound, but if it moves in the reverse direction, it no longer comes through as a sound but as some sort of wooden hook for a yoke. The configuration

appears to be something dark, but if it had been drawn slower, it would have seemed different. Had you, say, drawn it like this

, then it would have been the sound e." Shereshevskii had a strange relationship with numbers as well: "For me, 2, 4, 6, 5 are not just numbers. They have forms. 1 is a pointed number--which has nothing to do with the way it's written. It's because it's somehow firm and complete. 2 is flatter, rectangular, whitish in color, sometimes almost a gray. 3 is a pointed segment which rotates. 4 is also square and dull; it looks like 2 but has more substance to it, it's thicker. 5 is absolutely complete and takes the form of a cone or a tower--something substantial. 6, the first number after 5, has a whitish hue; 8 somehow has a nave quality, it's milky blue like lime. . ." Carol Steen, an artist, describes the colors she sees when receiving acupuncture treatments: "The first color I might see would be orange and then . . . I might see a purple or a magenta or a red or green. . . Most often, by the end of the treatment, when the acupuncturist took the needles out, the colors would come full force and they would...

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Descrizione libro Yale University Press, United States, 2013. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.In a conversation with his physician, a nineteenth-century resident of Paris who lived near the railroad described sensations of brilliant color generated by the sounds of trains passing in the night. This patient-a synaesthete-experienced color hearing for letters, words, and most sounds. Synaesthesia, a phenomenon now known to science for over a century, is a rare form of perception in which one sense may respond to stimuli received by other senses. This fascinating book provides the first historical treatment of synaesthesia and a closely related mode of perception called eideticism. Kevin Dann discusses divergent views of synaesthesia and eideticism over the last hundred years and explores the controversies over the significance of these unusual modes of perception. Celebrated at the turn of the century as a uniquely creative form of consciousness, synaesthesia became embroiled in a debate between Romantics who championed it as a desirable harbinger of a new, more spiritual age, and positivists who denounced it as primitive and irrational.The author debunks Romantic notions of the transcendental nature of synaesthesia and shows that although novelist Vladimir Nabokov was a true synaesthete and eidetic, other individuals the Romantics considered synaesthetes were not. Drawing on studies of autism and hallucinogenic drugs, Dann offers new perspectives on synaesthesia and eideticism and how they relate to the evolution of human consciousness. Codice libro della libreria AAV9780300206395

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Descrizione libro Yale University Press. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Paperback. 238 pages. Dimensions: 8.9in. x 5.9in. x 0.7in.In a conversation with his physician, a nineteenth-century resident of Paris who lived near the railroad described sensations of brilliant color generated by the sounds of trains passing in the night. This patient-a synaesthete-experienced color hearing for letters, words, and most sounds. Synaesthesia, a phenomenon now known to science for over a century, is a rare form of perception in which one sense may respond to stimuli received by other senses. This fascinating book provides the first historical treatment of synaesthesia and a closely related mode of perception called eideticism. Kevin Dann discusses divergent views of synaesthesia and eideticism over the last hundred years and explores the controversies over the significance of these unusual modes of perception. Celebrated at the turn of the century as a uniquely creative form of consciousness, synaesthesia became embroiled in a debate between Romantics who championed it as a desirable harbinger of a new, more spiritual age, and positivists who denounced it as primitive and irrational. The author debunks Romantic notions of the transcendental nature of synaesthesia and shows that although novelist Vladimir Nabokov was a true synaesthete and eidetic, other individuals the Romantics considered synaesthetes were not. Drawing on studies of autism and hallucinogenic drugs, Dann offers new perspectives on synaesthesia and eideticism and how they relate to the evolution of human consciousness. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Codice libro della libreria 9780300206395

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