In­ter­me­dia and the Aware­ness of Synes­the­sia


Session Title:

  • Interart / Intersensorium. On the Interrelation of Media and the Senses

Presentation Title:

  • In­ter­me­dia and the Aware­ness of Synes­the­sia




  • Panel:  Interart / Intersensorium. On the Interrelation of Media and the Senses

    Synes­the­sia has re­ceived much at­ten­tion in sci­ence, art and in par­tic­u­lar in the over­lap­ping fields of dig­i­tal art and in­ter­me­dia in the last decades. Artists and sci­en­tists in these fields share a com­mon in­ter­est in human per­cep­tion. In the arts, synes­the­sia refers to a range of phe­nom­ena of si­mul­ta­ne­ous per­cep­tion of two or more stim­uli as one gestalt ex­pe­ri­ence. In neu­ro­science, synes­the­sia is more strictly de­fined as the elic­i­ta­tion of per­cep­tual ex­pe­ri­ences in the ab­sence of the nor­mal sen­sory stim­u­la­tion. About one in twenty-three per­sons has a type of ‘neu­ro­log­i­cal’ synes­the­sia. Over 60 types have been re­ported, and peo­ple dif­fer in in­ten­sity of the ex­pe­ri­ence. The most com­mon type of synes­the­sia is col­ored week­days, while the type of per­ceiv­ing col­ored let­ters and num­bers is most stud­ied by sci­en­tists, and the type of col­ored sound and music is most ex­plored by artists.

    The neu­ro­sci­en­tific de­f­i­n­i­tion of synes­the­sia lim­its the num­ber of so-called ‘synes­thetes’ to 4% in the pop­u­la­tion. This num­ber con­trasts with the large amount of peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in art forms that pre­sent synes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ences to the pub­lic. This raises ques­tions like: is synes­the­sia ge­net­i­cally fixed at birth? Or is there a range of types of synes­thetic per­cep­tions in which a ge­net­i­cal dis­po­si­tion for synes­the­sia can be de­vel­oped? How wide is that range? How do bi­o­log­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural fac­tors in­ter­act in this process? How do peo­ple de­velop dif­fer­ent synes­thetic sen­si­bil­i­ties? Slightly dif­fer­ent from the cur­rent neu­ro­sci­en­tific view on ‘neu­ro­log­i­cal synes­the­sia’, I will pro­pose a view on synes­the­sia that also in­cludes so­cial and cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions, which I as­sume will ac­count bet­ter for in­di­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in the aware­ness of synes­the­sia.