The Loh Down On Science

Sound of Light

Caltech neuroscientists find individuals who "hear" movement.

Hey, old people! Remember those groovy musical light shows from the '70s? For SOME it's still a reality, every single day!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Saying, that's right! People who have the neural condition known as 'synesthesia' experience a cross-activation of senses. Some see colors while listening to music. Others experience a peculiar taste when they hear certain letters.

Odd as it sounds, synesthesia is thought quite common, affecting as many as one percent of the population.

A new form has now been reported by Melissa Saenz of the California Institute of Technology. She found four individuals who hear sounds in their heads, like beeps, taps, or whirring, in response to moving things. To an auditory synesthete, flitting butterflies click, while a flying tennis ball makes an actual "whooshing" sound.

What good is it? Perhaps nothing, although Saenz found that synesthetes are far better at identifying rhythmic patterns of flashes-- similar to Morse Code--presumably because they HEAR as well as SEE the patterns.

Let's hope researchers don't find any humans with an interior lava lamp, 'cause. . . That would just be gross!


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