Open Thinkering


Tag: colour

Synaesthesia, migraines and creativity

It was only about two weeks ago that I found out I’m a bit weird. I was listening to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind (listen), part of which was dedicated to synaesthesia. I didn’t realise that something I experience all the time actually qualifies as a mild form of the condition!

But what is synaesthesia? Nature defines it in the following way:

An unusual ‘mixing of the senses’ in which a stimulus in one sensory modality (for example, a sound) elicits a percept in another modality (such as visual perception of a colour).

All In The Mind explained that this definition can be widened to include something both I and my mother experience: conceiving of time as being physically and spatially located. It’s difficult to explain this in words, and my perspective and view on time changes depending on the period I’m ‘looking at’. To give you some idea, however, here’s something like what I ‘see’ when I think of the period of human history:

The above is a very quick and rough sketch – what I actually see is a lot ‘thicker’ and 3D. As you can imagine, this has its benefits and is probably one reason why I’m a History teacher! :-p

I didn’t think anything more about this until I listened to one of the series of TED Talks entitled A Journey to the Center of the Mind by Vilayanur Ramachandaran. Towards the end of his (fascinating) talk, he mentioned that ‘creative’ people (artists, poets, etc.) are eight times more likely to experience synaesthesia than ‘normal’ people. He explained the condition as probably being due to a malfunction in the gene that ‘trims’ ‘the connections that exist initially between all parts of the brain.

So I wondered… perhaps there’s a link between synaesthesia and migraines? After all, I experience ‘aura’ when I have a migraine – something like a less extreme version of the picture below, usually starting with patches of coloured light:

Sure enough, when I looked it up I found several references, including this one. Now I’m no painter or poet, but I am fairly good at metaphors and making links between (often fairly diverse) subjects.

I’m firmly of the belief that, especially when it comes to the brain, things cannot be studied or considered in isolation. Although I want to do further research, I’m fascinated at the possible link between synaesthesia, migraines and creativity (in the form of associationism). Perhaps, like autistic people who are fantastic mathematicians or artists, migraines have their associated upsides…

Do you experience synaesthesia? Perhaps you see numbers or days of the week as being certain colours or, like me, conceive of time in a sensory way. Do you also get migraines? I’d love it if you could share your experiences! 🙂

(Image credit: My Brain on MRI by CaptPiper @ Flickr)