About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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March 6, 2007

Hearing Beautiful Paintings - A Relectionist Informs Neuroesthetics

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Posted by Zack Lynch

articles-synesthesia-brain.jpgIn "The Most Beautiful Painting You Ever Heard," Virginia Hughes of Seed magazine exploses the work of synesthete artist Marcia Smilack. (Brain Waves readers were first introduced Marcia's work a year ago in 3D Rooms - Visual Perception Art Tricks)

Smilack belongs to the group of one to four percent of people worldwide with synesthesia, the neurological mixing of the senses. No two synesthetes have exactly the same perceptual experiences. Many perceive each number, letter of the alphabet, or day of the week as a different color. For others, sounds from the environment are always accompanied by moving geometric patterns in their "mind's eye. Smilack has a rare form of synesthesia that involves all of her senses—the sound of one female voice looks like a thin, bending sheet of metal, and the sight of a certain fishing shack gives her a brief taste of Neapolitan ice cream—but her artistic leanings are shared by many other synesthetes... (I highly recommend a look at Marcia's galleries)

"Until seven or eight years ago, it was still a long-standing question whether the things these people were saying, this synesthesia, was real or bogus," said Vilayanur Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. Subsequent experiments by Ramachandran and others using brain scanners also confirmed that synesthesia is a genuine sensory experience. Ramachandran says that since the areas of the brain that are activated by color are adjacent to those activated by number, synesthesia might be a result of some kind of "cross wiring" in the brain. "When we're born, the brain has all kinds of connections, and these gradually get pruned," Ramachandran said. "So synesthesia might be a mutation of this pruning gene, or set of genes, so that adjacent areas don't get separated."

As neuroesthetics, the study of the neurobiology of artistic creativity and achievement, continues to expand, new forms of art like Marcia's will emerge at the nexus of our new knowledge of brain and what it can create. Just as information technology has made new forms of art possible like brain wave synthesizers, digital banners and electronica, neurotechnology will surely play an important role in the ever evolving world of art, architecture and entertainment in the years to come.

What does a Kandisky sound like anyway?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neuroesthetics


1. marcia smilack on March 6, 2007 5:43 PM writes...

Hi Zack, what a delight to see you mention the Seed Magazine article on your site. Virginia Hughes did an excellent job explaining the relationship between science and art vis-a-vis synesthesia, and I agree with you, that in the field of neuroesthetics (about which I first learned from your blog), it may well serve as the nexus of knowledge of creativity and the brain. One small detail: you accidentally left out the letter "f" from the word "Reflectionist" in your title (though the word you created, "Relectionist" has an interesting sound). I'm proud to be mentioned on your site as I continue to enjoy your blog immensely. Best Wishes, Marcia Smilack

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2. umesh on April 17, 2007 12:54 AM writes...


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3. Max on June 4, 2007 7:13 PM writes...

I was reading this pice on the senses, and it got me thinking. What if you abel to strangthen or inlarge the senses making them more advance.
E.G. you enlarging the tast sense this would enabel you to tast thing much cleare making so you can tast all the ingreaden (stuff in it) and a mangen what it would do to your eye you could see for miles. Well that was gust an Idear I have and if any one try to steal this idear with out asking me will be in very big troble.

P.S. sorry for any spelling I am Dysiexic sorry cant even spell that

Yours truly Max Bonham


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