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March 6, 2007
Hearing Beautiful Paintings - A Relectionist Informs Neuroesthetics
In "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?
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