Yesterday saw the first day of the annual UK Synaesthesia Association‘s conference, this year hosted by UEL. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend today’s half of the conference (and my Sunday didn’t go to plan anyway, but that’s another story). However, I intend to give you a taster of what I experienced yesterday.
As a foreword: I won’t go into the details of the various talks here. I intend to write up the main ideas of my favourite talks over the next few days, so look out for those. This post is more intended to impart a general overview of the atmosphere of the conference.
Well, to start with: synaesthesia. I’ve done a brief overview of this fascinating neurological anomaly before, but just as a refresher:
Synaesthesia is estimated to affect about 2% of the population. It comes in many different forms, all of them mind bloggling. Synaesthetes have a notoriously hard time explaining or describing their experience of the world to others. And yet, despite all this, there is very limited research done into synaesthesia.
Maybe, simply, because it’s not a problem. It’s really, really interesting, but it needs no cure. In fact, I have had many synaesthetes say to me that they can’t imagine living without it.
Synaesthesia is a crossing of the senses. The most commonly known types are grapheme-colour synaesthesia and sound-colour synaesthesia. To explain: grapheme colour synaesthesia is usually where an individual will experience a certain colour whenever they see a certain colour, letter or word. Read more about it here.
The UKSA conference gave the opportunity for people with an interest in synaesthesia (many of them synaesthetes themselves) to discuss research and network. Throughout the day, poster presentations (summarising studies) were on display in a downstairs room at UEL (pictured above), and a series of talks were given throughout the day. The talks I attended ranged from the very “sciencey” to the more phenomenological discussion of synaesthesia in art.
I can’t speak for others, but I think synaesthesia draws me because it is a wonderfully romantic idea – some unique individuals can see music in colour, taste colour, experience sounds as textured. This is beyond metaphor: this is a very real experience. And it’s not trained association: it’s very much automatic, internally consistent and unconsciously processed.
As always, if you reading this and it sounds familiar, please let me know – I’d love to hear about your own experiences.