did you know?: it’s not you, it’s me


I hate to write something that’ll knock the title “Live Nude Women” off the top of the page.

But. It’s a nice relaxing afternoon. Reading at the beach for the last few hours. Hate me.

One of the things I had with me to read on the beach was the latest issue of Seed. And inside the magazine was a surprisingly interesting conversation between David Byrne (he of the Talking Heads and who I usually find very annoying because he is just too cool for me) and Daniel Levitin (he who I knew nothing about, but is apparently a “Behavioral Neuroscientist,” whatever that is).

I know we have a couple of scientist-types here, so maybe this isn’t new. But it was to me.

In the interview they are discussing how a stimulus (language, taste, noise, etc.) registers in a “distinct part of the brain.” So when we hear something, this part of our brain distinguishes this sound from smell or taste, and goes even further by distinguishing between types of sounds (if something is music or someone talking or if it’s a just a noise). Now, even though I didn’t know that, it didn’t surprise me to find it out. That’s not the interesting part.

The interesting part is that not everyone’s brain makes these distinctions. Some people suffer from synesthesia. Their brains don’t distinguish stimuli very well — they hear a noise and it will create a taste in their mouths or manifest itself as a color. I had no idea. Sounds very disorienting, although they really don’t discuss the impact on adults who suffer from this (they’re interested in something else), other than saying that in extreme forms, synethesia can keep people from distinguishing between whether they’re hearing something or smelling something or tasting something.

In fact, there is a theory, Levitin explains, that says all infants are synesthesetes, that “sensory differentiation takes a few months after birth to occur…that infants live in this sort of psychodelic world of everything being jumbled together.”

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about science, which is probably why I’m a sucker for little bits of information about this.

And although Byrne and Levitin don’t discuss it, I’m sure there is some typical overlap the senses of most people. So if you see me in the next few days and shortly after you lay eyes upon my dark tan, there’s suddenly the taste and smell of coconut in your mouth and nose — don’t worry. You probably don’t suffer from synesthesia. It’s just me.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone. Hope it’s a good one. And safe.


8 Responses to “did you know?: it’s not you, it’s me”

  1. Whitney Says:

    You’re so funny. I’ve read a bit about this stuff, and what I know about cognitive psychology makes sense in tandem w/ brain locations reacting to specific stimuli, etc. It is very interesting, I agree.

    But what’s more important is that you soak up that sun. I just finished grading finals and feel like I’m free again.

    The best part is that Joe is coming home tomorrow after 4 months away. I probably won’t sleep tonight!

    Enjoy the beach time.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Thank you.

    Congrats on Joe’s coming home. Hopefully he’ll drag you to the beach at some point this week. Or you drag him to the beach. Either way.

    And congrats on turning in your final grades. That’s always a great feeling.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I always hear that “Easy Reader” song from The Electric Company when I see you.

    There’s a novel or two about synesthetes, methinks, but I can’t remember what they are.

  4. Michael Lasley Says:

    Why, JU, that’s just about the sweetest thing I’ve heard today.

    Do your homework and tell me what books those might be. Unless it’s the book that David Byrne wrote, which I refuse to read just because I refuse to be seen purchasing or reading that book. Because my pretentiousness only goes so far.

  5. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Did Byrne write a novel about it? Fairly recently? If so, that may be what I’m thinking of. I just remember something about synesthesia in a a couple of book reviews sometime back.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Ask, and ye shall receive. Sort of.

    Synesthesia in Literature

    None of the books mentioned are the one(s) I had in mind, but there they are, nonetheless. Of them, I can recommend Speak, Memory.

  7. Michael Lasley Says:

    Thanks for doing your homework. I actually picked up a copy of Speak, Memory a few weeks ago at a used bookstore. So I might have to take it with me to the beach this weekend.

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’m not a big reader of [auto]biography, so I’m no expert on them, but Nabokov lived an interesting life, and, of course, it’s alarmingly well written.

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