Synesthesia: A New Book in the “Essential Knowledge” series by MIT Press

My new book, Synesthesia, is out February, 2018. Pre-order here.

An accessible, concise primer on the neurological trait of synesthesia — vividly felt sensory couplings — by a founder of the field.

….not a disorder, but an extra trait like perfect pitch. Might evolution keep synesthesia prevalent at 4% of the population because it underlies the neural basis of metaphor and makes us more creative as a species? Food for thought.

-Richard

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Exhibition and Talk: What is the taste of the color blue?

In November, Marcos Lutyens and I built an interactive tactile sculpture at the Building Bridges Art Exchange as part of a symposium by the International Association of Synesthetes, Artists, and Scientists, in conjunction with UCLA’s Art|Sci Gallery.  We asked
blindfolded visitors to traverse the gangway pictured below and feel, with their hands
and stocking feet, different textures, thermal sensations, proprioceptive inclinations, and
feedback sounds—and then translate these heightened sensations into color and
emotion.

Great write-up in the HuffPost here.

Check out synesthete CC Hart exploring the gauntlet:

And here is my talk:

Appelusa at BBAX

Jon Adams at BBAX

Anne Patterson at BBAX

Tim Thompson at BBAX

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Why Advertising Falls Flat in Individuals With Autism

Individuals with autism may be impervious to misleading marketing.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Which one would you choose?

A new study has found that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be impervious to misleading marketing compared to the rest of us [1]. Rather than a disability, having ASD in this case may actually be a strength. With their greater focus on detail, people with autism are better able to tune out irrelevant context such as advertisements. Continue reading

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Can You Hear What You See? More So Than You Imagine

Some forms of synesthesia are shockingly common.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Source: Rob Schofield, Flickr

For most people, looking at a painting is a purely visual experience. Enjoyable. Meaningful. Beautiful. It starts with the eyes and ambient light. Outside the gallery, glancing at a rose blossom recruits multiple senses, each of which arise from differently attuned sense receptors. Your eyes see. Your nose discriminates smells. The touch receptors in your skin discern textures. About 95% of us experience the world this way.

Continue reading

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A Semantic Survey of Emotions

semantic survey of emotions

What are your thoughts about orange? Is magenta fast or listless?

Tell us at A Semantic Survey of Emotions at the Main Museum of Los Angeles Art.

A Semantic Survey of Emotions spans the artmaking and neuroscience practices of Marcos Lutyens and Richard Cytowic to inform the development of The Main Museum. By completing a survey (or two), each about a minute in length to finish, participants will not only supply data to the museum that will inform its future organizing, building, and conceptual framework, but that will be used as the material for a new work of art by Lutyens in collaboration with Cytowic. The form of the project is open-ended to accommodate the results, but may include a performance, a talk, an installation, or some other expression we do not yet know.

The surveys draw upon Cytowic’s expertise in synesthesia, or the phenomenon of paired senses (e.g. tasting color), and Lutyens’s past work in the art exploring psychology and utilizing surveys. Lutyens’s partnership with The Main is part of an ongoing, open-ended conversation about the potentiality of the museum.

Take the survey here: www.themainmuseum.org/exhibition/a-semantic-survey-of-emotions

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Keynote at the COLORI exhibit in Turin

In January, I gave the keynote lecture opening “The Color of Emotion in Art,” or COLORI, at Turin’s Civic Gallery of Modern Art, GAM, and Castello di Rivoli museum. I also have a catalogue essay on “Thinking in Metaphor: Color & the Creative Spark,” that accompanies the exhibit. See the cover art by Damien Hirst and watch my summary interview here: Continue reading

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The Science of Why You Hate Ted Cruz

via Quartz.

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Why Ted Cruz’s Facial Expression Makes Me Uneasy

Note: This piece generated a lot of buzz, even getting me a mention on the Late Late Show with James Corden!

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

What message are the Senator’s atypical facial gestures sending?

Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s hard to look at Ted Cruz’s face. He’s said to be a brilliant orator with a sharp legal mind. But his expression unsettles me. I understand that my reaction is visceral and automatic, but as a neurologist it is my business to notice things out of the ordinary and probe them. The Senator’s atypical expressions leave me uneasy.

It’s remarkable how many colleagues and former associates say that they “loathe” Cruz. A Bush alumnus told The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni, “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.” Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole says, “Nobody likes him,” while Rep. Peter King sees “malice” behind his visage. According to The Washington Post, screenwriter Craig Mazin, Cruz’s former Princeton roommate, calls him a “huge asshole,” and “creepy.” He’s Tweeted, “Getting emails blaming me for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988.” The distaste for Cruz extends well beyond the US: Germans say Backpfeifengesicht, meaning a face in need of a good punch. Continue reading

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Good Mood, Bad Mood? Blame the Bacteria You Eat

The importance of gut bacteria in determining your emotional moods.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

What makes a person human? People have asked this for millennia. But time and again the answer evades us. It is neither our use of tools or language, our penchant for building societies, nor even sex. Perhaps human cells are the only marker of who we are and why.

Or perhaps not. New studies find that the bacteria in our gut—constituting one’s so-called microbiome—play a huge role in determining our emotions. Continue reading

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The Ways Forgetting Makes You Smarter

Wiping away dated or irrelevant facts clears the way for new learning.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Inside the folds of your cerebrum some 86 billion nerve cells communicate through trillions of synapses to accomplish perhaps the smartest thing a creature can do: forget.

The human brain is the mammalian epicenter of behavior, homeostasis, personality, imagination, and intelligence. It can conceive of numbers and count, learns recipes and cook, and keep domestic and foreign biologies in check. That’s a lot to remember.

Estimates of human memory capacity vary, but it’s safe to say that the 19 million volumes held in the Library of Congress, or 300 years of continuous TV viewing, would not begin to fill our brains. Gargantuan amounts of information are input, encoded, and later retrieved via a combination of chemical and electrical messaging that herds those synaptic assemblies into neural networks. The formation and maintenance of these connections is what creates memory. Until quite recently, forgetting was considered a failure of this process. Continue reading

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Four Ways to More Restful Sleep

A routine built around the senses makes it easy to always wake up refreshed.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Source: Pixabay

Good sleep can be so glorious as to be some people’s favorite activity. Not much else matters at 2 a.m. when you’re restless and staring at the ceiling. As time ticks by, this alertness can start to feel oppressive. After all, sleep is one of the most basic physiologic states during a human day, and a lack of it wreaks havoc on both mind and body. For those challenged in the wee hours of the morning, that must surely come to mind. Continue reading

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There Is a New Link Between Screen-Time and Autism

Too much exposure, especially in boys, may stunt social development.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Source: Gaelle Marcel | unsplash

Brains at every age, especially developing ones, adapt to the environment in which they find themselves. What worries a growing number of advocates are the potential risks of heavy screen exposure, including, they believe, the hastening of autism in the young and attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in older children.

Dangers seem to lurk everywhere when one becomes a parent, from runaway vehicles to microscopic bacteria. But not all threats are obvious. Some, like digital devices, even seem beneficial. Yet screens that line walls, bedrooms, and countertops can present insurmountable obstacles to a child’s growing mind. Even more, so do the screens that kids clutch in their own hands.

Continue reading

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Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating

Here is my review of “Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating” at the New York Journal of Books:

Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating

“Answering questions you would never have thought to ask, Charles Spence reveals how eating and taste have everything to do with the brain and almost nothing to do with the tongue.”

“This looks delicious,” we say. But never, “This is going to taste great.” Why does sight influence taste so profoundly? Why is airplane food universally bad, and why is tomato juice the most popular in-flight beverage when those who ask for it almost never drink it at home? In answering questions you would never have thought to ask, Charles Spence reveals how eating and taste have everything to do with the brain and almost nothing to do with the tongue.

Continue reading

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The Fortune Teller: A Novel

Here is my review of “The Fortune Teller: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Fortune Teller: A Novel

“Another tale by Womack that can’t be put down. Superb storytelling. Rounded characters. Stakes worth killing—or dying—for. This is summer reading for every season.”

Take a heroine whose family is steeped in scholarship and regularly curates manuscripts from classical antiquity. Add a wealthy collector who has banknotes to spare. Sprinkle on occult, obscure ties to ancestors who lived three millennia ago, and you have the recipe for Gwendolyn Womack’s latest thriller.

Continue reading

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Reality Lies Beyond What We Can Perceive

Objective reality is an illusion: we re-construct the world around ourselves.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

Source: Common Commons

Galileo once wondered if we misinterpreted our lives. “I think that tastes, odors, colors, and so on reside in consciousness. Hence if the living creature were removed, all these qualities would be annihilated.” Could Galileo be right—Do our lives happen entirely in our heads?

Continue reading

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Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499

Here is my review of ” Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499 ” at the New York Journal of Books:

Young Leonardo: The Evolution of a Revolutionary Artist, 1472–1499

“A corrective look at Leonardo’s first 27 professional years when he was snubbed, struggled, and departed Florence thwarted and penniless.”

Modern minds think of Leonardo da Vinci as a fully formed genius, in the same way they might imagine Mozart, Einstein, or Shakespeare. But this satisfying book upends that cozy claim. It takes a corrective look at Leonardo’s first 27 years during which he was snubbed, struggled, and departed Florence thwarted and penniless. Duke Ludovico Sforza’s reception in Milan was disappointingly tepid, and major commissions went to artists whose names are now forgotten.

Continue reading

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How Music Works

Here is my review of David Byrne’s “How Music Works” at the New York Journal of Books:

How Music Works

“Byrne touches on a broad array of forces that influence and shape the musical experience—from how it is created, performed, recorded, and distributed to more personally meaningful aspects . . .”

Should we consider a musician an artist, or is an artist a musician? That is the central question in David Byrne’s newly revised How Music Works. It is at once a combination of Music 101 and a revealing autobiography by the famous member of the Talking Heads. In this engaging tome, Byrne endeavors to explain how music broke free from elite circles to become the popular commodity it is today.

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Why Brains Won’t Be Beaten by Supercomputers, or Terminators

To outmatch human smarts requires more than speed and power.

 

Cross posted at The Fallible Mind, my Psychology Today blog.

The key to human consciousness? A chess problem that computers can’t solve.

What makes humans human? Is it our skill at building things? Certainly not. Even ants design and build complex architectures. Perhaps it is language or culture? But then again, birdsong is language, and the so-called sacred rituals of chimpanzees, or elephant burials aren’t so different from our own. If we ever succeed at creating artificial intelligence in the way that popular culture imagines, should we worry that human cognition will no longer stand at the top? Continue reading

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