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Synesthesia: The Key to Understanding Language, Metaphor and Abstract Thought

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  1. Synesthesia: The Key to Understanding Language, Metaphor and Abstract Thought V. S. Ramachandran Center for Brain and Cognition University of California, San Diego vramacha@ucsd.edu

  2. The Four Key Questions • Is synesthesia real? • Is it a genuine sensory phenomenon or a cognitive one? • What are the precise brain mechanisms? • What are its precise broader implications (i.e., what’s the big deal)?

  3. The Seven Pieces of the Puzzle • Runs in families • Angular gyrus and dyscalculia • More common in artists & poets • Synthesthetic metaphors • Increased emotional reactions • Correlation with TLE • Evolution of language

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  6. Phenomenology • The Martian Color Effect and qualia • Patchy colors • Letter precedence effect • Apparent motion

  7. Some Striking Facts! color-blind synesthetes imagining numbers

  8. Galton’s Number Lines: real or bogus?

  9. Number Line 1 11 12 13 14 2 10 15 9 3 8 16 5 6 7 17 18 19

  10. SYNESTHESIA 1) genes 2) brain anatomy 3) perceptual psychophysics 4) metaphor, abstract thought, Shakespeare “hierarchical reductionism: NOT bad reductionism”

  11. Neural Basis of Abstraction

  12. Theories of Language Evolution • Wallace: Divine Intervention • Chomsky: Emergent physical properties • Gould: Specific manifestation of a more general purpose mechanism, such as thinking • Pinker: A mechanism evolved through natural selection as a specific adaptation for communication (i.e. “adaptationism”)

  13. Theories of Language Evolution • Wallace: Divine Intervention • Chomsky: Emergent physical properties • Gould: Specific manifestation of a more general purpose mechanism, such as thinking • Pinker: A mechanism evolved through natural selection as a specific adaptation for communication (i.e. “adaptationism”) • Ramachandran/Hubbard: Synesthetic bootstrapping theory of language