Synesthesia and Memory

If you’ve spent any time wandering around my rambling home page, you might know that I have colored-letter synesthesia. For years I’ve been looking for ways to convey to other people what the experience is really like. This is not a simple task, because the colors are kind of dynamic: they change depending on a number of factors.

One of those factors is memory, and another one is attention. If I glance at a word once in passing and try to remember it later, chances are I’ll remember only some basic information about it: the length of the word, and the dominant color (which is usually, but not always, determined by the first letter.) Remembering the whole word will mean trying to remember the specific colors of all the letters, which then, sometimes, allows me to remember the letters themselves.

To help illustrate what this feels like, I built a little Flash applet. As you type words into it, they appear with each letter in its proper color. But as time passes and memory fades, the letters are replaced by blocks of color that approximate what little I might remember. To refresh your memory, you can pay attention to the words by moving your mouse towards them.

I actually wrote this almost two years ago, but somehow forgot to put it up online. (Another case of memory fading as time passes.) I think I had some notion about making it better, or adding punctuation or something. But a random email reminded me of it, and I realized nobody cares about punctuation these days anyway. So here it is. Enjoy!

Radio Lab

This may be the coolest thing I’ve heard on the radio since Joe Frank. It’s a show called Radio Lab. It’s hard to pin down exactly what kind of show it is: is it straight-up science documentary a la “Nova”, or a “My Dinner with Andre” style conversation, or a Negativland-influenced audio collage? I’ve listened to two of the first five shows (Emergence and Time) and I can’t make up my mind. Here’s what they say about themselves:

Radio Lab

To Science!

Eric and Nikki hosted their first Science Salon at Stamen Design. The guests were astrophysicists Jonathan Arons & Claire Max, who told us fascinating stories about black holes, the shape of space, and the life of stars. Great food and great people rounded out the evening. Here’s an instant replay for those who missed it. (The timelapse didn’t come out quite as exciting as I’d hoped… next time I’ll bring a taller tripod, and, I dunno, some lasers or something to spice it up a bit! ;-)

Inspired by ghosts

Michael Barrier continues to carry on a very interesting discussion about greatness in character animation. I’ve blogged previously to play the devil’s advocate against his position on the merits of casting by character. But in a more recent post, he said something that really resonated with me:

What I see in the Disney features I love, like Snow White and Dumbo, is the shadow of animated films that never got made—not just films whose animators were cast by character, but films that tapped the potential of the medium for the mature artistic expression that is almost never found in films of any kind, and only in the greatest work in other mediums. It’s those ghostly films that today’s animated filmmakers should have in their minds, not Peter Pan or Lady and the Tramp.

I’ve never read words that more perfectly summed up my feelings about the golden age Disney films. They were great achievements, but looking back at them decades later, you can tell that there’s something even better out there, just beneath the surface. If you close your eyes you can almost see it. You might catch a glimpse of it as you drift off to sleep one night, only to forget it the next morning. And very occasionally you don’t forget, and you wake up with a bright and shining mystery in your head.

This, and only this, is what keeps me in the business. If I’m diligent enough, and keep honing my skills, then one day, when the right idea finds me, I’ll be ready for it. Until then, I’ll do my best to deliver to the screen the ideas of the people who pay me. Hopefully I won’t scratch them up too badly in the process.