Can you teach yourself synaesthesia?

Neuroscientist Olympia Colizoli has done an interesting experiment where she tried inducing synaesthesia in non-synaesthetes:

To test the idea, they gave seven volunteers a novel to read in which certain letters were always written in red, green, blue or orange (see picture). Before and after reading the book, the volunteers took a “synaesthetic crowding” test, in which they identified the middle letter of a grid of black letters which were quickly flashed onto a screen. Synaesthetes perform better on the test when a letter they experience in colour is the target letter.

The volunteers performed significantly better on this test after training compared with people who read the novel in black and white.

I’m curious as to how significant the effect turned out to be for non-synaesthetes. (I also wonder: what was the novel? Something by Nabokov maybe? ;-) Unfortunately I can’t find Colizoli’s data on line anywhere, as her research appears to have been presented as a conference poster session rather than a full publication. But hopefully we’ll be hearing more about this in the near future…

Update: You can read a more detailed abstract of Colizoli’s experiment over at synesthesia.info.

So many colors, so few of them right.

so many colors, so few of them right.

Digging through some old archives, I found this picture, which sums up one of the frustrating aspects of colored-letter synaesthesia. There are so many colored letters in the world, but to any synesthete, most of them will be wrong. I actually sorted through this entire bin of foam letters to pull out the ones that are colored correctly according to my synesthetic map. It’s the tiny pile on the right. Yes, that’s all of them.

Asemic Writing and Speech

Asemic MagazineAsemic is a magazine of asemic writing, or writing without semantic content. It’s full of fun peripheral glyphery, little black-and-white shadows of nonsense coming out of the fog. The individual pieces are hit or miss, but the variety is wonderful.

I never knew there was a word for it, but asemic writing is something I’ve loved for years. The fact is, I love the form of language more than its content. It’s why I like foreign accents, and listening to languages I don’t understand. It’s why I spent so much time in college listening to Cocteau Twins. It’s one of the main reasons I love graffiti. My first Burning Man project was an exercise in asemic writing and speech.

I started speaking in tongues on the subway in New York in high school. Acting like a crazy person is an effective strategy for dealing with certain tricky situations. And it was fun to watch people try to guess where I was from. But over time, it became something I would do for my own enjoyment, even when nobody else was around. It was just a joy to be able to speak without having to mean anything. All the beauty of form without the burden of content. It was comforting, like a dog’s chin resting warmly on your knee, not saying anything in particular, just existing.


an almost completely asemic piece by San Francisco writer APEX.

I’ve also noticed a trend towards asemic writing among some of my favorite graffiti writers. While most start their artistic lives with the written word, there’s always an abstract component, and there comes a point in certain writers’ development where the abstraction takes over completely. Maybe they feel the same attraction to meaninglessness that I do.

 

Related links:
Asemic calligraphy by Emma Viguier.
Book from the Sky (asemic Chinese by Xu Bing).
various works by Brion Gysin.
Diploma by Saul Steinberg
PCOET by David Melnick
Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

(originally via MetaFilter)

Forgotten, and remembered, by Google.

So, while going through this whole website restoration process, I discovered that Google’s search engine (funny how you have to be specific about that, now that Google is no longer just a search engine…) seemed to have completely forgotten this site ever existed. If you searched for “Cassidy Curtis” or “how to make a baby” or even “otherthings.com”, you’d find no results whatsoever on this domain. Zero. Considering that a few weeks ago this site was the top search result for all of those phrases, that seemed pretty weird. But I figured it was just because our server had crashed, and it was taking Google’s spiders some time to crawl back over to my little corner of the web.

The truth turns out to be a bit creepier.

I only found out the true nature of the problem by visiting Google’s webmaster tools, where I found an anonymous message dated October 20th, explaining what had happened. The message was sent to nobody, or maybe it was sent to my old email address, the one that died with my old server. At any rate, I never received it. But Google being the ultimate data hoarder, it archived it, and it was waiting for me when I identified myself as the owner of this domain.

Here’s what I learned: Remember a few years ago, when my blog got hacked? Well, the hacker in question used this blog’s machinery (Movable Type, at the time) to plant a nasty little trove of fake web pages advertising all the usual types of internet snake oil, the kind of stuff that usually gets caught in your spam filter. Well, when I switched over to WordPress, I never bothered to delete the old files, I just moved them to a different location, figuring that would break any incoming links and neutralize the problem. (I know, bad idea, right? This is why you should never let me be your sysadmin.) It didn’t work. Somehow, said hacker managed to find the files, and keep using them for their nefarious purposes.

The files were full of sleazy code that did things like: showing one thing to human visitors and an entirely different thing to search engines. Google doesn’t like that. So it reacted, in its anonymous, machine-like way, the only way it knows to respond: it removed otherthings.com entirely from its search engine. Harsh! Luckily, Google lets webmasters appeal that decision once they’ve fixed the problem. They said “it may take several weeks for your site to show up in search again”, but in actuality it only took a day.

Why was this creepy? Because it revealed just how much power this one corporation has over the shape of how we communicate. If you displease Google, it can make you disappear.

Are the new readers gone yet?

So, about a year ago, a few things happened. We bought a house. We moved to the suburbs. I started working on a new movie. Our kid turned two. And this blog ceased to exist. I’ll spare you the details, mainly because I don’t understand them, but it had something to do with a bad database, or gnomes, or sunspots. Maybe all of the above.

They say that being a parent really changes your priorities. What that means in practice is, you have an incredible excuse to be lazy about anything not directly related to your kids. Awesome! So the blog remained dead.

Then, last week, things got a little worse: the machine with the dead database crashed altogether, taking all of my web sites with it. Basically, the Internet forgot I existed. This was a little too much to take. So, I dug up my poorly maintained backups, found a new web host, and set to work making things right.

A lot of interesting things have happened in the past year, things I would have blogged about if I could have. So you might start seeing backdated posts popping up here and there. Be nice and pretend I really posted them on the “published” date, would you?

Getting ready for Animasyros


Two Saturdays from now, on September 17th, I’ll be giving a talk at Animasyros 4.0, an animation festival on the island of Syros, Greece. The festival will also be screening How to Train Your Dragon, as well as our short film How to Make a Baby. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi!

Many thanks to my friend Gesine Kr├Ątzner for connecting us with the festival organizers!

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.