Justin Li


Synesthesia

2009-05-11

Last week's question: how do people with grapheme-color synesthesia perceive ambigrams?

I talked to a friend who has graphame-color synesthesia, and did some "testing" with her. The results are at once unexpected and intuitive.

As she said in a comment for last week's post, the color all depends on the recognition of the letter. For normal text, even if the letters are upside-down, the colors would still be associated with them as long as they are legible. It makes sense, therefore, when she looks at an ambigram, the "color" of the letters change according to which interpretation she has in mind. If she consciously reads the ambigram upside-down, the letters will have those colors.

Getting to the heart of my question, the letters change color abruptly. If anything, there is a middle ground where she doesn't recognize the letters at all, and there is no color associated with the scribble. This is more clearly demonstrated when I showed her an unfamiliar ambigram sideways. Although she recognized one letter, the other were just scribbles to her, and so they remained black. Even after seeing the ambigram with the oriented correctly, when shown it sideways again it stills remains black, unless she tilts her head. She can't seem to get two colors appear with one glyph at the same time, like how in my favorite optical illusion it's hard to see the ballerina turning both ways at once.

The answer which I didn't know I wanted was that the color comes after recognition. It is not like the brain sees some lines, puts a color to it first, before the person recognizes it to be a letter. Rather, even if the person knows it's a letter, if the glyph is transformed (in this case, rotation and/or merged with other lines to form a different letter) and the person forces themselves to see just some scribbles, then the "letter" loses its color.

Personally, I'm intrigued by synesthesia, because of how it explicitly connects two unconnected stimuli. On some high level it works the same way as those leaps logic that people can do to get an unintuitive but effective solution. And sometimes, I wish I am a synesthete just so I can have that experience.

This week's question: a number of networks have "court tv" programs, where a prosecutor and a defendent get "tried" in front of a "judge", usually setting some small monetary issues up to several thousand dollars. What I want to know is, are the prosecutors and defendents legally bond to honor that verdict? Do the networks do anything to ensure that the money/goods changes hands? Or is this all just another "reality tv" show?

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