Friday, 5 June 2009

Synaesthesia and other holiday reading

Once in a blue moon I buy a copy of New scientist. It's good for camping: too small to catch the wind and with pages that are stapled together. I bought one at the station before boarding a train for the coast last weekend. I like to feel I know what's going on in the world of science and I get the gist of most of the articles (although the one on string theory felt like wading into quicksand). There's usually at least something interesting about sound. Fellow blogger Cogitator drew my attention to a NS item about echo location in humans in response to my blindfold post last month.

In the issue dated 30th May there were three articles directly relating to sound. The first to catch my eye was a snippet: 'Music eases baby pain'. Apparently it reduces the impact of minor invasive procedures. What sort of music isn't specified but presumably not the Dead Kennedys.

A slightly longer article 'Play together to stay together' suggests that music developed in order to increase cohesion in social groups. Apparently musicians are better at forming attachments to others. This surprised me as I have met many misanthropic musicians although I have not catalogued the encounters scientifically.

Synaesthesia is a condition in which the afflicted (or blessed) makes strong associations between one sense and another. They may taste shapes or numbers or else hear words or sounds in colour. The BBC has touched on this subject recently and, if you're curious, New Scientist was reviewing the book Wednesday is Blue: Discovering the brain of Synaesthesia by Cytowic and Eagleman (MIT Press). According to the article, evolution selected for the condition because it increases creativity. Apparently the condition is more common amongst artists and musicians.

Sensibly I also took time out to enjoy the North Norfolk coast.

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