Posts Tagged ‘interesting’

100 Interesting Things: #2 Synesthesia

January 28, 2010

Synesthesia is a strange condition where the brain mixes up the senses. There are different kinds, the most commonly known is where people think that certain letters and numbers have certain colours. Obviously, letters and numbers are abstract concepts and do not have a colour, but synesthetes think they do, so there must be something funny going on in their brains right?

A more interesting form is where people actually think that letters or numbers have personalities. Like, they actually think that the letter “G” is a bitter grumpy old man who hits children with his walking stick, or like the number “4” is a kind and generous man in his thirties resembling Jesus.

Synesthesia can go beyond being best mates with the alphabet, and can be traced in, on the face of it illogical, simile and metaphors, like “bitter wind” or “sexy car” or “ignoble baboon”.

I have a form of the condition, which was “worse” during my childhood. I always had the sense that certain letters and digits were either male or female. I am not as sure about the sexes of all the letters as I used to be but here are the current standings:

A:female  B:male    C:female  D:male    E:female
F:female  G:male    H:female  I:female  J:female
K:female  L:female  M:female  N:female  O:male
P:female  Q:male    R:male    S:male    T:male
U:female  V:female  W:female  X:female  Y:male
1:male    2:male    3:female  4:male    5:female
6:male    7:female  8:male    9:female  10:male

It is only the small numbers who have gender though. I’m not sure what 17288 is. On second thoughts 17288 is obviously female…

The idea that synesthesia is a “condition” is bollocks. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and state that everyone has this to one degree or another. Surely everyone agrees that R, S and T are male, right?

Synesthesia is one of those phenomena that will one day help us to crack the mysteries of the brain because it must give some clues as to how the brain is wired up, or to the computer scientists among us, how the brain is implemented. It probably means that the brain stores information in some unintuitive way. I.e. the brain groups things together in ways that do not match what we see at the everyday level.


100 Interesting Things: #1 Eclipses

January 26, 2010

Eclipses come in different kinds. Sometimes the moon appears bigger than the sun and it’s called a total eclipse, and sometimes it appears smaller and then it ain’t quite so spectacular. That’s an annular eclipse. Then there’s another kind when the total part of the shadow of the moon on the earth misses and the rest of the shadow grazes the earth causing a partial eclipse. Other important words are Umbra and Penumbra. Umbra is the total part of the shadow and penumbra is the partial part.

Eclipses are special because they remind us that the Universe is in charge and not the stock market. They tell us that there is something that exists more important than Tom Cruise‘s pants.

One of my favourite usages of an Eclipse as a narrative device is in Herge’s “Prisoners of the Sun“. Tintin, Calculus and Haddock are in deep shit because they have been captured by an Inca tribe. As a quirky bonus they are allowed to choose the exact date and time of their execution. Tintin happens to learn of a total eclipse due to pass over them within weeks and chooses that particular moment. When the three of them are tied to their stakes on which they will be burned to death, Tintin starts pretending he is summoning the Gods to punish the Incas. They fall for his game and release them immediately thinking Tintin’s some kind of god.

The last total eclipse to pass over England was on August 11th 1999. I was in Cardiff at the time and we only got about 80% of the eclipse. It was a really strange light, like nothing else. It was not like dawn or dusk because it was too bright somehow because the sun was still shining, just very weakly. Neither was it like cloudiness, because then the light is bounced around by the cloud giving a much softer, though equally dim effect. I can only describe it as though someone had switched the sun for an eco-sun with a much lower wattage. It was quite an unpleasant dimness, a dimness you might expect from a sun millions of years in the future when it’s on its last legs.