Imagine: when you smell a rose, you always taste maple syrup... or taste cake whenever you say the word "table"... or see red every time someone says "Tuesday."
This is synesthesia, a neurologic condition affecting millions of people in which stimulation of one sense automatically and consistently stimulates another. The ancient Greeks named it, and psychophysicist Gustav Fechner and scientist Sir Francis Galton documented it in the late 19th century. But synesthesia research fell out of favor by 1930 and was forgotten until the '80s.
Author/journalist/synesthete Maureen Seaberg discusses her journey to recognize and understand her expanded sensory wiring—the science, and the impact on thinking and creativity of this fascinating phenomenon—in her new book Tasting the Universe.
In her quest to understand why, for example, the letter A is always A for her, Seaberg talked with top neuroscientists and quantum physicists, with the co-inventor of the World Wide Web, with a savant, and a Tibetan lama. She collaborated with Dr. William Bushell—a biological/medical anthropologist who is a visiting scholar at MIT and directs the Science of Yoga Project at Tibet House. Synesthetes are often found in the arts—examples include Itzhak Perlman, Lady Gaga, Pharrell Williams, Tilda Swinton, Marilyn Monroe—and Seaberg spoke with many, including rock stars, rappers, actors, and violinists. The resulting book features a raft of first-time interviews with synesthetes that include Itzhak Perlman, Billy Joel, and Marian McPartland.
Seaberg has become an expert in this mingling of the senses. She moderated international synesthesia workshops in 2010 and 2011 organized by the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She has presented at the American Synesthesia Association Conference at Vanderbilt University, and at New York University. Her earlier work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, PBS, and MSNBC among other outlets.
A Q&A will follow the discussion. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the event.
Admission is discounted for Science Writers of New York (SWINY) members.