Like / not-like

Synaesthesia, at least creative synaesthesia, is based on the ‘enactive perception’ (J.J. Gibson’s term) of modality-free patterns, or patterns of / between / amongst / across patterns and modes. And a kind of Schroedinger’s cat metaphor (a thought experiment in which you have to assume the a cat in a box exists in two states simultaneously – it is alive and dead at the same time) might help us here – you just have to think of things which are simultaneously ‘like’ and ‘not-like’ at the same time.

And … abstraction, metaphor, language, technology, etc, all follow, once you start down this Homo ‘Sapiens’ road. And the rest, as they say in Hiroshima, is ‘history’.

So, one way of understanding what this is all about it to use the Köhler’s bouba / kiki experiment that Ramachandran uses in his explanation of synaesthesia. This experiment asks an audience to guess which name, ‘bouba’ or ‘kiki’, belongs to which of the two figures in the diagram below …
buba kiki.jpeg


Just about everyone in any audience (across all cultures and languages) says the one on the left is ‘kiki’ and the one on the right is ‘bouba’. Why? Because although the word and the shape (of ‘kiki’ for instance) are quite different, they are also, simultaneously, quite like indeed – most people immediately agree, intuitively, that they are both ‘spiky’.

A much more elaborate example, which children recognise intuitively, given the chance, and given exposure to the right learning objects and activities, is Montessori’s trinomial cube (and binomial cube too). At first sight, it would not appear that there is anything remotely ‘like’ between the 'cube' in the expression …




Trnomial expansion.png

and the pre-school 'cube' of coloured blocks …
Trinomial cube.jpg

Yet children who have ‘expanded’ and reconstructed the wooden cube, above, at the age of 4 or 5 in a Montessori pre-school (with no mention of the theorem, or mathematics), when presented with the algebraic theorem many years later, will intuitively go back to the ‘blocks’ and ‘expand’ them and repack them, and then return, satisfied, to a thorough understanding of the algebra.

Each one of the blocks in the Montessori cube is a like/not-like version of each of the terms in the algebraic expression. There are, for instance, three cubes, the yellow one (in front), as well as a blue an a red one within the cube, representing a, and b and c cubed respectively, and all the other terms are present in the other blocks within the cube too, some more than once, as is the case in the algebraic expression '6abc': there are 6 instances of 'a.b.c' for instance, in the equation, and there are 6 blocks of that shape too (using a value of 1cm for 'a', 2cm for 'b', and 3cm for 'c').

So, the cube is a like/not-like version of the whole expression – in its compressed (‘simplified’) form – on the left of the equation, as well as in its expanded form – on the right of the equation.

It is these like/not-like patterns (a paradoxical pattern if you like) in the bouba/kiki experiment, and similarly in Montessori’s trinomial learning object that is the basis for our ‘enactive perception’ of abstraction, or of patterns across (several) modes of perception, resulting in our comprehension of a linguistic concept, ‘kiki’, and of the mathematical concept, the trinomial cube, which are both in a fundamental sense modality free - although rooted in several modes of perception - simultaneously, and are in principle capable of being signified or realised in other modes of perception / representation too, as Montessori demonstrated.

So perhaps a better way of understanding creative synaesthesia would be to understand it as simultaneously modality based and modality free. A neat recursive example of itself.