Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Synesthesia is Reality (part 1)

I want a polemical element to my paper. I want reductionist to feel like they need to qualify their position, with excuses and vain pleading... if they want appeal in Portland. This won't happen over night, but with some hard work we can subvert their system. I know I am in good company in this regarded. Portland at large does not except the prevailing prejudice that solutions can be arrived at by isolating factors, but the effects of reductionism remain a continues fact of daily life, even in Portland. In addition to making a case for Synesthesia as a more accurate account of reality then one that supposes the senses of perception to be purely insolated from each other, I'm also going to present alternative methodologies that, while they don't represent the world in a comprehensive manner, have a tendency to open the senses to a wider realm of possibility rather then limit them.

We want to show the world that synesthesia, at its heart, is an integral part of the human experience.   
There are many things in dispute among we who want to see the esthetic value of synthesis prevail in our city, but one thing we all have in common is that we all recognize something in synesthesia that is essential to experience. This is our united front. We don't disregarded neurology, empiricism, analytics, or pragmatism, we only reject that any of these explain anything on their own. Synesthesia is not a pathology, reality is synthesis.

The synesthetic experience goes to the heart of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's understanding of existence. He boldly attacks the idea that we can understand perception by isolating each sense from the others. In, Phenomenology of Perception, he writes, "The formulation is literally meaningless if vision is defined by the visual quale, and sound by the acoustic quale. But it rests with us toward our definition in such a way as to provide it with a meaning, since the sight of sounds and the hearing of colors exist as phenomena. Nor are these even exceptional phenomena. Synesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts the center of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to see, hear, and generally speaking, feel, in order to deduce, from our bodily organization and the world as the physicist conceives it, what we are to see, hear and feel." Merleau-Ponty thought the isolating of the senses was do to scientific investigation, while I do thing the senses are synesthetic in the very way Merleau-Ponty presents them, I don't think that science hides the true nature of the senses. perhaps it's the other way around. That while each sense is dependent on the synesthetic whole, the focusing of a sense puts all the senses to the serves of one in such a way as to disguise their true synesthetic nature, and the scientists Merleau-Ponty refers to only take for granted what most western people take for granted, we can focus one sense or another, or that there is something called sight, or there is something called hearing.

M.Merleau-Ponty provides many examples of "Synaethetia" in normal human experience, but he also provides case studies of Synesthetic processing in subjects of abnormal brains. The reason these cases are so compelling is because they show how our brains work on a more primary level. It is a gift to know the mechanism that make complex processes possible. Merleau-Ponty gives us this gift.

In cases where a human has received damage to their cerebellum, (front part of the brain), the visual sense and motor response is less regulated, resulting in surprising consistent reflexive responses to raw color. Merleau-Ponty refers to a case study, conducted by the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Goldstein, where such individuals where shown color cards, "The gesture of raising the arm, which can be taken as an indicator of motor disturbance, is differently modified in its sweep and it's direction according as the visual field is red, yellow, blue or green." ("Phenomenology of Perception" 209) The causal role that color plays on these subjects indicates a closer link between bodily movement and eye sight, and while bodily movement isn't usually considered a perceptual sense, these cases could be said to indicate a synesthetic relationship between the parts of the body because their automatic responses constitute a joined whole between sight and bodily movement. A movement of the arm can be enacted by a color, such a movement is affectively the gesture of a sight. Kurt Goldstein's study showed that red and green produce smooth movements, while blue and green produce jerky ones. Even which eye receives the sight can alter the response, "red applied to the right eye, for example, favors  a corresponding stretching of the arm outward, green the bending of the arm back towards the body."("Phenomenology of Perception" 209) These reactions, Merleau-Ponty says, can be reduce to two basic categories, those that produce repulsion; red and yellow, and those that produce attraction; blue and green, like an ameba repealing from the poke of a probe or an exploding star scattering new elements through out the universe, when the regulatory functions of our cerebellum are not functioning, we extend the sight of our eyes to the function of our arms. We don't interpret sense data, our bodies extend our senses through out our bodies. Colors are not just stimuli for our brain to interpret, they are lived significance for our motor physiognomy. But these responses can not be reduced to the stimulation of visual wave lengths on our nervous system because even in cases when the color "blue," for instance, is produced through contrast rather than definable blue wave lengths, the same motor responses accrue in the test subject. We are all familiar with the phenomenological experience of feeling uncomfortable in a give environment, what Merleau-Ponty (a phenomenologist), shows us is that these phenomenon have consistent patterns and can be tested inductively, even empirically. 

Motor responses to color are even felt in normal people, for intense when your mussels tighten up when you go in a room with lots of bright contrasting colors you are having a motor response to colors, maybe tenseness isn't your immediate response, but if bright contrast colors get you exited then that’s likely a deep motor response as well.  Merleau-Ponty explains how this "responsiveness" to color isn't entirely passive, he speaks about sense perceptions and a person that senses"...it cannot be held 
that one acts while the other suffers the action, or that one confers
significance on the other. Apart from the probing of my eye or my
hand, and before my body synchronizes with it, the sensible is
nothing but a vague beckoning, 'If a subject tries to experience a
specific color, blue for example, while trying to take up the bodily
attitude appropriate to red, an inner conflict results, a sort of spasm
which stops as soon as he adopts the bodily attitude corresponding  
to blue."("Phenomenology of Perception" 214)
This might seem strange at first when you read Merleau-Ponty speak of synchronizing our bodies to this or that color, but this really is an ordinary experience. Maybe you have experienced this; you go into a home of some one you've just meet or a music venue with cement floors, and gradually you feel more and more at home entail they sell the house and you almost cry or the band finally starts and all the nerves or cold energy gets evaporated in to the passion of you're dance. This is what Merleau-Ponty means by synchronizing your senses with this or that color, and it really is partly your decision to make, you could just stand there awkwardly while the music plays or refuse to visit your friend with the weird paintings, or you can synchronize your senses. 

A good portion of Merleau-Ponty's work in perception, deals with the way the different senses perceive space, and the over laps and disjunction between these perceptions. This is a really good way to discover synesthesia in "normal" experience because space is a common domain for all the senses. Merleau-Ponty invites us to a classical music consort and asks us to consider how this music effects our perception of space. "When, in the concert hall, I 
open my eyes, visible space seems to me cramped compared to that 
other space through which, a moment ago, the music was being un- 
folded, and even if I keep my eyes open while the piece is being 
played, I have the impression that the music is not really contained
within this circumscribed and unimpressive space. It brings a new
dimension stealing through visible space, and in this it surges for-
ward, just as, in victims of hallucinations, the clear space of things
perceived is mysteriously duplicated by a 'dark space' in which other
presences are possible. Like the perspective of other people making
its impact on the world for me, the spatial realm of each sense is an
unknowable absolute for the others, and to that extent limits their
spatiality."("Phenomenology of Perception" 222)
When we consider the space in which music is played, the synesthetic nature of normal perception becomes more apparent, because a grange hall can be a high class venue if the right music is played, and even the most ornate opera house is a dead relic compared to the heavenly hall it becomes when a great peace like, Rachmaninoff concerto No. 2, is played. Space and motor response are often over looked in discussions of “normal perception” synesthesia, because they are such remote elements of perception. But isn't it strange that space is felt almost tactually, even though it’s something that by definition can't be touched? Like a self fulfilling prophecy, it seems that perception of space and motor response are so remote, precisely because they are the realms of synesthesia which are most entrenched in “normal perception.” The perception of things that cant be traced back to one or another sense is that which Merleau-Ponty refers to as the invisible. When you are at a concert, a syntheses happens between what you see and what you hear, what’s most phenomenal about this syntheses is that it isn’t perfect, you can sense the difference between the way your sight fills the room and what you hearing fills the room, even though your sense of space would be impassable with out the way these separate senses work together. It seems that there is a larger whole between the disparity of these two experiences of space; the visual sense and the auditory sense. Otherwise how would we know that the room is to small to contain the music? It seem this is a prime example of what Zizek calls a Parallax.

Topic 2: Merleau-Ponty discovered what Zizek calls the minimal difference, and applied it to the parallax of the eyes and expanded it's application to the other senses, and even to language. To begin with lets consider Merleau-Ponty's  example of "binocular vision" and how it relates to his larger notion of syntheses. "Now, though perception brings together our sensory ex-periences into a single world, it does not do so in the way that scientific colligation gathers together objects or phenomena, but in the way that binocular vision grasps one sole object. Let us describe carefully this 'synthesis'. When my gaze is fixed on a remote tiling, I have a double image of objects nearby. When I transfer my gaze to the latter, I see the two images converge on what is to be the single object, and merge into it."(230) "Binocular vision" is Merleau-Ponty's paradigm example of the syntheses of the senses, and it is a good one, no one questions the unity of multiple sense organs when it comes to the vision of their eyes, but every one has went cross eyed before and knows the difference between the unity and the divergence of the sense of sight. Could you imagine having more then two eye's? This would be a whole new syntheses. This is what Merleau-Ponty says is happing to all our senses, they are being joined together like one eye with another to make a single experience. Far from confusing the experience of vision, it is the discrepancy between the eyes that gives us depth perception, this is the same thing as what Slavoj Zizek calls the "minimal difference." In the same way the "minimal difference" between the sight of the opera house and the overwhelming sound of the music makes the real experience of the music expand our sense of space, so to does our two eyes join one single vision. Merleau-Ponty even applies this "minimal difference" to interactions with other people, "As soon as we see other seers, we no longer have before us only the look without a pupil, the plate glass of the things with that feeble reflection, that phantom of ourselves they evoke by designating a place among themselves whence we see them; the 'lacuna' where our eyes, our back lie is filled, filled still by the visible, of which we are not the titulars."("Visible&Invisible"143)
Lacuna means gap, the it is the very same, "minimal difference," which Zizek refers to as the parallax: "the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational posi- tion that provides a new line of sight.The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply “subjective,” due to the fact that the same object which exists “out there” is seen from two different stances, or points of view."("Parallax view" 17)  Even Zizek doesn't seem to realize that he takes Marleau-Ponty's notion of a lacuna in perception and expands it's domain to the very heart of reality, but I will explain that in the 2ed part of this paper.

Conclusion 1/2: (intromition) 
So there we see how Merleau-Ponty a known phenomenologist draws from an array of disciplines including, cognitive science, sociology, and analytics to illustrate the primacy of synesthesia in the deep structure of normal perception. I also presented some tools for discovering such a deep structure, including identifying "minimal difference" or lacuna in your own perceptions, and thought experiments concerning ways to interact with space. I have plans for a 2ed edition to this paper, Synesthesia is Reality, in which I will show how Merleau-Ponty concerning perception can be expanded to the nature of reality it's self using Zizeks' Parallax. Something I'm particularly excited about is the use of the Parallax to bridge the gap between perception and neuroscience and developmental sociology. I feel like this will greatly expand the applications of Merleau-Ponty's work. I think it will also be valuable in shifting the intellectual and social political environment towards a more synesthetic notion of reality. 
 







Work Cited
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception. London: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd, 1962. Print.


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, The Visible and the Invisible. Evanston: Northwester University Press, 1968. Print.

Zizek, Slavoj, The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT press, 2006. Print.
 

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