Synesthesia: From Cross-Modal to Modality-Free Learning and Knowledge

Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau, Jenny Mackness, Leonardo, Aug 15, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Really interesting paper looking at the phenomenon of synesthesia as it relates to concept formation, using as its basis two case studies where children create complex ideas out of simple experiences without benefit of verbal or textual guidance. Synesthesia is the name given to a cross-over of one sensory input into another - sounds are perceived as shapes, for example, or words are perceived as colours. Concept-formation, or abstraction, viewed from this perspective, might be seen as the creation of learned synesthesia - I would read this as an association between modalities (like this, in a sense), but the authors don't. Matthias Melcher, reviewing this paper, asks what the nature of a concept is in this picture; "s the metaphor that bridges two domains (or often two senses), really withdrawn, removed, abstracted from the two domains, is it no longer grounded in any of them?" In any case - from my perspective - it seems clear that concept-formation is the result of a perceptual process, rather than a cognitive process.

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