Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Synesthetic Time Lords Discovered in California

Illustration for article titled Synesthetic Time Lords Discovered in California

Time Lords walk among us. Two per cent of readers may be surprised to discover that they are members of an elite group with the power to perceive the geography of time.

Advertisement

Sci-fi fans – Anglophile ones, at least – know that the coolest aliens in the universe are Time Lords: time-travelling humanoids with the ability to understand and perceive events throughout time and space. Now it seems that people with a newly described condition have a similar, albeit lesser ability: they experience time as a spatial construct.

Synaesthesia is the condition in which the senses are mixed, so that a sound or a number has a colour, for example. In one version, the sense of touch evokes emotions.

Advertisement

To those variants we can now add time-space synaesthesia.

"In general, these individuals perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind's eye," says David Brang of the department of psychology at the University of California, San Diego.

"These calendars occur in almost any possible shape, and many of the synaesthetes actually experience the calendar projected out into the real world."

One of Brang's subjects was able to see the year as a circular ring surrounding her body. The "ring" rotated clockwise throughout the year so that the current month was always inside her chest with the previous month right in front of her chest.

Advertisement

Brang and colleagues recruited 183 students and asked them to visualise the months of the year and construct this representation on a computer screen. Four months later the students were shown a blank screen and asked to select a position for each of the months. They were prompted with a cue month – a randomly selected month placed as a dot in the location where the student had originally placed it.

Uncannily, four of the 183 students were found to be time-space synaesthetes when they placed their months in a distinct spatial array – such as a circle – that was consistent over the trials.

Advertisement

A second test compared how well time-space synaesthetes and ordinary humans could memorise an unfamiliar spatial calendar and reproduce it. Time-space synaesthetes turned out to have much better recall than the time-blind majority.

Brang suspects that time-space synaesthesia happens when the neural processes underlying spatial processing are unusually active. "This enhanced processing would generalise to other functions of spatial processing – mental rotation, map navigation, spatial manipulation," he says.

Advertisement

Brang did not speculate on whether time-space synaesthetes could regenerate, or if they have two hearts: both key characteristics of Time Lords.

Journal reference: Consciousness and Cognition, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.01.003

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled Synesthetic Time Lords Discovered in California

New Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.

Advertisement

Image: Huw Evans/Rex Features

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

lorddata---old1
Lord_Data ∞

I'm going to assume for the moment that this isn't shenanigans and say this:

I thought synaesthesia was characterized by senses being replaced, not supplemented, with other senses.

For example, if I could taste colors, they would be tastes, not colors.

Which brings up this question:

If they perceive time as shapes, and not as time, then they lack a sense of continuity. Without such a sense, are these synaesthetes truly alive? Does another sense feel like time to them? Could I give them a subjective lifespan of a thousand years simply by showing them a rapidly spinning ring?

Of course, the way the article was phrased, they experience time as we do in addition to these 'circles,' which leads me to believe that my assumptions about synaesthesia were clearly incorrect, oh well, I'm going to post this anyway.