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19 March 2005

I met the description

Nature has a wonderful feature by AS Byatt, where she describes how her encounters with science shape her fiction:

Eliot believed that feeling and thought, body and mind, were a unified sensibility until the seventeenth century. After that you could no longer "feel your thought as immediately as the odour of a rose"...

I read a book about poetic metaphors in which the lovely story is told of the boy who always won at chess until he described how he instantly saw the best move — which was to visualize the chess board, and all the possible moves of all the pieces, in different coloured flashing lights, and choose the strongest pattern. After he had revealed his secret he collapsed in a faint. Somewhere at the same time I met the description of Francis Galton, who could visualize an imaginary slide rule and read off answers. I met a mathematical prodigy who — she said — solved problems by "imagining a garden and placing the mathematical forms in it and releasing the problem to run among the forms". Later still — many years later — I read Galton's description of the experiment in which he asked boys at public schools and undergraduates — if they understood what he was asking — to draw their own imaginary mathematical landscapes. He reproduced many of these in colour in Inquiries into Human Faculty.

One reason all this fascinated me was that it was better than any literary description of what it felt like to seize the gestalt of a work of art — remembered, or half-constructed, or unwritten but present in the mind... I became interested in the networks of connections that make the foundations for thinking — numbers, geometry and grammar.

(via 3quarksdaily)

After meeting Byatt's reference to Inquiries into Human Faculty, I found that a searchable version of the full text is available online. Here's a taste from the colour associations section:


A,  pure white, and like china in texture.

E,  red, not transparent; vermilion, with china-white would represent it.

I,   light bright yellow; gamboge.

O, black, but transparent; the colour of deep water seen through thick clear ice.

U, purple.

Y  a dingier colour than I.

Must read full text.

Posted at 01:44 PM in Storytelling | Permalink


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That way of descibing letters in terms of their colour makes me think strongly of synaesthetes and I presume all the links go on to discuss that.

For some reason, discussion on this topic seems to be very in vogue atm. It has been argued that everyone shares "some" synaesthetic behaviour eg: I always "hear" music in a black space, as a solid (but moving, obviously) object! (Don't try to make me explain it further, because I can't without many many subclauses!)

This stuff is a very interesting linkup that I didn't know existed. Thank you!

Posted by: Cait at 5 Apr 2005 13:53:17