A Shift in Perception

Notes by Howard Gardner

Nearly all of us have acuity in several sensory systems, and most of us are capable of making some cross-sensory connections (e.g. between loud sound and bright light). When we are young, many of us have a proclivity to synesthesia; for example, connecting colors to the sounds of vowels or to the timbre of musical instruments. This capacity tends to atrophy with development, except for the few who have the capacity called synesthesia. Sometimes synesthesia can get in the way of normal processing; sometimes it can contribute to creative work, as with the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin or the novelist Vladimir Nabokov; and sometimes it is just a strange fear—like knowing the days of the week on which major holidays occurred in 1875.

I have long maintained that the multiple intelligences are not yoked to particular senses. Linguistic intelligence can operate independent of whether information enters the ‘central cognitive system’ via sound, sight, or touch. It’s therefore an open question whether we can have synesthesia across intelligences, as we do across sensory systems. Such synesthesia would, for example, yoke linguistic and spatial information, independent of the channels by which this information entered the cognitive system. I do not have a strong intuition about the answer to this question; indeed, this would be a fascinating topic for a young researcher to investigate.

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