September 16, 2010
A guest post by neuroscientist and synaesthesia specialist Thomas Wright from the University of Sussex on just how he found himself in a muddy field with a singing brain.
Picture the scene if you will. I’m in a hot, stuffy cupboard hunched over a computer. Behind me are Jen (from Guerilla Science), Mink and Doc (both from Coney) and Jamie (my supervisor, by now quite nervous). A webcam hangs limply from Doc’s hand and the speakers are ominously quiet. Nobody has made the trip down to Brighton for this.
Which is why, when the software suddenly, imperiously, decided to jump into life, I think I may have giggled with relief.
Weeks earlier, my lab group had been contacted for advice on how to create a game exploring a phenomenon called synaesthesia, whereby two senses become entwined.
The idea: to produce a computer program that would have synaesthesia so festival-goers could experience the condition (without the need for hallucinogenic substances).
Unbeknownst to Guerilla Science though, I was already working on a program that would do just this. Apart from the fact that my version is for blind people rather than festival-goers, that first email from Coney contained an uncanny description of my day-to-day research: They wanted to build an “artificial brain machine which turns visual input into music” – and I study systems for blind people which convert visual input into sounds.
It seemed like a match made in heaven.
This explains why the six of us were meeting, although not why we were crammed into my cupboard-cum-laboratory (don’t ask). But this leaves one important question unanswered…
What, exactly, is synaesthesia?
August 31, 2010
Check out recordings from our antics at the Secret Garden Party this July on the Guardian weekly science podcast, including the Synaesthesia Game, our sexy science pub quiz, and interviews with scientists Tom Wright and Petra Boynton – coverage begins about 14:25 in. Have a listen here.
August 26, 2010
We met Wayne Coyne – lead singer of the Flaming Lips – on the way back to the car.
“Wow check this out,” he said, and stopped to chat with us over the brain, the centrepiece for the Synaesthesia Game. Turns out he had also made a giant brain himself for Hallowe’en, about a storey tall. For a man who wears giant hands so he can spray the audience with laser beams, this is hardly surprising.
“Hang on, let me get a photo – I’m going to tweet this.”
And so he did.
Sometimes – not all the time, but sometimes – being unable to escape the internet, even in a wet field in Wales, is a pretty cool thing.