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Messing With Your Senses

By Peter Lloyd

It’s easy to match sight and touch sensations since we can see and feel the same object. The same goes for taste and aroma. They work together. You can feel the sound of an explosion or a passing car with loud bass speakers. But have you played with the idea of seeing odors, hearing a flavor, tasting a sound or a texture, smelling or hearing an image?

What does the texture of a shag carpet sound like? How does it compare to the sound of satin? It’s more difficult to imagine hearing the aroma of brewing coffee or the odor of cat spray. Describe the taste of a sound such as a slide whistle or Ella Fitzgerald’s voice. What does the flavor of chocolate feel like?

book coverIn The Man Who Tasted Shapes Richard E. Cytowic describes a friend who felt flavors. While preparing a meal, the subject of Cytowic’s book sampled the meal he was preparing and commented, “Too many points.” The author eventually put his friend through a series of tests, which confirmed his synesthesia, and went on to make some intriguing discoveries about the brain.

Another researcher works with mice that can smell light. They did not evolve the ability. Neurobiologist Venkatesh N. Murthy made their olfactory organs sensitive to light in order to better understand just how our sense of smell works—how our brains perceive the difference between the scent of a rose and a skunk, fresh orange juice and sour milk, sandalwood and cinnamon.

As a creative problem solver, you might want to exercise your brain this way. It will pay off in unique insights. Think about the aroma of light, for example. Does red light smell different from green or blue? When you look at an image with your nose, what does it smell like? What about sniffing—does it change the focus or zoom in?

Mix up your other senses while you’re at it. What would a pair of old socks sound like? Dissonant? What does the sound of a tuba smell like? What does a the Mona Lisa taste like?

If this exercise feels silly, rest assured, you are not the first to play in this sandbox. Read how ImmunoBLOGulin answers the question, What does the smell of swimming look like? Then watch What Sound Looks Like.

See also: Smelling the light: What if we make the nose act like a retina? PhysOrg

Peter Lloyd is co-creator with Stephen Grossman of Animal Crackers, the breakthrough problem-solving tool designed to crack your toughest problems.

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