By Cormac Begley (2nd Year Psychology Student)
Last week I volunteered at the Synaesthesia and Cross-modal Perception Conference which was being hosted in The Lloyd. By ‘volunteered’ I mean I helped set up posters and upload various speakers’ presentations to the communal laptop. It wasn’t terribly demanding work so I had the opportunity to sit in most of the talks and be educated on all things synaesthesia. Although defining synaesthesia can be tricky (Simner, 2012)* the UK Synaesthesia Association describes it as “a ‘union of the senses’ whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together”. Synaesthetes may see colours when they hear sounds or read words, or experience other combinations of tastes, smells and tactile experiences.
Many of the speakers, who were scientists or artists or both, were also synaesthetes. While being simultaneously fascinated by their experiences and secretly jealous I would never know what its like, I was struck by the diversity of speakers who attended. We had speakers from America, Spain and Germany to name only a few, and from prestigious institutions including Berkeley, Princeton, Oxford and (of course) our very own Trinity College. While only some of the people in attendance were there to speak, others presented posters in the lobby or simply came along to learn about synaesthesia. Research was presented on a wide range of topics within the otherwise pretty specific field of synaesthesia; we heard about the different types of synaesthesia, its genetic and neurobiological basis, how synaesthesia can be ‘learned’ and how it relates to mood. A speaker from Maynooth even told us of one synaesthete who had been struck by lightening! (Incidentally I was sitting beside the synaesthete in question who was struggling to keep a straight face).
The conference only ran for three days but I feel that I’ve learned so much. My favourite part had to be when most of us attended a dinner held in the Davenport (free food is always a big plus). It gave me the opportunity to talk with some of the researchers and artists about their work. Although I was a little intimidated at first, they were all very friendly and easy to talk to (the champagne might have helped). In the Irish tradition some of us adjourned to a pub after the dinner. I have to say it was very surreal to be drinking pints with people who had been giving academic presentations earlier that day. Becoming a researcher suddenly seemed like a far more attractive career move.
The Synaesthesia and Cross-modal Perception conference was just one of the many international events that are hosted in Trinity. I would really recommend other students to check out what’s going on in Trinity, no matter what you’re studying. It’s a great chance to learn something new or network with experts in your area of interest. Incidentally, the Psychology Department and TCIN are almost always looking for synaesthetes to participate in their research, if you’re interested check out Aras an Phiarsaigh or The Lloyd for any new research.**
*Psych student habits
**Also psych student habits