Synaesthetic Experience as Cognitive Architecture


  • Alenka Žumer University of Ljubljana



Synaesthesia, nowadays, is understood as a cognitive phenomenon characterized by the involuntary blending of senses. It translates perceived information into diverse sensations and a mixture of sensory modalities [1, 3]. This interconnectedness occurs when sensory organs transmit and interpret processed information to the frontal lobe. A neuroscientific perspective explains that synaesthesia involves atypical processing in the limbic systems, indicating a stronger link to emotional and logical connections with an individual's external reality rather than a global reduction in cortical activation.


The following study is focused on researching synaesthesia in connection to colours and symbols, such as letters, numbers, and words. Theoretical predispositions are based on neurological connections in synaesthetic experience, while a practical examination is researched deeper through a phenomenological perspective. The research aims to look at the inner experience of synesthetes and non-synesthetes with phenomenological research methods like descriptive experience sampling (DES) and phenomenological interviews. 

The research will include 3 participants, a synesthete trained in DES, a non-synesthete trained in DES, and a non-synesthete not trained in DES. The phenomenological finding will be analysed through theoretical frameworks of phenomenological samplings' encoding and cognitive neuroscience.

The hypotheses are: 1) synaesthetic experiences are neuro-based encoded metaphors, which can provide detailed ways of language use for introspective descriptions, and 2) when processing information, distinct patterns of cognitive architecture activation are observed between individuals with synaesthesia and those without.

Possible expected results could explain everyday life use of metaphors, and optimal ways of expressing through the use of language as tools for first-person research, more precisely, the optimal and intuitive language for detailed and precise expression [2], aiming for highly detailed observation and description of the inner experience.

This research on an individual's experience may bring new aspects of cognitive architecture and specifics of sensory experiences, meaning some tiny missing gaps or bridges in a cognitive research field and the field of consciousness research since the experience can be researched and described in detail.


[1] G. Böhme, "Synesthesia in a phenomenology of perception," Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, International Journal of Architectural Theory, vol. 18, no. 31, pp. 21–33, 2013.

[2] S. Kühn, C. Fernyhough, B. Alderson-Day, and R. T. Hurlburt, “Inner experience in the scanner: Can high fidelity apprehensions of inner experience be integrated with fmri?,” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, 2014.

[3] L. E. Marks, “Synesthesia. A Union of the Senses: by Richard E. Cytowic, Springer-Verlag, 1989. ,” Trends in Neurosciences, vol. 13, no. 10. pp. 434–435, 1990.