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One of my students wanted to study synesthesia, but he isn’t synesthetic (nor am I), and it’s sort of a hard thing to simulate (at least legally). Coincidentally, I was recently trying to decided whether Leo was too young to read Dune, Frank Herbert’s SciFi masterpiece. He probably is, but there is a scene in it where the hero is tested by having to hold his hand in a pain-inducing box. (The pain is induced in the nerves; No damage is actually done to the person’s hand.) One of the examples that I give in class is “blindfolded cooking”, the idea being to give someone the sense of what it might be to be blind while doing a task in which we normally depend heavily upon sight. Actual blindfold cooking is pretty dangerous, so we don’t actually do it in class, but putting these ideas together gave me what I thought was a great idea for my student: How about having someone do a fairly complex task in a “blinded” glovebox. Usually you can see into a glovebox, but here we would preclude that by simply making the glovebox without a window!

What about the task? Recall that the idea is to give the sense of synesthesia. The task that we finally hit upon was to copy a somewhat complex lego construct. We would create a small random lego construct with, say, 10 different pieces, then stick it in a cardboard box with a bunch of other random lego pieces, including at least one of each piece needed to copy the target construct. Finally, we cut two wrist-sides “glove” holes through the side of the box.

Here’s the box wit the top open, and Leo holding up the target construct:

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The idea, of course, is to copy the construct with the box top closed, like this:

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(The book is just to keep the box top closed.)

This turns out to be a really interesting puzzle, and I do think that if you close your eyes and try to visualize the target, and what’s going on when you copy it, it does gives you a little bit of a sense of crossed senses, a bit like what it might be like to be synesthetic.