Due to an editing error, a July 5 editorial on Virginia transportation proposals mistakenly attributed to Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, a policy stance of Jerry W. Kilgore, his Republican rival. It is Mr. Kilgore who advocates letting different regions issue their own bonds, enter into public-private partnerships and hold referendums to raise taxes. (Published 7/6/2005)
As the neurologist who 25 years ago rediscovered "synesthesia," or the phenomenon by which the stimulation of one sense gives rise to a physical sensation in another, I regret that the Hirshhorn Museum's exhibit "Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900" does not include any science about this neurological phenomenon ["Music to Your Eyes; At Hirshhorn, Multimedia Excursion Doesn't Go Far," Style, June 23]. Rather, it conflates artists such as Georgia O'Keeffe and Alexander Scriabin, who used synesthesia as an intellectual idea, with those who had the genuine sensory phenomenon of colored hearing, such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. The latter two involuntarily saw shapes and colors that were triggered by music and everyday sounds.
Perceptual synesthesia is not rare; it affects the brain wiring of about one in every couple hundred people, including Vladimir Nabokov, David Hockney and Olivier Messiaen. At last count, scientists in 15 countries were studying synesthesia and racing to map its gene mutation (synesthesia runs in families and is much more common in women). Understanding this phenomenon could help us get a handle on the neurological basis of metaphor and better understand artistic creativity.
The Hirshhorn exhibit's use of the little-used British spelling, "synaesthesia," instead of the standard "synesthesia," also means that visitors Googling the term will learn less about the exciting scientific research on this topic. Further, the beautiful exhibit catalogue contains not a single scientific reference.
If its intent is to educate, then the exhibit omits a big chunk of synesthetic experience. The planned series of gallery talks -- including one I will give next Tuesday with National Symphony Orchestra musician Yvonne Caruthers -- unfortunately will not remedy a fundamental shortcoming in an otherwise visually arresting exhibit.
RICHARD E. CYTOWIC