One of the new ideas in synaesthesia research is that affected people perhaps don’t develop mixed senses as their brains develop, they just fail to lose them. It seems most children might start with naturally mixed senses before perception becomes segregated through pruning of the fuzzy neural pathways.
Although Mary Shelley was only 19 when she wrote her timeless novel, Frankenstein (1818), she combined contemporary philosophical and moral issues with a vision of the danger of emerging sciences that still has relevance today. The specific idea of early unity of the senses, very likely inspired by Rousseau, was articulated by Frankenstein’s creation in his first-person account of his early experiences:
“It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being: all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses. [Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818), chapter 11]“
Shelley goes on to present the creature as very humanlike, and it appears here that she wished to show that this extended to the earliest moments of his mental life. With the publication of Frankenstein, the unified-senses idea was thus brought into the popular culture, and Shelley’s words were probably read by some cognitive neuropsychologists in elementary school, even if they paid little heed to the sentiment. The idea also lived on within philosophy and, later, in the science of psychology.
In their professional career, very many cognitive neuropsychologists become acquainted with William James, and indeed the majority should recognize the phrase ‚Äúone great blooming, buzzing confusion‚Äù. Most also recognize this as referring to the world of the infant, but few are probably aware that James was writing about his view that information from different senses is first fused in a child before later segregation.