There is a very interesting presentation on TED.com by a neurologist who has come up with innovative ways of treating his patients. In the third part of his presentation he talks of Synesthesia which is the ability to experience multiple sensory perceptions in place of one. For example tasting sound or seeing touch.
He points out that there is a part of the brain that, when damaged, disables the ability to understand metaphor and disables Synesthesia. He also demonstrates that we are all synesthetes with a simple experiment.
Understanding icons, in the context of this research, is a synesthetic experience and may show that contrary to my initial reservations, there is some truth to inherent meaning in icons that may be universal.
I have a blog post that is broader in scope than this neurologist’s conclusions. You can find his presentation under “Who Is A Synesthete?”
Here’s the Link: http://blog.grantczerepak.com/2008/11/15/synesthetes/
The moment you say “blue is cool” or “red is hot” you are expressing Synesthetic metaphor.
Here’s some audio recordings from MIT interviewing Synesthetes (each is about 1 minute):
Anyone who can make metaphor is expressing their own Synesthesia. I personally think this is an area of research that should be explored to help people develop their own Synesthetic abilities. It should also be explored to help us find commonalities in Synesthetic perception to develop Icons and Icon languages.
Richard Cytowic has written a book called, The Man Who Tasted Shapes.
I don’t agree with his separation of Synesthesia from common Synesthetic experience, but his insights are worth reading.