Synesthesia


  • Synesthesia comes from the Greek words syn and aesthesis, literally meaning together-perception. As commonly defined, people with synesthesia have mixed senses where one sense unconsciously triggers another. Some people can taste colors and feel words. However, the most important thing to remember is that everyone with synesthesia experiences it differently. No two people with synesthesia experience the same thing, even if they have the same form of synesthesia.
  • The most common form of synesthesia is associating letters and/or numbers with colors. For people without this, letters and numbers in black ink are just plain black. But for people with synesthesia, black letters and numbers are full of color. Patt Duffy explains learning to write: “I realized that to make an R all I had to do was first write a P and then draw a line down from its loop. And I was so surprised that I could turn a yellow letter into an orange letter just by adding a line." But other people with synesthesia will disagree with Patt’s colors because the associated colors are different for every person. When Valdimir Nabokov, a famous Russian novelist, was a toddler, the colored letters on his wooden blocks irritated him because they were the wrong colors. For him, “there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. . . . And today I have at last perfectly matched v with “Rose Quartz’ in Maerz and Puls’ Dictionary of Color.” Researchers often have people with synesthesia choose from hundreds of paint tiles to make a list of how they see the alphabet, but letters can change and be shaded differently depending on what letters surround them.
  • While certain drugs can trigger an experience like synesthesia, synesthesia is not caused by drugs. Brain imaging has shown that synesthesia is involuntary and cannot be reproduced by a person without synesthesia. Synesthesia also stays mainly consistent over time, and is thus hard to fake. Even though synesthesia is a real phenomenon, many people stay quiet as to not be perceived as weird or on drugs. In my experience, most of the people I have met with synesthesia (fairly mild forms) do not realize that it is unusual or do not realize that there is a name for what they have.
  • Another form of synesthesia is linking color and music. This led to disagreements between Liszt and Rachmaninov over what was the correct color for the key they were composing in. Liszt would say to the orchestra, “O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please!” Duke Ellington, who is also recognized as having synesthesia, had his own thoughts on the subject: “If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin."
  • Synesthesia can also involve taste, such as James Wannerton and his dislike for the earwax tasting name “Derek.” One man with synesthesia tastes broccoli every time he hears his girlfriend's name. He doesn’t like broccoli. Richard “tastes like a chocolate bar-warm and melting on my tongue.” Spelling can also effect a word’s taste. For one woman, “‘Lori’ tastes like a pencil eraser, but ‘Laurie’ tastes lemony.”
  • For Michael, the senses are mixed a bit differently. He feels shapes on his face and hands in response to flavors and does not like to serve chicken that tastes round instead of pointy. Carol feels guitar music on her ankles, violins on her face and trumpets on the back of her neck. And MW can feel the word mint on his hand as a “cool glass column.”
  • Scientists do not know what causes synesthesia. Some theories are that synesthesia is a result of brain "cross talk," a genetic neural connection overabundance or "a reduced amount of inhibition along feedback pathways.” The most fascinating theory is that every one is born with synesthesia, but the brain grows out of it.
  • Synesthesia has its own share of mysteries. Synesthesia tends to run in families, but in some pairs of identical twins, only one has synesthesia. A small amount of people have lost their synesthesia at puberty. Roman numerals have no color to people with number-color synesthesia. There was also a colorblind man with synesthesia who could only see color when he looked at numbers.
  • Some of my favorite random synesthesia anecdotes: Getting nauseous from the sound of wind chimes. Not being able to eat ice-cream because the vendor’s words sounded like black cinders. Seeing 7 as a man with a mustache. Hearing “oh”’s and “ah”’s from a painting. Every word having a different physical movement, easily demonstrated by a body-pose. Tasting blueberries when seeing a skyline. Feeling acupuncture as layers of colors. Seeing December as a red area to one's left. Feeling a song as a square.
This is a bit of an unusual post because I haven't posted a source for every fact like I usually do. (I adapted this post from my research paper on this topic.) While these are not all of my sources, here are a few to prove I'm not fabricating information. If you have any questions, I will do my best to answer them. Source. Source. Source. Source.

Oh. And thank you to I Beati for this award. I will pass it on as soon as I am done hoarding it.

26 comments:

Katman said...

I'd never even heard of synesthesia! I need to read more!! I just mentioned it to my wife while I was typing this and she said 'Oh, I know someone who has that'! Hmm...a feeling of inadequacy swept over me!!
Wonder if it's similar to that thing that John lennon had where he reckoned that there were musical notes he could hear that couldn't be placed in the recognised written form. Sometimes I think that. I listen to a song and a note just seems not quite so; nothing to do with its association with the key. In your head, you imagine the correction, but you're never able to translate it into a sound.

Knight said...

Wow, this was an incredible read.

Baba Doodlius said...

For one woman, “‘Lori’ tastes like a pencil eraser, but ‘Laurie’ tastes lemony.”

There are so many possible comments I could make right now, but I'll just leave them to your imagination.

Michael Wong said...

Hi I'm looking to build up my incoming links for my blog.
Would you like to exchange blogroll links with me?
If yes, please visit: http://bigmoneylist.blogspot.com/
and leave your URL for your blog there. I'll link to you within hours. Thanks.

The Mighty Beluga said...

Great post. Synesthesia is extremely fascinating. I read a novel about it when i was in middle school.

It's called: A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.

It's for 13 year olds but a really interesting read if you want to check it out.

odd facts said...

katman: I wish I was musically inclined enough to have that problem.
knight: Thank you.
baba doodilus: My imagination made several comments.
michael wong: Left a comment on your blog.
the mighty beluga: I read that book!!!! A friend who knew I was into synesthesia bought it for me!!! Thanks you for the recommendation though. You must have good taste.

InnerNinja said...

cool stuff!
as i look at my desk at work i feel nauseous. does that count?

Sandy Kessler said...

I'm seriously studying this scribe

Katman said...

As to being musically inclined, I must add that I am an absolutely fantastic musician - in my own mind only!! The more I talk to people about synesthesia, the more they say they know someone who has it. Not yet met someone who has it tho.
BTW, I've added your blog to my 'Cool Blogspots corner'. Hope you don't mind. :-)

MakeTraffic said...

Hi, Would you like to exchange links with me?
I'll reciprocate by linking to your blog. Thanks. http://projectheavytraffic.blogspot.com

satire and theology said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
satire and theology said...

Congratulatations with the award.

coopernicus said...

Never heard of that before but it's a fascinating subject. Thanx for posting...

odd facts said...

satire and theology: Thanks.
coopernicus: Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone! You should check this: www.tukan.extra.hu !! There is a great online synesthesia survey - you can vote what color is 'A' and each letter and number and see the statistics. Really interesting!

odd facts said...

anonymous: Thanks for the link. It is a cool site.

Mr. Jacob Finch said...

I have synesthesia in which i taste emotions and tones, also I see colours around in my peripheral area when my emotions are provoked usually it is when I am anxious or frustrated. Theres a small poem I wrote on my website with a few elements of synesthesia if anyone is intrested.

Anonymous said...

I have synesthesia, but I don't taste emotions or anything like that. Whenever I see most letters, all numbers and all days of the week, I see a color. I recently got interested in it because, silly me, I just learned from my mom that she doesn't see colors...and neither do any of my friends. I had always assumed that every one perceived the letter O as yellow or the number 3 as green.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm a 14 year old, and I just found out what Synesthesia is. It is incredibly fascinating to me, and though I feel a little guilty about this, I wish I had it. Or maybe if somehow I could "magically" try out synesthesia for a day. Obviously, that can't happen, but I'm so curious about this condition, I have researched it for 3 days now, and I keep trying to cram info into my head. It's just amazing, and yes, even to a 14 year old.

odd facts said...

the first anonymous: Neat! And it's not silly for a person to assume people see the world like they do.

the second anonymous: As long as we're confessing, me too.

One Sick Mother said...

Excellent post! I found it while researching Synesthesia on behalf of my autistic son, who just confided in me at bedtime that he sees emotions as colors.

Do you know if Synesthesia is (more) common in Autistics or other people with neurological differences? It would make sense to me that it might be, but I have found little in my research -all 90 minutes of it so far...

TIA for your response.

OSM

odd facts said...

one sick mother: I'm glad I could help. I don't know if you are interested in more research, but I would highly reccomend reading How Can I Talk If My Lips Don't Move: Inside My Autistic Mind by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay. It is written by an autistic boy who also dicusses a bit about having synesthesia. It is a very good read.
I just recently compiled a reference-aid about synesthesia so I will take the liberty of including a few good sources. Remember, when searching, to search both Synesthesia” and “Synaesthesia” to get both US and UK stuff.
• Online FAQs that explain the basics
 http://www.bu.edu/synesthesia/faq/index.html (by The Synesthesia Project)
 http://www.syn.sussex.ac.uk/1.html (from the University of Sussex Synaesthesia Research)
• Online portals to synesthesia content
 http://www.bluecatsandchartreusekittens.com/Blue_Cats_and_Chartreuse_Kittens_Rel.html (videos, articles, news items, interviews, scientific reports and articles, online surveys, web sites and forums compiled by author Lynne Duffy)
 http://www.doctorhugo.org/synaesthesia/index.htm (associations, researchers, art, theory, reports, books, transcripts, surveys, new media synesthesia correlations, poems, web sites, music, drugs and ethics compiled by the Belgian Synesthesia Association )
Two books I've read:
 The hidden sense by Cretien van Campen -- Ellis (a current, excellent and engaging read. highly recommended with excellent pictures throughout)
 The man who tasted shapes: a bizarre medical mystery offers revolutionary insights into emotions, reasoning and consciousness by Richard E. Cytowic (good narrative overview by a highly respected synesthesia expert)

If you are interested, there are also Youtube videos by people with synesthesia and novels with characters with synesthesia.

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I hope this helps. I will pray for your son and you.

All the best,

One Sick Mother said...

Odd facts,

Thank you very much for doing all of this. It is very much appreciated.

I have tried to ask my son more, but he doesn't want to discuss it now. i will probably have to wait awhile for that window to open again.

odd facts said...

No problem. And I'm sure he will share when it is time. All the best,

Lana said...

I taste strong emotions. I only found out yesterday that this wasn't totally normal, especially because it's a...well, it's a LITERARY DEVICE! I mean, how often do you see something like 'I was so happy I could taste it' or 'bitter disappointment coursed through me'...Since it's only for very strong emotions, I always thought this was just a nice way of phrasing a strong emotion...Which, it IS, but not quite as literal as I thought. If I had never stumbled on an article about this a few days ago, there is no reason I would have ever found out...And I guess anyone I've ever said 'Oh man, I'm so happy I can taste it' too just thought I was being poetic :P

odd facts said...

Lana,
Thank you for sharing. Synestheisa is fascinating, isn't it? All the variety. I was with a group of 18 women recently, and 3 of them had Synesthesia. One could see colors with music, one could see colors with letters and words, and one could assign genders to numbers and colors. I was pretty surprised.