Can you imagine tasting colors or seeing sound as shapes? This is how some people with synesthesia, known as synesthetes, perceive the world. According to Wikipedia, synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.
What this means is that certain senses are inextricably linked. Sound might also be seen visually as waves or shapes, letters might have a color or words might produce tastes. Can you imagine saying the word ‘ruler’ and being able to taste chocolate? That would be a calorie-free way to cheat on your diet.
Studies have suggested that 2 percent to 4 percent of us experience synesthesia naturally. For some people they’ve lived with it all of their lives, never knowing they were different. Their perception of the world around them is a secret artistic landscape full of experiences that those around them can barely imagine.
One common form of this phenomenon, known as grapheme-color synesthesia, makes letters and/or numbers appear as colored. The number ‘1’ might be yellow while the letter ‘R’ might be blue, kind of like those magnetic plastic alphabet pieces we used to play with as children. Some synesthetes actually see the colors while others just naturally associate a color with what they are seeing.
Another form, known as spatial sequence synesthesia, causes the synesthete to experience a sequence of numbers as floating in space. Each number, depending on its value, occupies space in relation to each other number. The number ‘1’ might be seen as closer than the number ‘2’ and so on.
The phenomenon comes in any combination of forms. One synesthete might hear the sound of a bell and see a shimmering golden triangle hovering in the air while another could hear the slamming of a car door and smell rain. Each synesthete experiences the phenomenon differently.
Synesthesia varies from person to person and usually links at least two senses together but in some rare cases, all five are involved. It also runs in families, with more females than males reporting synesthetic experiences. Science isn’t exactly sure how this works or what causes it but further study is needed.
Hopefully, sometime soon, science will be able to narrow down and replicate synesthesia and perhaps share it in pill form. I know I’d be a lot more likely to write if the words I was typing tasted good. Until then, I will continue to blog about things that I find fascinating and share them with the rest of you.