What is Synesthesia


via Flickr

A painting drawn by someone with Synesthesia

Everyone has been taught the five senses when we were young.  Sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smelling. These five all operate by themselves,but what happens if the senses intertwine? The result is a stunning, rare phenomenon called Synesthesia- a colorful condition that causes some people to taste sounds, see tastes, smell numbers, and have many other sensory experiences.

There are many types and categories of synesthesia. For instance, some people associate words with color.  People who associate weekdays and months to colors, numbers have personalities/colors, music has smell/color, or tastes have shapes. Some literally see blobs or shapes colors in front of them, while others only see them in their mind’s eye.

About 1 in 2,000 people are born with Synesthesia, but each person’s Synesthesia is different and unique to themselves. If two people associate colors and numbers together their associations are most likely completely different. Perhaps for person one, the number 3 is a polished cardinal pink while for person two 3 is a neon green. Or the song Jingle Bells smells like sharp cinnamon to one person but smells like fresh citrus to another. With synesthesia, each and every sensory experience is different. However, one thing is the same- the sensations are consistent- guitars will not feel like brushes on face one day then tickles on ankles the next.

Many celebrities have/had claimed to have synesthesia. Some include Pharrell Williams, who relies on the colors of his sounds to make music, Vincent Van Gogh, who was unfortunately thought insane by his peers, Marilyn Monroe, who had the ability to see vibrations in sound, Ed Sheeran, who likes his music orange, and Michael Jackson, who view music in shapes and colors.

Synesthesia is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. It was first noted in the 19th and 20th century, then went off the radar for a while. In 1983 a scientist wrote a book called, The Man Who Tasted Shapes brought awareness to synesthetes. Scientists began to examine the prospect. There are still many theories about its origin, but at its most basic, they say that the senses become jumbled, or intertwined. How this happens however is widely disputed..

Strangely enough, there are some patterns in whom Synesthesia affects. It affects more women than men, and affect more left-handers than right-handers. Synesthetes are found to have slightly better memory and intelligence levels than most people. Most of them have played an instrument and have interest in the arts- visual or otherwise.

If you think that you are a synesthete, you can find many tests on the internet to find out. One such test is https://synesthesia.com/blog/synesthesia-tests/. Note that testing for synesthesia is hard and usually tests will warn the tester that results should be taken as a suggestion, not a cold hard fact.