I don’t have it, but I’ve heard of it. It’s quirky and so is my brain, so I did some research. My husband, George, said the subject was too esoteric for my blog. I told him his face was esoteric. Let’s move on and break it down. Synesthesia (pronounced sin-uhs–thee-zhuh) is the sensory phenomena from the Greek “to perceive together.” The most common occurrence of this psychological phenomenon is hearing or perceiving things in colors. As in… “Yes, darling, please remember I am a sin-uhs–thete. Now back off because you’re raging a rainbow of hostility in the green-hue family at me while we re-tile the effing bathroom floor.”
It’s common for letters to be seen in colors. The letter A is often thought of as red by the synesthete. One of the reasons the letter A got this big bold color is apparently because it is seen a lot. Whereas the lowly letter V might be received in a vaguer color from the Crayola box, like lilac or purple. Other examples: eating steak is seen in vivid blue, pain is felt in color, violins can be felt on your face, one can taste shapes, the word integrity is like pound cake, onions are pink, music is seen in color, the number 4 is yellow. No it’s red! It’s apparently very personal.
The synesthete got an extra sense. It’s a genetic thing. Only about one in 2,000 have this gift—or about 4% of us. Their brains are perceiving things with a similarity across the nervous system. That mouth-watering steak is experienced by both taste and sight. The organization of the nervous system is different for them.
What about hearing colors? How does that feel? These gifted folks use multiple senses as the same time. Like a big salad. I’m thinking of the Disney movie Fantasia right now. Hearing can induce visualization. Or the sensation of hearing produces a sensation in hearing AND tasting, and so on. A stimulus in one sense triggers a perception in another.
I don’t think this qualifies, but I have a real aversion to the thought of sticks in the mouth. For example popsicles, or anyone sucking on a stick makes my teeth hurt and my tongue feel thick. It’s hell for me at the State Fair—but like the hero I am, I soldier through, combatting the repulsion of everyone having some food-on-a-stick in their mouth by stuffing my own with hot mini-donuts. OMG, do I have synesthesia envy? Is that a thing? Am I the first person to name that condition?
There are also some people who have “conceptual synesthesia.” For this, I think of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. He can see abstract concepts as shapes in the space around him. You know how Sheldon is always talking about a physicist named Richard Feynman? In real life, Richard Feynman is a synesthete.
It’s not a hallucination, and it’s not a form of mental illness. But some hallucinatory drugs can cause synesthesia. Existing connections are neurologically altered by chemicals for a short time. The cross-wiring or round-about rigging system of a synesthete has them seeing and feeling things differently all the time.
We’re learning so much more about the brain, and on a slightly separate subject, I hate it when a scientific report comes out, then is later proved wrong.
For example, I hopped on the train and sped down the rails, hard-believing in the science that men’s brains don’t overlap in the back and women’s do. The great corpus callosum has a thick group of nerve fibers that carry signals between the left side and the right side. Once I heard about the overlapping lobe hypothesis, I felt superior. Women’s brains were rigged better! Our creative side and our logic side worked in harmony, men’s brains didn’t. The overlapping lobe argument has made its way into many conversations when my husband George just wasn’t getting it. Turns out, that science might be wrong. But I’m not telling George. If he reads this blog, then fine, he can throw it back in my face the next time we butt heads on how to rearrange the garage, but if he doesn’t read this—then I’m still using it against him.
Brain structure aside, we are all wired differently. It’s interesting. No?
Check out these videos.
“Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapenos”
Or a Ted Talk: