What is the flavor of an E flat? What is the sound of white? What if we lived in a world where sights had sounds and feelings where interchangeable? According to professor Daphne Maurer of McMaster University, we once lived in such a world. Today, however, only 1% of all adults still have such abilities like knowing the sound of color or Chromesthesia (Color Synesthesia).
“Toddlers perceive higher pitched sounds to come from white balls and lower pitched sounds to come from black balls, just like adults with synesthesia,” explains Maurer. “With development, the connections underlying synesthesia are inhibited in most individuals.”
Called “Synesthesia”, it is a neurological condition where the stimulus of one cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway. There are many different phenomenon that have been covered with this term, perhaps as many as there are combination of senses. Defining synesthesia in an individual is difficult, and the majority of synesthetes are completely unaware that their experiences have a name. However, despite the differences between individuals, there are a few common elements that define a true synesthetic experience.
- It is involuntary and automatic
- The perceptions often have a sense of location
- They are consistent and generic
- The experience is highly memorable and in most cases pleasurable
- They are loaded with affect.
Researchers using X as the inducer and Y as the concurrent, or additional experience, identify various forms of Synesthesia. Some of them take a little explaining.
Grapheme → color synesthesia
Is one of the most common forms of synesthesia, where individual letters of the alphabet and numbers (collectively referred to as graphemes), are “shaded” or “tinged” with a
Spatial Sequence Synesthesia
A special form of the condition, in which people tend to see all numerical sequences they come across as points in space. For instance, the number 1 might be farther away and the number 2 might be closer. A new study shows that those with SSS have superior memories. They were able to recall past events and memories far better, and in far greater detail than those without the condition.[
Sound → color synesthesia
Sound → color synesthesia, or chromesthesia is “something like fireworks”: voice, music, and assorted environmental sounds such as clattering dishes or dog barks trigger color and firework shapes that arise, move around, and then fade when the sound ends
Individuals rarely agree on what color a given sound is (composers Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov famously disagreed on the colors of music keys); however, synesthetes show the same trends as non-synesthetes do. For example, both groups say that loud tones are brighter than soft tones, and that lower tones are darker than higher tones. Synaesthetes nevertheless choose more precise colors than non-synesthetes and are more consistent in their choice of colors given a set of sounds of varying pitch, timbre and composition
Ordinal-linguistic personification (OLP, or personification for short) is a form of synesthesia in which ordered sequences, such as ordinal numbers, days, months and letters are associated with personalities. Although this form of synesthesia was documented as early as the 1890s modern research has, until recently, paid little attention.
For some people objects are also sometimes imbued with a sense of personality.
Lexical → gustatory synesthesia
In the rare lexical → gustatory synesthesia, individual words and the sounds of spoken language evoke taste sensations in the mouth. According to James Wannerton, “Whenever I hear, read, or articulate (inner speech) words or word sounds, I experience an immediate and involuntary taste sensation on my tongue. These very specific taste associations never change and have remained the same for as long as I can remember.”
More a part of our culture than one may realize, sayings like “loud Shirt,” “Bitter Wind,” “Prickly Laugh,” “Green with Envy,” all have their roots in synesthesia while some notable Synesthetes include David Hockney, Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman, Duke Ellington and maybe even you.