We are constantly being bombarded with some pretty intense stimuli from the world around us. Especially due to the connections, we reach in a fraction of a second via our smartphones and electronic devices. The world moves fast. So, to keep up with it, so do our minds. We see images and hear sounds and use our 5 senses to make sense of the world around us.
But what do you do when your senses give you way more feedback then you asked for? What if you find out you can taste words and see symphonies of sounds all at once?
If you relate to this bizarre description, you have what the American Psychological Association calls, Synesthesia.
Synesthesia as per the APA, is derived from Greek words which mean, “to perceive together” and this comes in many varieties.” Some synesthetes hear, smell, taste or feel pain in color. Others taste shapes, and still, others perceive written digits, letters and words in color. Some, who possess what researchers call “conceptual synesthesia,” see abstract concepts, such as units of time or mathematical operations, as shapes projected either internally or in the space around them. And many synesthetes experience more than one form of the condition.”
It is a neurological condition that affects the brain in a way that people who are diagnosed with it process data by experiencing it through more than one sense at a time. The disorder is, however, quite uncommon affecting about 1 in 2000 people worldwide as per the APA.
It is also said to be found more among women than men and even more so in individuals who are in some sort of artistic profession, for example, hit British singer Lorde, Marilyn Monroe, Vincent Van Gogh, and even Pharrell Williams. Although it is generally thought to be a genetic disposition, as technology advances scientists and researchers are getting closer to finding out the actual cause of this condition. As it is so rare, it is also misunderstood and misdiagnosed, with synesthetes usually being reprimanded for experiencing reality differently.
However, according to Ph.D. and synesthesia researcher, Simon Baron-Cohen,
“If you ask synesthetes if they’d wish to be rid of it, they almost always say no. For them, it feels like that’s what normal experience is like. To have that taken away would make them feel like they were being deprived of one sense.”
The most common type of the condition is known as Grapheme-colour Synesthesia which makes letters and numbers appear colored in the synesthete’s mind or even on paper. However, there are reportedly around 60 different kinds of condition known to exist. Some of which include, feeling pain through colors, lexical-gustatory synesthesia where words are perceived as tastes, time-space synesthesia where time is perceived as being a physical entity and many others.
Although it is quite hard to diagnose, people with the disorder usually show one or more of these symptoms as stated by Live Science,
“Involuntarily experience their perceptions.
Project sensations outside the mind, such as seeing colors floating through the air when they hear sounds.
Have a perception that is the same each time.
Have a perception that is generic, such as seeing a shape in response to a certain smell, but not seeing something more complex.
Remember the secondary synesthetic perception better than the primary perception.
Have emotional reactions such as pleasurable feelings linked to their perceptions.”