What is Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a inter-connection, multi-connection in the neurological system, between at least two senses. The stimulation of one Sense or Cognitive pathway will trigger a second sense or Cognitive pathway. One thing that sets a synesthete apart from a non-synesthete. Is that these connections are made involuntarily. Thus its not a post-process of reasoning or post-analysis, the same as saying that it is not only a cognitive process.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which certain stimuli affect more than one sense. There are numerous types of synesthesia, each referring to a different set of senses and stimuli.

So you could see the color red (via your sense of vision) but also taste or smell it. You could hear music while also seeing different notes as various colors. You may even be able to “taste” various textures.

There are no rules about what smells, colors, or tastes are associated with something. So the letter S could be magenta and have the taste of ice cream.

Types of Synesthesia

As for now there are 9 major categories for Synesthesia known to researchers. Those more studied consist of Color SynesthesiaChromesthesiaSpatial SequenceNumber FormAuditory-TactileOrdinal Linguistic PersonificationMisophoniaMirror-TouchLexical-Gustatory. There are more forms not indexed yet with a name/category.

Lets get started from the most “common” types of synesthesia making our way to the most rare.

Color Synesthesia

Known as the most common type it is characterized for the association of a color with a number/letter. I.e. 6 is yellow, Z is blue. It can work in both ways. Color brings the number, number brings the color to the minds-eye.

Chromesthesia

Is the connection between sound and color. One sound can trigger a color in the minds-eye. The cracking sound of a fire camp can be white.

Spatial Sequence Synesthesia (SSS)

Those with SSS can see sequences of numbers in space. Those that have it usually have an enhanced memory, because the relation of numbers with spaces creates a more detailed picture for recalling events.

Number Form

Number form is the ability to see numbers in space as part of a mental map or projection, when the synesthete thinks about numbers or involuntary stimuli brings it to action. Check it here for the short video simulation.

Auditory-tactile

This type is known for triggering a sensation in the body when hearing specific sounds.

Ordinal Linguistic Personification

Is a form of synesthesia in which ordered sequences, numbers, days, months or letters are associated with personalities. This is one of the types that wasn’t taken very much into account by the scientific community as of yet.

Misophonia (sound-emotion)

Is a negative reaction such as anger or repulse to a sound. This is still to be confirmed as being directly connected with synesthesia, therefor its possible that it could be a different neurological field. Results similar to these ones where achieved through experiments (Little Albert) on babies in the 20’s. Not to directly compare the two, but negative reactions to one stimuli may come from trauma induced events rather then connected with synesthesia. Synesthesia for all we know is involuntary.

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Mirror-Touch

So it seems to be pretty cool to have some kind of Synesthesia, it seems to be fun and colorful! Right? Well, yes!

Im not so sure you’re gonna like this next one. Mirror-touch is a rare condition of a synesthete. Mirror-touch, sounds like a projection of some sort of you into something else, a mirror is just the analogy implied right? OK. Imagine you have that Mirror-touch, bam! Now this is what happens: You feel whatever is happening to someone that you’re looking at. You feel it, some say, not with the same intensity as the individual in front of you. But you do feel some sort of mirror effect.

Mirror-touch is one of the most interesting types of synesthesia. People who have it describe it has feeling someone else’s sensations. Like there as a mimic of senses just by observing someone. I.e. A synesthete looking at someone pinching they’re arm will feel it as well. This induced sensation by observing is for all we know intensely related with the part of the brain that is responsible for empathy. The ones who have it, have an exponential over developed feeling/sensitivity.

Experiments have been made and it does happen that someone will feel shoulder taps, or scratching skin, just by looking at the person that is doing these gestures to himself. What we know for now is that this “ability” is connected greatly with the feeling of empathy. Obviously, feeling empathy to a level most of us don’t reach. Maybe the world would be different if we were all Mirror-touching each other.

Anyway this is insane! Can’t stress this enough. Now you just have to think about TV, movies, reality basically, outside world. If this isn’t superpowers I’m not sure what is.

Lexical-gustatory

The example of this type coincides, not by chance, with the title of the documentary that I’ll share with you next. It is defined by the connection between taste and words. Where a name like Derek might trigger the taste of earwax. This is a very rare one, but featured in this next video. Check the article where we talk about rare types of Synesthesia.

Imagine you taste waffles every time you hear “basketball”? This one is called Lexical-gustatoryThis condition is used as an argument for the documentary “Derek Tastes of Ear Wax”. You can find the link to IMDB at the bottom and here’s a preview of a short movie directed by Terri Timely. Also if you want to know more i highly advise the viewing of the documentary, also a link down there.

Can I experience Synesthesia in sound or visually?

After reading about what Synesthesia is, and what it can look like, smelling music and tasting color, some of us, maybe, want to try it. Sorry! I mean where is it?! Even though the idea is somewhat far fetched it poses the question. Can we?

Well turns out its not replicable like that. Although maybe we have to turn to what Synesthesia brought to the field of arts. Im not only talking about the synesthetes that had it, like Kandinsky or Hockney. Perception is something that can be influenced by a combination of multimedia. And the research around Synesthesia made possible for artists to explore a combination of media.

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If you think again, your iTunes plays a song, and with it, it can show a visualization of that music. That is somehow already the Synesthesia effect, just more elaborated. Visual music or music visualization is already something we see when we go to a big band gig. Kraftwerk or something like Muse will have a multimedia experience for you. (How did i write Kraftwerk and Muse on the same sentence? Oh well!) So i mean, you can be sad that you will not to see through a synesthete’s eyes but the entertainment industry is already taking us there. Actually these experience should be called Super-Synesthesias, because they can be  quite intense.

If you want to get more into it, and find the starting point of Synesthesia in the art world. Be sure to check the work of Kandinsky if you don’t know his paintings, after talking about synesthesia, his world will make a lot more sense. Check Mondrian (not a synesthete) that also experimented with image/music/rhythm. Xenakis a musical composer that drew structures and shapes in music sheets. If you want to go contemporary, check the work of Carol Steen and Marcia Smilack (an artist that waits until she gets a synesthetic response from what she sees and then takes the photograph).

Synesthesia! Mask? Can you experience Synesthesia now?

Stevie Wonder has it, Billy Joel also, and the list of artists that have it or at some point felt colors through sound and other mixed senses, that list, is a very famous one. And beyond fame cause that’s not the point, comes the quality these artists deliver to us. Now there’s word out there saying that you can have synesthesia or in other words recreate it.

Lets see Synesthesia is a natural cognitive brain condition, therefore you cannot just have it as you cannot change the color of your eyes (unless you can and then please teach me how). Nevertheless there comes an inventor that wants to recreate the feeling of Synesthesia, in this case related to the sense of smell.

So he came up with this Synesthesia Mask that seems to come out of a science fiction movie. The mask analyses through the palm of your hand the surfaces and the helmet has a mechanism that recreates a smell depending on the color of the surface. The idea came from connecting with a fellow synesthete and the attempt to better understand how can it be like. See for yourself.

Synesthetes explain Synesthesia on Youtube

After all the documentaries we can see, going from the scientific perspective to the TEDx animations about Synesthesia, now its time for Synesthete’s to explain what they have! By their own words. Have fun watching!

otterborealis

Numberphile

This last one is a mix between a Synesthete feedback on Synesthesia as well as scientific definition and research about what it is, where it comes from, etc. Hope you enjoyed it! I didn’t included all of them, cause a lot of them go around explaining the same types of synesthesia or just reiterate what other videos here talk about!

There’s also some updates in this next article, be sure to check them out!

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