Synesthesia – A Blessing And A Curse

Ever wonder what photosynthesis tastes like? Ever wonder what color the letter “E” is? What if you could see sound? What if words had a taste? People with synesthesia can answer these questions!

Synesthesia (sin – es – thee – sha) is a neurological phenomenon that is hypothesized to develop when a child is being introduced to new concepts such as the understanding of colors and words. Common forms are grapheme-color synesthesia and Chromesthesia, while more rare forms are Mirror-Touch synesthesia and Lexical-gustatory synesthesia.

Grapheme-color synesthesia is one of the most common forms of synesthesia, where certain letters and numbers (graphemes) are stated to be faintly shaded, or tinged, with color. It’s a more concrete version of associating certain colors with characters, although not everyone with grapheme-color synesthesia see letters and numbers as the same color. For example, one person could see the letter “A” as red, while another person could see it as yellow!

Speaking of colors, Chromesthesia is another common form of synesthesia involving color. In this case, certain sounds trigger someone to see a certain color. According to Richard Cytowic, an American neurologist who studied synesthesia(Look him up!), Chromesthesia is sort of like seeing a fireworks show. Sounds like voices, dishes crashing, and car horns may trigger “blasts” of colors. Chromesthesia is an advantage to some people, like musicians, because they can “see sound”.

A rare form of synesthesia is Mirror─Touch synesthesia. This case is the most interesting in my opinion; an individual can feel the sensations of an observed person, like touch. An example might be someone with Mirror-Touch synesthesia observing someone getting tapped on the shoulder. They too will feel a tap on their own shoulder, despite no one actually touching them!

Lexical-gustatory synesthesia is one of the rarer and most amazing types of synesthesia. This branch refers to tasting a certain thing when hearing a certain word! That’s right, people with lexical-gustatory synesthesia can taste words they hear. An example may be if they hear the word “jail”-some people with lexical-gustatory synesthesia reported that they taste cold, hard bacon when they hear the word. There is a documentary on this case of synesthesia, called “Derek Tastes of Earwax”, that refers to a man named James Wannerton who experiences tastes whenever he hears a name.

Synesthesia, of course, is more vast and interesting than just these four types. Much research has been done on this phenomenon over the years, and it would be impossible to cover all of them, some including spatial sequence and auditory-tactile synesthesia. If you want to learn more about it, you can just look up “synesthesia” in your browser, or check out these cool websites that cover the topic!

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