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  • Emily Oh

Synesthesia: Everyday Fantasia

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

by Emily Oh


Suppose that you taste raspberry sorbet everytime you see a city’s skyline. Perhaps you are entirely convinced that Fridays are butterscotch yellow with a tinge of green, or that Erik Satie's Gymnopédies No. 1 exudes the ambrosial scent of fresh rain. If you are familiar with such experiences, you may have synesthesia.

Synesthesia, a term originating from the Greek words “syn” (together) and “aisthesis” (perception), is a perceptual phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway, such as hearing, is simultaneously perceived with one or more sensory pathways, such as sight, taste, smell, or touch. Various forms of this condition exist: grapheme-color synesthesia results in the involuntary coupling of objects such as letters, shapes, names, and numbers with colors, whereas other forms combine such objects with sensory perceptions such as smell or flavor. These synesthetic perceptions are specific to each synesthete—an individual who reports a lifelong history of experiences as such—as any combination of the sense is possible, resulting in incredibly dissimilar perceptions: one synesthete may consider the letter “e” grey whereas another may consider “e” orange.

Just as a seemingly never-ending range of perceptions exist, any combination of the senses is possible: some synesthetes hear sounds in response to smell, some smell in response to touch, and some taste in response to touch. While some synesthetes possess synesthesia involving three or more senses, such cases are extremely rare. Yet, with estimates for individuals affected by this condition ranging from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000, it is hard to determine whether or not it is relatively common. Such a ridiculously large range of the number of affected individuals is reflective of the fairly limited nature of the research that has been conducted on the phenomenon thus far: an official of method of diagnosing synesthesia has yet to be established, and the neural and biological basis of synesthesia has yet to be confirmed. However, research largely confirms that synesthesia results from a "crossed-wiring" of the brain in which neurons and synapses meant to be contained within one sensory system cross to another sensory system.

Although further research into the condition as a whole is necessary to confirm such conclusions, one thing is certain: no experience or concept is the same for those with synesthesia. Regardless of whether they perceive 5 as seafoam green or dark violet or smell and taste danish pastries everytime they hear someone playing the violin, synesthetes have the ability to transform ordinary objects and concepts into unique, colorful, and tangible forms, just as each view through a kaleidoscope offers a unique sight of an arrangement of crystals and colors.


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