Synesthesia: have you ever perceived two senses at once?


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Synesthesia: have you ever perceived two senses at once?


One of my favorite shows of all time is Heroes. I think it is safe to say a lot of us are obsessed or at least intrigued by the supernatural and unknown, and in the show humans just like us begin to develop super-human powers like flight, strength, and of course the cheerleader who cannot be killed. In the final season of the show a deaf character named Emma begins to see sounds instead of hear them (see picture), Emma attempts to explain this to a doctor one day and the condition of synesthesia is suggested- it turns out this is a real thing...and some people actually have it.


Emmasynesthesia406.jpg

http://cymatica.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Emmasynesthesia406.jpg


The word synesthesia is derived from two Greek words: "syn" and "aisthesis", syn means together and aisthesis means perception...thus synesthesia means "joined perception." This perception have been seen in cases in which one sense is perceived at the same time as another...so people can be like Emma and see sounds. The most common and reported form of synesthesia is seeing words, letters, and numbers in colored form. (http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html)


This phenomenon has an unknown origin, but I think it is pretty crazy, or are those diagnosed the crazy ones? I'm sure that in the beginning, they were thought to be crazy, but it turns out there is a biological basis for this conditions: it is thought by some scientific minds that the sensory system in our brains can cross, they are not sure why this happens- but synesthesia may be the result.


The limbic system of the brain is said to be the "emotional brain," but Richard Cytowic's research suggests that it is the main source of synesthesia, perhaps connecting our emotions with a certain sense and therefore reacting to it?


I don't know if this is plausible, and even after reading about this I was unsure about what to believe. I came across the American Synesthesia Association, Inc (http://www.synesthesia.info/aboutus.html), and their "about us" page claims that "synesthesia has been known for the past 300 years, it is only in the last two decades or so that it has been seriously studied by scientists. Two developments have greatly contributed to this greater awareness and attention to synesthesia: the development and use of fMRI scans, and the Internet. The use of fMRI scans have launched numerous scientific studies worldwide, and the Internet has permitted synesthetes, for the first time in history, to learn more about their abilities and to be in touch with one another."


If claims have been made for 300 years, is synesthesia suffering from the file-drawer problem? It was difficult for me to find studies and scientists interested in this topic, but I find it fascinating. The American Psychological Association published an article (http://www.apa.org/monitor/mar01/synesthesia.aspx) "Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia," and fantasia is what I imagine synesthesia to be like. The article starts off with scenarios like tasting a food and seeing a color. It also states that this is an unknown condition because many people who have this condition fear ridicule for it. Some report sensory overload and perhaps this over-stimulation of their senses and brain causes even more distress and fear that their condition is rare and should be kept secret.


The American Psychological Association references a Yale psychologist named Larry Marks who, in 1975, published a review briefing people on the history of synesthesia, and following this was the previously talked about research by Richard E Cytowic, the neurologist who believes synesthesia is linked to the limbic system and our emotions. There have been a few scientists in different fields to touch upon this topic but because of its privacy and ambiguity, it is difficult to be certain of origin and treatment, if there is any available.


The origin in uncertain, and all require future testing, the article states.


To psychologists, however, there is more than just the science behind this condition to study because synesthesia surrounds perception, cognition, and emotion. It seems all types of scientists and scholars are interested in this, is there a genetic root? How do you differentiate between a synesthesic and someone with a mental illness? These are all interesting questions that come about in my mind but also the mind of published professionals who want to know more.



3 Comments

This is incredible! I had actually never heard about this (or ever watched the show Heroes before) but I liked how I learned something new from your post. If you were to do a test to find the origin, what would you create? Also, after reading your post I decided to do a bit of research myself and came up with this article which you might want to take a look at. http://web.mit.edu/synesthesia/www/

This article coming out of MIT brought up an interesting point which I think touches on the phenomena; the fact that synesthesia should not have happened due to the fact that the human brain was evolutionarily created with a function that increases the separation of function anatomically.

This is incredible! I had actually never heard about this (or ever watched the show Heroes before) but I liked how I learned something new from your post. If you were to do a test to find the origin, what would you create? Also, after reading your post I decided to do a bit of research myself and came up with this article which you might want to take a look at. http://web.mit.edu/synesthesia/www/

This article coming out of MIT brought up an interesting point which I think touches on the phenomena; the fact that synesthesia should not have happened due to the fact that the human brain was evolutionarily created with a function that increases the separation of function anatomically.

I think that synesthesia is a pretty cool condition. It reminds me of the time that one of my friends was in my dorm, and I had some blueberry-pomegranate Gatorade. He took one sip of it, said, "This tastes like blue!" and giggled about it for the rest of the night. Granted, he was under the influence of 'shrooms, which makes me wonder if certain drugs that alter your psychological state of being can give you a mild form of synesthesia? Also, is synesthesia more common in people who are colorblind?

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