Have You Ever Wondered What The Color Blue Tastes Like?


Believe it or not, there are people who can answer that question. They're called synesthetes, and they possess what is perhaps one of the strangest medical anomalies known to man. Synesthesia, as it's called, is "a perpetual condition of mixed sensations: a stimulus in one sensory function causes an involuntary sensation or experience in another modality". In layman's terms, when a synesthete hears, sees, smells, touches, or tastes something, they will experience a simultaneous sensation in another sensory location. For example, one's synesthesia may create an involuntary connection between hearing and sight. That person would perhaps then see colors in coordination with music that is being played.

The disease itself has baffled scientists for many years, and was only recently recognized as an actual phenomenon, rather than a product of overactive imaginations or a sign of mental illness. While it is clear that there are neurological bases to the condition, the exact cause remains a mystery. According to one idea, irregular sprouting of new neural connections within the brain may lead to a breakdown of the boundaries that normally exist between the senses. Researchers at Imperial College London seem to think differently, however. They claim that the disease is actually genetic, and therefore passed down through generations of families. To test their hypothesis, they collected DNA from 196 people from 43 families in which there were multiple members with synesthesia. While there are believed to be over 60 variations of the disease, the researchers looked exclusively at auditory-visual synesthesia - the kind where sound triggers color. To their surprise, they discovered that the condition was linked to regions on chromosomes 2, 5, 6, and 12, not just to one single chromosome. As could be expected, this means that the genetics behind this remarkable disease are far more complex than previously thought.

Synesthesia is not a phenomenon that manifests itself in one way, as it involves many different parts of the human brain. It can occur between any two senses or perceptual modes, and can range from tasting colors to smelling sounds. While there are tens of logically possible combinations for synesthesia variations, there are several types that occur most commonly:

  • Grapheme-Color: one of the most common types; a person who experiences this may associate/see individual letters or numbers with a specific color
  • Sound-to-Color: when sound triggers the visualization of colored, generic shapes; can be limited to certain stimuli
  • Personification: known as ordinal-linguistic personification; an individual who experiences this will associate ordered sequences with various personalities (i.e. the letter "A" is a rude letter)
  • Lexical-Gustatory: one of the more rare types; a person who experiences this evokes different kinds of tastes when they hear certain words or phrases

So as it currently stands, I find myself somewhere in between really wanting this disease and having a great deal of sympathy for those afflicted with it. A more childish part of me wants to believe that it would be an exceptional experience, however the realist in me soon pipes in and reminds me that it would only be fun in short increments, and that those who actually have this disease have no control over it whatsoever. Either way, this is certainly an extraordinary and fascinating condition of the mind. What do you all think? How would you feel about being a synesthete?

Synesthesia is not a phenomenon that manifests itself in one way. In fact, synesthesia can manifest itself in many different forms, as it involves different parts of the human brain. - See more at: http://www.synesthesiatest.org/types-of-synesthesia#sthash.Q9vQubHM.dpuf

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