I’ve always been sort of fascinated by synthesia. A brain with a predilection to mix colors and letters and days and feelings and smells sounds kinda trippy. I’ve always thought (and I think I may have read somewhere) that it seems like a very rich way to experience life. I mean, confusion is orange? I don’t even have a way to relate to what that means, except through certain experiences from my college days. A recent web article writes about synthesia and some current theories (they still don’t really know what causes it). One interesting theory
All of us are able to perceive the world as a unified whole because there is a complex interaction between the senses in the brain, the thinking goes. Ordinarily, these interconnections are not explicitly experienced, but in the brains of synesthetes, “those connections are ‘unmasked’ and can enter conscious awareness,” said Megan Steven, a neuroscientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Because this unmasking theory relies on neural connections everyone has, it may explain why certain drugs, like LSD or mescaline, can induce synesthesia in some individuals.
One thing I’m curious about is how different (and how similar) the experiences of different “synthetes” is. The article mentions this a little bit. For example, a lot of synthetes associate colors with letters. But for some, they see the color in their minds’ eye. Others see the color sort of painted onto the physical letter. One synthete responded via a comment to the article above that the colors he sees associated with letters are completely different from those for others.
One synthete writes:
Not only do the colors vary from person to person, but the associations too. I see not only colors for letters and numbers, but gender too, which isn’t something I’ve seen discussed in articles like these. The letter “A” is not only red for me, but also very strongly female. Also, I see the year as a kind of pie chart around me (its orientation is synchronous), and numbers, especially the first 10 integers, have a very particular spacial position.
And another replies:
For me the colour is only the start – there’s a whole complex series of moods and associations that follow on from the first ‘hit’ of colour. This is particularly strong with peoples names.
An additional observation – often the colour of the word id bizarrely out of whack with the real colour of the object. So, for me, ‘tree’ has no trace of green or brown or any other ‘tree’ colour – it’s a soft grey, fading to creamy yellow at the end.
Interesting stuff, but hard (though not impossible) to study, being based on subjective experience.