3. Synesthesia

Could you imagine what it would be like to taste a shape, to hear a colour or to see a sound? In fact we do it all the time. We use metaphor and analogy across the senses to describe everything from food and wine to art and music. But supposing it wasn't just imagining, but real experience and that every time you tasted mint you could actually see and feel a smooth cold cylinder of glass. This condition is called synesthesia.

Meanwhile the word “anaesthesia” means no sensation, “synesthesia” means joined sensation. And what is joined is two, three, or all five senses together. Synesthesia is not just something that it can be hear, but also something that can be see, or smell, or touch.

Music for example is not just a sound and a melody, but it's like visual fireworks that can be seen on a little screen, in the mind’s eye, in a sort of a TV analogy.

Synesthesia is fairly rare; it happens in about one in 25,000 individuals world-wide. It occurs in women more than men; women are twice as likely to be synesthetic than men, and it also runs in families. So most synesthetes are surprised to discover as children that their playmates and families don't perceive the world in the same way.

This is a holistic conscious awareness in that a sound is not just a sound but it's also a taste, and a shape, and movement, and a location in space, and a colour. Whereas for most of us, it's just a sound.

That synesthesia, far from being a bizarre and incredible kind of LSD experience, is actually a slice of perception, and is normal. All of us are synesthetic, however in most of us, this holistic way of perceiving the world never comes to conscious awareness.

 

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