WELL BEING: Synesthesia

18 Jul

Hello.  My name is Lynn and I am a synesthete.

What is synesthesia?

Simply put, it is a rare neurological condition where the senses blend.

Some call it a dis-order but ultimately, as children, synesthetes are prone to over-order.  Making synaptic connections through the senses and information available, their feelings and knowledge create neural pathways where the senses bleed into each other.

For example, by the age of 5, I recognized numbers as colors.  This complicated basic education because in my mind I saw a color chart that had specific numeric values.  I still have trouble reading clocks of any kind.  To this day, when I ask what time it is, I would better understand if you said “red white yellow” instead of 5:02.

If doing taxes were not daunting enough, try assigning financial value to all the colors.  It’s a complex business.  And airports are stressful enough without having to decifer time, gate numbers and flight numbers.  Airports are where I would most like to see a synesthete based system where there are color codes beside numbers or perhaps colored numbers.  Ahh.. but then, most synesthetes do not share the same color-number combinations.

 “Most people experience the sensory world as a place of orderly segregation.  Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are distinct and separate: A Beethoven symphony is not pink and azure; the name Angela does not taste like creamed spinach.  Yet there are those for whom these basic rules of the senses do not seem to apply.  They have a rare condition called Synesthesia, in which the customary boundaries between the senses appear to break down, sight mingling with sound, or taste with touch.”  New York Times 1999

It is true, everything animate or inanimate has a feeling for synesthetes.  Some folks have color connection with the alphabet.  For me, there are word-color combinations or an entire sentence will take on a colorway.

Stimulation of a single sensory or neural pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second and occasionally third sense or cognitive pathway.

Which explains why every food I eat or smell is associated with a sound or type of music.  And by the same token, I experience sound as taste.  When I see chocolate ice cream, I always hear a random pop song and when I’m eating Italian food it is ever intertwined with classical music and the opera.

While not listed in Wikipedia’s “List of People with Synesthesia”, Vincent van Gogh and Albert Einstein were both synesthetes in terms of how they described colors as feelings and numbers as tones.

“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics.  I can assure you mine are still greater.”  Albert Einstein

Synesthesia also shows up in terms of time.  I can fast-forward or rewind to certain places and conversations, blocks of time.  This makes living with a daily schedule a constant creative process.  Sound and light cues make more sense than clocks or times written on a schedule.

Perhaps someone you know and love is struggling in school or with basic expression.  This may be a good time to have some standardized testing done.

As a child, I certainly had no idea I was a synesthete.  There was no way for me to explain it since I assumed everyone was pre-programmed to see the same colors, hear the same sounds, feel the same feelings and taste the same nuances.  In school, anytime I called a number by a color, it was often excused by the school teacher as confusion but it made perfect sense to me.

It may seem impossible to diagnose synesthesia, after all it is a condition defined by subjective sensory experiences rather than an obvious physical condition like a broken bone or a blood sugar imbalance with clearly observable symptoms.  However, synesthesia is a real condition, and effective sets of objective diagnostic criteria, as well as objective tests, have been developed for its diagnosis.

For testing and more information, please visit www.Synesthete.org

3 Responses to “WELL BEING: Synesthesia”

  1. Guadalupe December 18, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    As a synesthete myself, I am surprised that this article has been up for so long and not received any feedback! I find the way that you put it rather straightforward and clear enough that normal people will understand, and it is VERY difficult to explain this to non-synesthetes. A+ work!


    • Lynn Van Noy July 15, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      Thanks @guadalupe! Nice to meet someone who gets it. 😉


  2. Courage, clarity, confidence February 6, 2015 at 3:21 am #

    Was Einstein really a synesthete? Good to know we’re in good company 🙂


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