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Synesthesia (or how I see it: Synesthesia)

Synesthesia (syn -joined, aethesia -sense) is a neurological rarity in which two or more senses are connected.  For example, music might be "seen" in colours and patterns, or taste may be seen in shapes, letters and numbers may have textures, etc.  These associations are present  from as early as the synesthete can remember, or from the first time the stimuli was presented, for example the first time they smelled cinnamon or when they first learned the alphabet.

I have had this "condition" all of my life, though I have just been recently acquainted with the term synesthesia.  I told a friend about my association of letters, numbers and shapes (geometric and solid) with certain colours, and how I see a page in a book as both text and a wonderful blend of colours (to see how I see graphemes, numbers and shapes: click here).  He noticed the term "synesthesia" in a magazine and told me about it, and when I looked it up on the web, it was a bit like finding a long lost friend.  I never thought that it was unusual that I have this blend of colour superimposed on all of the letters I saw, or that I could "touch" various textures when I heard certain sounds - until of course I mentioned it to other people who could not understand it.   I know that as a child, I found it frustrating that certain fridge magnet letters, building block letters or signs had letters or numbers on them with the "wrong colour" - I cannot tell you why this is, it is just there.  I enjoy looking at a page and seeing the colours of shapes and letters, and it makes writing, spelling, memorizing certain things and developing unusual mnemonic memory aids very easy and enjoyable in some instances.

Current study of synesthesia says that anywhere from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 25,000 people have this condition.  It occurs predominantly in left-handed females, is associated with poor spatial recognition and sense of direction, weak math skills, strong memorization ability and exceptional ability in music, art, poetry and the like.  I was interested to see that many of the people who have this condition have perfect pitch.  In many of the cases of males who have this condition, none of them report weak ability in math (quite the opposite).  I am right handed, a male, who has no trouble with mathematics, and is fascinated by aspects of symmetry and spatial relations.  I do not have perfect pitch, but I can play most music by ear without any difficulty, and tune a guitar in about 30 seconds or so without a tuner.  Colours are truly fascinating for me, though I cannot say I have any sense for what colours to wear at the same time (just ask my friends!)

I have recently found many other people who have many of the same polymodal sensations that I do.  I would suggest visiting some of the links below that better outline all of the various types of synethesia, and many personal accounts from other synesthetes!

Links

Research Pages

Richard E. Cytowic, M.D.
Sam Scott's Synesthesia Page at Carleton
Macalester University
Trends in Synesthetically Colored Graphemes and Phonemes
University of Waterloo Synesthesia Page
Noam Sagiv's Page, Berkeley

Personal Pages

Synesthesia Resource Page and Webring Home Page
Sarah's Synesthesia Page
Cassidy Curtis' Letter-Colour Synesthesia
Carrie's Synesthesia Page
Elizabeth Pector's Page
Cretien van Campen's Site on Synesthesia and Art

Articles

Financial Times, January 6, 2001
CNN, November 25, 1995
Discover, December 1999

Organizations

Synesthesia Web Ring
International Synesthesia Association
American Synethesia Association

Last updated Tuesday June 28, 2005
Copyright Rob Schurko, 2002-2005