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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Can You Hear that Color?

Have you ever heard of synesthesia?  It is an accident of nature that would be fun to have.

Synesthesia is when two different senses are abnormally joined.  For instance, some synesthetes always see a certain color when they hear a certain musical note.  The most common form is colored numbers or letters, but any combination is possible.  There is a report of one man who tasted chocolate when he said his wife's name.  Another man claims that cucumbers taste pink.

Every synesthete experiences things uniquely.  For instance, one who sees an A major chord as purple, always sees it as purple.  But another might see that sound as yellow.

"I could never figure out why I was such a poor student at Math, until I received a 32 color pen for a present. FINALLY NUMBERS WERE THE RIGHT COLOR, 2 was yellow, 3 was green, 4 was orange, 5 was red, and so on. My teacher thought I was nutty, but when she invested in colored chalk, my Math scores SOARED... she just had to get the colors right. Oddly another student and I got into a fist-fight because he thought 3 should be blue, and 8 should be green... I won, and I made him cry, too..."

Estimates of the frequency of synesthesia range from 1 in 250,000 to 1 in 2,000.  Some famous people have this condition.  Most seem to be creative, such as musicians and artists.
Leonard Bernstein
Duke Ellington
Billy Joel
Stevie Wonder
Eddie Van Halen
Jimi Hendrix 
Frank Lloyd Wright
Victor Hugo 

Synesthetes tend to be:
Women: in the U.S., studies show that three times as many women as men have synesthesia; in the U.K., eight times as many women have been reported to have it. The reason for this difference is not known
Left-handed: synesthetes are more likely to be left-handed than the general population.
Neurologically normal: synesthetes are of normal (or possibly above average) intelligence, and standard neurological exams are normal.
In the same family: synesthesia appears to be inherited in some fashion; it seems to be a dominant trait and it may be on the X-chromosome.

The causes of synesthesia remain unknown. Some scientists have suggested that everyone is born synesthetic but that as the brain develops, the different areas become segregated.  It is not known why synesthetes retain these connections.  There might be a biological answer, because the condition tends to run in families.

For further reading, you might enjoy these books.
The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowi
Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia by Richard E. Cytowi

Now you have heard something interesting.

1 comment:

  1. "A Mango-Shaped Space" by Wendi Mass is a fiction book about a 13 year old who has Synesthesia. It was a very informative and enjoyable book. Very interesting condition!