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The world of synethesia

Updated on March 23, 2011

Our brain is a highly complex organ. It is specialized for a number of functions, perceptions, emotions, thinking and processes which make it a completely unique and fabulous entity in itself. We have certain areas of the brain that have specialized functions such as seeing, feeling, hearing, thinking and more. What if however when you could see normal alphabets and numbers they would glow with a certain aura about them? What if certain flavors had a sound and what if you found that numbers you perceive had more than the immediate meaning wherein they had spatial locations that you associate with. There are chances that you could be experiencing a neurological condition called synesthesia. Don’t get scared when you hear such a fancy word and neurological in the same line, it’s not a disease. Rather it’s a difference in the way your brain is wired allowing you to perceive things in greater depth and uses multiple senses where people normally would perceive with just one.

Synesthetes as such people are called by the scientific world experience mixed sensations when they experience the world around them. A stimulus in a single modality ends up evoking sensations in another one, for example seeing an alphabet may involve in it being a certain color such as A being brown, or B being yellow. Estimates say that 1 in 200 individuals experience this condition either at birth or due to some accident or any other causes.

A commonly occurring type of synesthesia is grapheme color synesthesia wherein people associate certain colors to letters of the alphabet, numbers, etc and have a spatial location for days of the week, years and months. Synesthesia is not something voluntary, it is as natural as breathing for these people to see and perceive on different levels. There have been incidents of synesthetic experiences occurring under the influence of psychedelic drugs, after stroke, during a temporal lobe seizure and more but it is also seen to be an inherited condition in many cases. Synesthesia has a strong affect on behavioral consequences such as creativity, expression of the world in art forms, writing and other attempts to capture this experience.

The world as experienced by synesthetes is so much more richer and laden with color, sounds and other perceptions that are consistent and generic in majority of the cases and it is quite a memorable experience which may be projected outside the self or may not involve an externalization of what sensation is experienced. Scientists have classified such individuals as being localized and non localized synesthetes. Synesthetes do not feel overwhelmed or feel like they are handicapped, rather they feel like they possess a sort of ‘sixth sense’ enabling them to apply it to so many activities and make their lives all the mre richer.

The intensity and awareness of this experience varies in individuals and may even involve personification of numbers or days. Statements like 9 evokes a dark feeling 4 is crabby but a gentleman is not uncommon in the world of synesthetes and many have used their extra perceptions to learn better and perform better in their chosen fields. There may also be a stronger activation of sensations due to certain sounds differing in pitch or even due to some color that is darker or brighter o account of being a vowel and so on. Music can have colors streaming or a note or a certain instrument of song can hold other sensations for the synesthetic individual.

We still don’t know how our brain processes information that we see and integrates all that is perceived into a complete object with color, smell, texture, movement and any other characteristics it may possess. Synesthetes in addition to all that is normally perceived have a whole other dimension of sensations to add and understanding this could offer valuable clues to how we perceive our world and integrate concepts through our perceptions.Synesthesia is definitely different from a drug trip or an LSD experience in that it is limited and not as rich as natural synesthesia.


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