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Last updated 09-03-02

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What is Synaesthesia, really?

Well, synaesthesia is the combining of the senses.  For instance, people with synaesthesia are able to "see" sounds,  "hear" colors or geometric shapes, "taste" colors or geometric shapes, "feel" colors or sounds, etc.  Most synaesthetes (like me!)  have chromasthesia, where numbers and letters of the alphabet have specific colors, genders, personalities, and textures.   The thing about synaesthesia is that it is a constant throughout the lives of those with this condition.  Such as, if the number "5" is yellow, then it has always been yellow from since they can remember and any other color associated with that number seems "wrong" somehow. 

There are two ways synaesthesia can be perceived.  The first is externally; the perceptions are viewed in 3 dimensional space as if it is projected inches or feet in front of them.   The second is internally;  the perceptions are only viewed within the mind of the synaesthete and are not projected outward. 
For example, a person who sees this:  1345287; may view it as: 1345287.  Whether the numbers on the paper actually look like those colors, or it's just an impression of a color in their head when they think of them, that is chromasthesia.  Likewise, the sound of a flute might always look like blue-purple feathery ripples whenever they hear it, or the taste of an orange elicits the image of gray inter-linked circles in motion.  There are various different types and all synaesthetes perceive things in their own unique way. 

Some common traits of synaesthesia are as follows:

  1. Found predominantly in woman.  The reason for this is because it seems the syn "gene" is carried through the X chromosome.  However, there are male synaesthetes.
  2. Usually left-handed.  Why?  Not quite sure.  It seems as if most synaesthetes are left-handed, though there are some right-handed as well.
  3. Muddled when it comes to a sense of direction.  Such as, the direction they are facing does not come automatically, (i.e.; North, South, East, West).
  4. Often confuse their left-hand from their right-hand.  Who knows why?
  5. Lack significant ability in mathematics.   For some reason, any mathematics beyond basic algebra is incomprehensible.

Now, these are just some common traits.  This does not mean that, for example, if you rot at math, you have synaesthesia.  Or, even the opposite, if you excel in math that you don't have synaesthesia.  These are just attributes that are common amongst those with this condition. 

I'll end with this food for thought that has absolutely nothing to do with synaesthesia but I thought it sounded appropriate:

"Without words to objectify and categorize our sensations and place them in relation to one another, we cannot evolve a tradition of what is real in the world."
-- Ruth Hubbard
(b. 1924), U.S. biologist. "Have Only Men Evolved?," in Women Look at Biology Looking at Women