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Smell the Music

>> Monday, November 24, 2008

I called and dear Wendy over at COPD- Caregiving is NOT for Whimps! answered. Yesterday I mentioned that if there was a topic of interest you had, or any suggestions, let me know. Well, our friend Wendy said she wanted to know more about people who hear colors, smell touches, see music, etc., so here goes. This is a great topic!

The name of this condition is actually called Synesthesia. According to Dorland's Medical Dictionary, the definition is as follows:

synesthesia (sin″es-the´zhÓ™) a secondary sensation accompanying an actual perception; the experiencing of a sensation in one place, due to stimulation applied to another place; also, the condition in which a stimulus of one sense is perceived as sensation of a different sense, as when a sound produces a sensation of color.

This is a really technical definition so I will sum it up with a bit of inspiration from Ratatouille. This is a condition in which people cross their senses. In Ratatouille, Remy describes the flavors of food like sounds, bass notes and jazz influences. This is how people with synesthesia experience everything. If someone touches them, there may be a color associated with it. A sound may smell like something.

While many of us can perceive things in this manner, we are actively drawing comparisons between known senses and experiences. A true synesthetic has this happen involuntarily. If you had synesthesia and I told you my name, you may instantly think orange. Next time you saw me you would think orange before thinking Mimi.

fig. 1 A visual representation of how a certain synesthetic may see numbers or hear words.

This even goes as far as visuals and tastes. Imagine looking at a palm tree and tasting marshmallows. That is how crossed the senses are. It is estimated that most of the people with this condition are women and studies have it anywhere between 1 in 200 and 1 in 100,000. Not a lot of information is out there, but scientists are being forced to realize that this is real and it is not just "crazy" people who have it.

There is an older article on LiveScience about it. In it, they discuss how different people perceive things with this condition. Surprisingly, there is a Neuroscience For Kids (really?) site that has a lot of information as well. This kids' site has an experiment you can do to determine if you or any of your friends have synesthesia. It is really neat! I think I may try it at my next party. The experiment is as follows:
  1. Read a list of random numbers, days of the week, words, etc.
  2. Have everyone write down what color they associate with these.
  3. Collect and save answers and label "answers #1" or "trial A" or whatever.
  4. 2-3 weeks later, read off the same numbers, words, etc in a different order.
  5. Have everyone again write down what color they associate with it.
  6. Compare answers from first trial to these. People who have the same answers for things regardless of the order are synesthetics. Cool, huh?
There are many books on synesthesia if you want to find out more. Synesthesia is slowly becoming less of a novel idea and more of an accepted fact. Like anything, the more we talk about it, the more we find out about it.

Again, if anyone has any questions or suggestions, feel free to email me: moya [dot] marizela {at} gmail [dot] com.


Q November 24, 2008 at 11:14 AM  

Dear Mimi,
How very interesting.
I smell cold!
Long before I feel it too. I do not see cold as blue just smell it.
I love the idea of doing the test as a party game. Maybe a family gathering, Thanksgiving, and again at Christmas!
If the family was gathering at your house they would be tickled to have a "science" party game.
No gathering my house this year...the turkeys are safe with me.
Happy Thanksgiving.
I am so am grateful I met you.

Mimi November 24, 2008 at 11:46 AM  

@ Sherry... I am a dork that way I suppose. Hugs!

Christy November 24, 2008 at 3:35 PM  

I did learn something! This is intriguing. Thank-you for enlightening me and for your visit to Paul Newman Shirt Days. Cheers!

Cheryl November 24, 2008 at 4:43 PM  

I had never heard of this condition....something else that I have learned.....

As I child I could taste glass......I still can now....how strange is that.....or is it?

That post has really got me thinking......

Amanda November 24, 2008 at 5:37 PM  

I've always sort-of wanted synesthesia. I thought it'd be pretty cool to see music (or hear color), but, I suppose, it'd be distracting, too. The next time I have people over, I think I'll try that little game/test.

Wendy November 24, 2008 at 10:29 PM  

Hey Amanda - it's not distracting at all. It's normal. In fact I only heard about this a few years ago and thought to myself "doesn't everybody see colours for days of the week? Or months or names?"

I didn't know there was an actual science behind this. Friday is blue for me. Always. January is orange. Go figure - why orange? I have no idea. January here is cold, so you'd think it would be blue or white, but there is no logic or reasoning involved.

Thanks Mimi for the linky. It is a fascinating subject. I don't cross all the senses. Sometimes I taste feelings in that "the flavour of this room is weird".

Have a peppermint day! LOL!

Mimi November 25, 2008 at 7:39 AM  

@ Christy... Your site was awesome and I am glad you learned something.

Mimi November 25, 2008 at 7:40 AM  

@ Cheryl... That is what I am here for. I am so glad that all of you who have been here for a bit are still here. I haven't scared you away yet! :D

Mimi November 25, 2008 at 7:41 AM  

@ Amanda... I am totally doing this over the weekend and for my mother's birthday. Sounds interesting! I love fun experiments like this.

Mimi November 25, 2008 at 7:44 AM  

@ Wendy... thank you for the idea for this post. It seems to be quite popular! Your descriptions are quite similar to most other synesthetics. You are too funny.

sealaura November 25, 2008 at 6:31 PM  

Hola! This is very interesting I always learn new stuff here :)

Mimi November 27, 2008 at 9:45 AM  

@ Laura... that's what I'm going for!

The Queen December 7, 2008 at 11:37 AM  

Wow I am trying to catch up on your blog Mimi, and this one really got me. I think I have experienced this before & now I know why. Amazing! And yes we need to try and do this when we get together for my bday. Can't wait!!xoxo

Mimi December 8, 2008 at 12:41 PM  

@ The Queen... I will remember to do this when I come up!

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