Synesthesia: Fusion of the Senses
Does the taste of chicken feel pointy to you? Does the letter W seem red or the number 7 yellow, regardless of its print color? Exact responses may differ, but if you’ve ever associated words or numbers with colors or tastes, you might have synesthesia.
Synesthesia is a harmless condition defined by the UK Syneasthesia Association as the “union of the senses whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together.” A synesthesia page for kids from the University of Washington explains the basics of the condition, while a paper from a fourth-year psychology student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, provides a somewhat more advanced overview.
Estimates of the number of synesthetes average between 1 in 200 individuals to 1 in 100,000. It is also more common in left-handers and women. There may be as many as 6 females for every male synesthetes.
Nabokov is just one of many famous synesthetes. Others include Duke Ellington, Richard Feynman, David Hockney and Charles Baudelaire. Synesthesia expert Vilayanur Ramanchandran asserts that synesthesia is eight times more prevalent among creative professionals like artists, poets, and novelists than among the general population. He argues that the neural crosswiring that could account for the fused sensations engendered by synesthesia might also result in an increased propensity for “metaphorical thinking,” and, as such, could inspire great works of art.
Read more about synesthesia in Richard Cytowic’s “The Man Who Tasted Shapes.” If your taste is for YA fiction (and not shapes), try the novel “A Mango-Shaped Space” by Wendy Mass.