Have you ever heard someone claim sunlight smelling like butter? Or been told that you’re a ‘purple’ person? Well, you know what? They might just be describing a very real sensation—a sensation called synesthesia. A big word, yes, but it’s super interesting; and the best part is that you or I could be a real-life synesthete without even realizing it!
What is synesthesia? Well, no one really is able to explain or identify the cause factors behind it, but the basic meaning is the combination of senses. (Ok, if you just went huh? You’re not alone…) See, it’s simple. It means you associate one kind of a sensation with another; for example, do you associate sounds with color? Are the notes playing on the piano lilting shades of lilac-grey? Do the red pillows on your bed smell enormously like roses? Or do you think each taste has its own color; like in the Skittles pack? That, precisely, is synesthesia—a phenomena even white-coated neuroscientists have trouble fathoming. You see, it’s so very human…and so unscientific!
Of course, a lot of us associate different senses for the same things, but there’s a different between that and being a synesthete. A synesthete doesn’t consciously associate sight with smell or sound with color. Instead, he or she most often just sees things that the rest of us can’t see; sometimes in the form of auras. Synesthetes mostly remember people by their colors, and if you give them your phone number, beware—they won’t remember the digits, but they will remember each digit’s color!
The most interesting thing is that each synesthete has a completely unique perception; and so if you took a poll asking them what color the letter ‘d’ is, you’d get millions of different answers. This also makes it harder to differentiate between synesthetes and people who are just very metaphorical, but there are a few things in common to nearly all synesthetes. A true synesthete will always have the same sensation triggered by a particular object. For example, if wine sounds like violin music, it never will sound like piano music. Plus, synesthetes will always remember the synesthetic sensation in place of the actual thing; like in the case of the telephone number. But most synesthetes are wholly unaware that what they sense is different from what everyone else’s perception; most of them don’t even know there’s a word for their ability.
So? Interested in becoming a synesthete? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but synesthesia is something you’re born with—sadly, not everyone enjoys the extraordinary sensory perceptions. But we can give you the next best thing—how would you like to meet a synesthete? Before we move on to that, it’s important to understand that a synesthete is not mentally unbalanced in anyway, synesthesia is not an illness, and synesthetes are just like you and me. Want to see what it really is like?
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