Ever curious, I love to learn and find out about new areas. Just recently I’ve been learning about Synaesthesia and I thought it may interest you too.
The word has roots in Latin
Syn = together
Aesthesis = sensation
We have 5 main senses, all from separate parts of our brain and which operate independently, but for some people they have cross wiring resulting in e.g. hearing colour and tasting sound. It’s not just colour and music, but also shapes and movement.
On Sunday at the Also Festival I went to a talk by Michael Banissy from Goldsmiths University on ‘These are the sounds of my colours’ and on Tuesday went to my local Skeptics in the Pub meeting where James Wannerton, president of the UK Synaesthesia Association spoke about his personal experiences.
I’d never come across this before and it was interesting to listen to 2 perspectives, that of the researcher and someone who can talk about his personal experiences.
What I learned
We are born Synaesthetic but around the age of 3 our brain does some ‘pruning’ to keep the senses apart, but this doesn’t happen for Synaesthetics.
Synaesthesia can also be acquired through head injury. Rick Mayall is reported as seeing colour with words after his quad bike accident.
Synaesthesia is nothing to do with metaphor and learned association (e.g. red and Santa). You mainly can’t turn it off or down. Scientists have checked for consistency,you can’t learn it.
4% of the population are Synaesthetics and there are over 50 different ways it can be experienced. This includes
- Graphene colour – seeing colour in letters. People can see a word in colour, for example each day of the week can have a different colour.
- Sound to colour – often experienced by musicians and it is through colour that they compose music
- Ticker tape – you can see words being spoken in front of you
- When you eat food you see shapes so if chicken isn’t cooked enough you see a pointy shape
- Touch – you can feel it on your own face when someone is being touched
Michael described a woman who hears a number and sees it in space, every number has a different colour – 1 is red; she also sees 1-100 in front of her body, bigger numbers go behind. James said in all cases to the person experiencing this it feels normal.
Researchers are looking into any impact with people who e.g. have sight loss and also to see if it can be of help to people who have phantom limbs. James also said that this is leading neuroscientists to reconsider how people perceive information. Also more Synaesthetics are training to become neuroscientists.
There is also a link between autism and Synaesthetics.
What does Marylebone station taste of?
For James he can hear a word and experiencing a taste. For James every e.g. tube station has a different taste – Leicester Square like a curly wurly.
It really is fascinating and you can read more and see his taste map of London here.
He said that words that sound the same, taste the same. Oysters taste of chocolate. The word cheese does taste of cheese, but the word Richard has a stronger taste of cheese!
Clearly it can be hard to concentrate when getting taste after taste.
Synaesthetic Artist – Rhys Cowe
We also had a talk from a Synaesthetic artist – Rhys. He said that he listens to music and then paints, starting with the bass notes and finally the silence, which is white.
- David Hockney
- Pharrel Williams
- Billy Joel
- Tilda Swinton, who also listens to words and experiences tastes
- Kaitlyn Maria, a musician hears sounds as colour.
- Enhances the perceptual experience
- Aids memory. Daniel Tanner uses it to remember long strings of numbers. As each number is a different colour/shape he says it takes no effort
- Plays a large part in the creative process
Used in advertising
Ad agencies are seeing the creative aspect as something to use in advertising – multi sensory marketing. 6 or 7 years ago there was a BMW ad ‘see how it feels’ with lots of colour and Schwarz spices had an ad with colours popping out from sacks of spices – the sound of taste. These ads were taken from the testimony of Synaesthetics
I hope you find this as interesting as me.