Recently I found out that my sister is a color-grapheme synesthete. Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad, it just means that she sees things a little differently than other people. Synesthesia is a condition that mixes two or more senses, so that someone could taste color, smell music, see sound. Synesthesia is not a mental disorder, and in fact, synesthetes (That’s the term for someone with synesthesia) often have above-average intelligence. Only one in 2,000 people is a synesthete. That’s a 0.05% chance.
There are a lot of different kinds of synesthesia, but the most common is Color-Grapheme Synesthesia, where letters and numbers are linked with colors in a synesthete’s mind. For example, A might be red, B might be green, etc. Sometimes the color is projected over the original letter, so that the A will actually look red on the paper, sometimes a colored version of that letter pops up behind their eyes. My sister has the version where it pops up behind your eyes. Sound-Color is relatively common, too. When someone with Sound-Color Synesthesia hears sounds like music or a dog barking or a train, colors dance in their heads, usually in shapes like circles or squares. Sometimes all significant sounds make colors, sometimes only a few specific ones, sometimes the color will linger for a few seconds, sometimes it’s there and gone in the blink of an eye. Synesthesia is unique for everyone.
A lot of synesthetics don’t even realize that they have synesthesia until they’re adults and they realize that not everyone sees the world like they do. A man named Michael Graham experiences music as lines of color thrumming in his head, and he didn’t figure out he was synesthetic until his mid-twenties. A colorblind synesthetic can only see colors when he looks at letters and numbers. (He calls them Martian Colors.) A man named Sean Day tastes in technicolor, with the taste of steak erupting dark blue behind his eyes, mango sherbet producing a lime green wall with red stripes, and steamed, gingered squid creating an orange blob about four feet in front of him on the left.
There are more left-handed synesthetes than right-handed synesthetes, and more female synesthetes than male synesthetes. Nobody knows why that is, or indeed, what causes synesthesia. Some people say that it’s caused by “crossed wires” in the brain, or extra neuron connections between places that shouldn’t be connected. Some people say that the connections that allow us to see, hear, and smell the world as a unified whole are being misused. With the development of advanced technology, perhaps we’ll find out soon. Maybe we never will.
Synesthesia is a gift that most people won’t ever know. It has its drawbacks, like being overwhelmed by, say, a concert covering your vision in throbbing patches of color, or being bullied for saying things like “That smells green,” but it is truly a different way to see the world.
If you think you have synesthesia, here’s a link to a test: http://www.synesthesiatest.org/test-yourself