What do Tilda Swinton, Edvard Munch, Mozart, Lorde and Vladimir Nabokov have in common? What could possibly be common among these people from diverse backgrounds and different time periods?

Couldn’t come up with anything?

Let us tell you – they are all synesthetes, which means all of them above suffer from a rare condition called synesthesia.

We demystify this mysterious “syndrome” for you:

What is synesthesia?

Senses get mixed up. In that way, one sense, like taste, involuntarily triggers another completely unrelated sense like sound. So your brain might associate the sound of trumpets with butter chicken!

David Eagleman, a famous neuroscientist and author of groundbreaking book, Wednesday Is Indigo Blue, explains it better – if you look at a photograph of Barack Obama, you will automatically know that it is him because your brain will signal the receptors. So if a person associates the colour purple with the number 4, it is only because the wiring of his/her brain makes the such a conclusion since receptors are so intertwined with each other.

Is it a psychological condition?

Synesthesia - tasting colour.
Synesthesia is possible more commonplace than you think.

No. Synesthesia is purely biological which makes it even difficult to come up with a cure because there is no sophisticated neurology that can change the wiring of the brain. Added to that, many people often term synesthesia as a “disorder” or a “syndrome” – both of which are wrong terminologies. It is only a biological condition.

Also read: BigBrain Project Demystified: How The BigBrain Project Transformed The Course Of Research

How many kinds of synesthesia exist?

As many permutations and combinations you can possibly come up with.

You can taste numbers or smell them. You can hear colors calling you. Or like Tilda Swinton, you can think in terms of food – tasting words; “table” is crunchy.

It isn’t all that good

While all of this might sound amazing and almost dreamlike, synesthesia is not all that positive, afterall.

1. People who suffer from synesthesia might have been in distress from an early age because they could not articulate that they perceive reality differently. It is obvious that synesthetes (people who suffer from synesthesia) might feel left out because of minimal understanding of their conditions.

2. You never know what sense will be wired to what other sense. In this case, there might be cases that when you taste a food or touch a surface which can make you feel extremely embarrassed or sad. Looking at the abysmal conditions of mental health professionals in the country, it might be possible that one would never understand what the problem is.

Synesthesia is still one of the most misunderstood biological conditions in the world, though 4% of the total population suffers from it. So, next time if a friend says that Baba Sehgal’s music tastes good, believe her.


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