I have been doing some reading on the subject of synesthesia lately. Some questions that fueled my search are: Why is it that so many synesthetes are artistically inclined? Is there a link between certain personal traits and synesthesia? What are the different types of experiences a synesthete can experience?
I am a synesthete and I have an extremely vivid imagination. I've always been sort of an introvert dreamer and I think a lot of other synesthetes share this quality. If you've ended up in this blog by Googling information about synesthesia, and happen to be a synesthete yourself, please leave a comment! I would be absolutely delighted to hear about your particular experience!
I have what is called 'Grapheme → color synesthesia' as well as 'Sound → color synesthesia' to a lesser extent. I didn't realize I had a 'condition' until I read about it on the Internet a few years back. When I was younger, I also thought everybody experienced these colors.
This is close to how I experience numbers:
Although I tried to make the above illustration as accurate as possible, it still looks somewhat wrong to me. My synesthesia is pretty mild and it's REALLY hard to pinpoint the exact color.
My sound related synesthesia works better with music than other sounds and I need to have context for the notes: The color of one single musical note is extremely hard if not impossible for me to pinpoint. I experience a myriad of colors when I listen to music, somewhat depending on the harmony as well as the timbre of instruments and voices. It's impossible for me to describe the things I see (or feel would be more accurate) in detail. One thing that I've found is that all the modes of the major scale have different colors, sometimes a mixture of colors (the dorian mode is silver/purple etc).
Synesthesia in the arts
A lot of artists and musicians seem to have had/have synesthesia. I think there's a sort of 'darker side' to synesthesia, and that many of the artists that have it also fit the 'Tortured artist' -stereotype quite nicely. I think it has to do with the somewhat elusive and mysterious quality of the synesthethic experience. Many artists seem to have this overwhelming urge to share their personal experiences with the world. The problem is that the experiences are often too abstract to get a grip on, and actualizing one's vision may turn out to be too huge of a task, if not downright impossible to do to a satisfying degree.
I too used to chase this elusive 'thing' quite furiously (in ways that I don't dare mention here), and tried too hard to actualize some visions that were too personal. It seems to me, that I am always one step behind my imagination, which can be a major pain when trying to create something. The best way to overcome it is to just do it anyway, if it fails, so be it. Even if you never really fully reach your vision, chances are that you're focusing too hard on what's missing instead of what you've managed to create. I've sort of found some peace of mind in letting other people interpret my music and other work just as they like. Once it's out, it's out and done for.
Science and ideasthesia
Recent studies show that synesthesia might be more common than previously thought and that all people share some of the aspects of the experience (Check out the Kiki-Booba phenomenon). Scientists still struggle with what synesthesia really is, but I'm pretty sure there's a very rational explantion for it.
Researchers have recently introduced ideasthesia as a better term to describe the experience. The reason is that the experience is not so much a blending of the senses as the word 'synesthesia' implies. What makes synesthesia and many other 'disorders' of the brain difficult to study, is the huge range of severity of these experiences. Some people with more extreme synesthesia can even taste music. I'm really not sure if I'd want that for myself, but I certainly would not want to lose this 'disorder' completely. I feel that it is source of joy and inspiration and an integral part of my character.
I remain very hopeful that science will shed light on synesthesia and other mysteries of the brain in the near future, but until then I'll enjoy the mystery of it. Mysteries are what keep us going forward as a species anyway, but that's really the subject for another post...
To end the post, I thought I'd link this super cool short movie that I stumbled across last night, enjoy!: