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Updated: May 28, 2021

What is it? And what do we know about it? A short introduction.

Imagine every time you see the number 6 it glows an off red colour, or perhaps every time you hear your favourite song you see the colour pink or maybe when you feel sad you associate it to a shape. All of these are examples of what it could be like if you have synaesthesia.

Since quarantine I have recently found out that I have a neurological condition called synaesthesia, whereby an individual experiences incoming sensory information in a secondary sensory or cognitive pathway. Meaning that some individuals can experience things such as seeing certain colours when they see different people, specific letters or even music. Unsurprisingly it is said that synesthetes seem to be drawn to creative fields, such as music, fine art, literature. There are at least 73 known types of synaesthesia, with only a miniscule 3.7% of the world's population having the condition.

Each synethe has unique experience of how their synesthesia manifests, even if they have the same type of synesthesia - for example an individual may have a sight-colour synesthesia and see certain words as certain colours, however it is unlikely that two synpaths with the same specific type of synesthesia will see the same colour coordination to the same words e.g. one person may see the word ‘tuesday’ as blue while for the other individual, it is undeniably yellow. Following this, it should also be noted that synesthesia can affect any of the four senses - smell, touch, taste and sight. For example another form of synesthesia, called lexical-gustatory synesthesia is when an individual will experience a taste in reaction to hearing certain words.

There is very little research done about how the condition develops. It has been suggested that it emerges during the early developmental stages of childhood. This theory, entitled the 'semantic vacuum hypothesis' - provides an explanation as to why the most common forms of synaesthesia are grapheme-colour, spatial sequence and number form. As it is these fundamental abstract concepts that educational systems require children to learn.

Although defined to be a neurological condition it is not listed in either the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), or ICD (International Classification of Diseases) as it does not normally hinder day to day living. Rather most synesthetes view their additional means of experiencing senses as a neutral or enjoyable experience, I personally feel it pushes my span of creativity and furthers my artistic way of seeing.

There have been some amazing creatives making work around this condition including: PaisleyYMCA and her 'Synaesthesia' exhibit where she turned the arts centre into a virtual reality playground. Similarly, author Richard Graham made a book entitled 'The Cranky Caterpillar' where he draws upon Kandinsky's ideas on colour synaesthesia.

This only further demonstrates how creativity manifests itself in so many ways, and I feel as though this has provided me a new means in which to explore.


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