A disease which makes ones senses mixed up?

Maybe 10 years back, I read about someone who suffered from a certain disease that made their senses mixed up - the example that I remember was that when someone said to him certain words, they tasted a certain way. Anyone hear about this, to either verify it or debunk it?

I think it’s called synaestesia.

(I spelled it wrong, though)

You taste colours, and hear paintings and such. It is a brain screw-up either caused by drugs, or lack of oxygen to the brain.
Back in the early, EARLY primordial days, super-primitive creatures would percieve the world around them from
few, or maybe even a single sense organ. Sometimes the brain gets confused and can’t decide by which sensory organ the stimuli should be interpreted.

PLease, somebody get him the proper spelling if you know what I’m talking about, so I can actually look it up instead of pulling this information out of my ass.

It’s synesthesia, folks. Here are a couple of good threads to get you started:


Hear colors and taste sound

They even include descriptions of the phenomenon by synesthetes. It is not generally regarded as a disease or disorder, particularly not by the synesthetes themselves.

somebody on this board was/is a synesthite. don’t wanna say too much, cause last time they were inundated with calls to “explain my screen name in terms of the flavour of strawberries and the colour of money!!!”

but it’s cool nonetheless

I must say I was brought up short by the idea that synaesthesia is a disease - is having acute hearing or delicate taste a disease?

I’ve been synaesthetic since I was a child, but was unaware the condition had a name until I read an article in New Scientist (one of the August 1997 issues, I think).

You don’t have to take drugs or suffer brain damage to perceive synaesthetic effects. A neuroscientist interviewed on the radio years ago (author of a book called ‘The Man who Tasted Shapes’, IIRC) suggested there might be ‘left over’ brain connections in synaesthetics that everyone else grows out of once they pass early childhood.

It is not the case that all the senses are mixed up, or that the world is perceived by synaesthetes as a jumbled chaos. For me, I perceive colours for letters and numbers, and colours and shapes for music, other sounds and some smells. It never works in the reverse - I don’t smell things when I see a particular colour.

I perceive these shapes & colours in my mind’s eye - it isn’t a visual hallucination — and I can ignore them easily. And judging by the New Scientist article, I don’t have an especially vivid case of the condition.

Hope this answers a few questions, and hello to any other SD synaesthetes :slight_smile:



I apologize to any synaesthetes that I offended by my reference to it as a disease. I recalled nothing about the article that I had read when I was a kid, except for what I wrote, and I assumed that synaesthesia meant only seeing sounds, and not hearing them, etc.

Thanks to all who fleshed out the fading fact that I dredged up from the depths of my memory.

Check out the February, 2001 Smithsonian. There’s an article about synesthesia called “For some, pain is orange.” This article doesn’t make synesthesia sound like a disease at all. In fact, from reading the article, it sounds like people with this trait might have a little bit of an advantage when it comes to remembering certain things. More women have it than men, and they quote one researcher who “suspects” 1 person in 300 has had some form of synesthetic experience. Most people who have synesthesia are apparently born with it, and the article doesn’t say that it’s anything to worry about. In my opinion, though, if you suddenly started experiencing something like this, you might want to get it checked out.

The conclusion of Alfred Bester’s 1950s classic science fiction novel ** The Stars My Destination ** features the lead character, Gulliver Foyle, trapped in a dangerous situation in which he has also become synaesthesic. It’s illustrated with imaginative typography and a damn fine story to boot.

AFAIK, most people with synaesthesia regard it as a mainly positive thing. However, it can have some associated problems - mainly when moving around in a noisy and brightly lit environment. (I’ve seen a documentary showing a synaesthetic looking very confused in the middle of Picadilly Circus…) Probably not enough of a disadvantage for anyone to call it a disease, though.

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman has a wonderful chapter on synesthesia, as well as being an all-around excellent book. I highly recommend it.