Ask the synaesthetes (reprise)

Since there were quite a few questions on the unusual experiences thread I thought I’d open up a new one about synaesthesia. This was previously done here but if anyone wishes to post questions, thoughts or experiences this might be the place to do it.

Okay, I’ll repeat my question from the other thread - are other synaesthetes very tactile people? I love textures - they are as important to me as any other aspect of things in my life.

I am. One of the reasons polymer clay is my medium of choice is that it is a very hands-on material… and it’s also relatively clean. While I need to have my hands in what I am doing, I can’t bear drippy, gloppy, or slimy stuff on me. That, however, might be due to mild OCD and not so much to the synaesthesia.

Now my questions: has anyone ever looked in any depth into why synaesthetes have this sensory cross-wiring? Is there any correlation (scientific or anecdotal, I’m not picky) between synaesthesia and other brain “weirdness” like ADD, OCD, autism/Asperger’s Syndrome, and so on?

Sometimes I’ll be overpowered by a smell (stench of garbage) or a certain pitch of sound (sirens, fire alarms). Have you ever felt the same way about something objectively ordinary, that is attached synesthetically to something nasty?

e.g. The name William might smell awful to you.

I don’t have synaesthesia or any related condition, so I have absolutely no authority on this. I had a biopsychology prof a few years ago, however, and his theory was that that cross-wiring was a bit of a misnomer; he claimed that there was nothing wrong with the afferent nerves: sensory signals got to the CNS just fine, but once they reached the thalamus they found themselves mis-directed. Essentially, the so-called thalamic radiation would mistakenly direct auditory signals to the visual cortex, visual signals to the auditory cortex, or what have you.

Richard Cytowic has done some early work on synaesthesia which is detailed in The Man Who tasted Shapes (part descriptive, part science). He has looked at things like blood flow to the brain area during synaesthetic experience and made some interesting hypotheses on what exactly is happening.

There is a group at University College London who have been looking into synaesthesia for years and regularly conduct research among groups of synaesthetes. They are also involved in a regular symposium detailing their research. The main site can be found here.

As for the relationship between various disorders - I forget who (might be Cytowic) so apologies for lack of links - but ‘somebody’ has noticed that many synaesthetes are related to people with autism and ADHD.

Disclaimer for any of these answers: I pretty much only figured out I was a synaesthete from the other thread, so I’m really, really not an expert. Take any of these with a big pinch of salt. :wink:

I love certain sensations–silk, leather, fur, feathers, fresh sheets and blankets right out of the dryer. Others, like spit, goo, slime, and squishy stuff, I’ll be absolutely revulsed by.

I can’t think of anything nasty, but when I play Mendelssohn’s Venetian Boat Song I always get overwhelmed by the colours–sunset and autumn colours, oranges and golds and reds and pinks and purples.

Same here. :wink: I was very surprised to discover that it was actually considered a “condition” with a scientific name and possible genetic causes. I thought it was something most people’s minds did (even though most people I know thought it was crazy when I said that the numbers 1-100 snake upwards by tens in my head!)

I am, also. I absolutely adore the textures of velvet, panne and chenille–thus nearly half of my socks and a good portion of my shirts (along with some pants) are made of those fabrics. I love (faux) furs, too. I also can’t stand the feeling of matte surfaces–touching that fabric they make windbreaker jackets and some winter coats out of literally makes me shudder.

Smells and tastes have always had color for me. I just thought I was odd.
I think only one of my children does this with smells and tastes. We were sitting in a resturant and there was guacamole on the plate and I had never tried it before.
So I dipped my finger in it and wow…“here Josh it tastes like green!” Hesitant he tried some and agreed that it does taste like green. My other kids tried it and agreed that Josh and I were crazy.
I also have a body oil that I tell everyone smells like sunshine. I can’t even describe the smell, it’s sunshine.
Sometimes it bothers me when I tell people stuff like that and they think I’m just being silly.
I’m going to have to read up on this.

I just get colors with letters and number. They aren’t overpowering colors, and some letters the colors can be ambiguous. The colors are always there, but they are so faint that if i don’t think about them its as if they aren’t there. I will almost always remember the first letter of a word or name; however, because I will remember what color the name is. Foriegn letters have different colors.

I honestly never heard of this before until now. I thought everyone associated things with colors.

Apparently not.

For me it’s smells and numbers. I always thought the numbers thing was a holdover from Sesame Street or something.

Music kinda, too, although it’s not individual notes but songs. For instance, right now on my shuffle playlist “Rockstar” by Nickelback is on. It’s a deep, vibrant red song. However, “I Choose” by the Offspring, which was the last song that played, is a pale orangey color. And I always saw Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” as a kind of depressing pale blue.


**Christopher ** it sounds as though you are one of us. :slight_smile: Not everything will be a full-on experience. For example, for me the latter part of the alphabet is often just very dark coloured or not particularly strong. There’s not much to differentiate there other than the normal background stuff (shape of letter, sounds etc).

I guess if you haven’t been told or don’t have it then it can sometimes sound as though synaesthetes are having these mindblowing experiences all the time! Actually it’s just normal - we don’t know any different and it’s just going on in the background there. But when we describe it to the people I call ‘Flats’ then I guess it seems strange. Hence their reactions of disbelief and interest.

One interesting thing I picked up from Cytowic’s book - synaesthesia is thought to be associated with the euphoric centres of the brain. Does anybody else feel the same joy I do when experiencing their thing? Do you deliberately induce intense synaesthetic experience? I often listen to VERY LOUD music and will repeat the same song over and over just to hear the fabby white-centred-mirror-black of a particular drum (or whatever) or to surf on the singer’s voice. To the point that I get somewhat hyper. Anyone else bliss out like this? :slight_smile:

I mainly seem to have a music to colors & textures association. I’ll usually have some sort of idea of the colors and textures (almost an environment, really) that goes with a song, but the more I know the song (listen to it a brazillion times, know each note, etc etc), the more fleshed out the song/environment gets. I explained it in the previous thread, but if anyone wants more detail, I’ll try to explain more or give more examples.

Zelie, I have that euphoria thing going on!! I’ve been reading these posts with increasing fascination (and understanding, on some level.) Everyone thinks I’m crazy for turning my music up all the way and listening to the same song over and over. My joy is so huge, it’s like something spiritual. Like what coming face to face with God would be like. I cry for sheer happiness. And I feel textures with it too. (and when I’m actually FEELING something, it has vague traces of something visual, but I’m not sure what.)

None of my letters or numbers have colors or sounds, but I do have a really weird thing where I SEE sounds. Like in a comic book. BAM!! POW!! SMACK!! I don’t think folks believe me. This thread is fascinating. And makes me wonder…have any of you synaesthetes ever ahem taken any kind of mental stimulants? What are the effects it has on you? I’m not only referring to illegal substances either. Perscription meds or alcohol, anything that can alter your mood/perception.

I do beleive that I have syneasthesia, but I always question it for a number of reasons. First of all, it seems that there may be a coolness factor with having such a thing. For that reason, there is some motivation for people to make up that they have it. (I would never question anyone that said they did.) I can also imagine that I might convince myself that I have it when I don’t. After all, as you mentioned, it’s not like I get a full on hallucination every time I see a letter. So I make a habit of telling people what I experience in the dryest terms possible when the subject comes up rather than telling people “wow I see colors with letters its so cool”.

It is true however, that I sort words by color. I will often confuse D words with P words and K words with E words because they are similar colors. P has a little more blue than D. I am horrible at spelling because as long as a word has the right color I’m good. “ie” is the exact same color as “ei” the mnemonic be damned.

freekalette - I am sorry to say that as far as I know drugs have no effect on it. This is something that is hard-wired, not a temporary condition brought on by hallucinogens. It is not a wild experience like you think. It’s just a little bit of life.

Here’s an interesting one I have only experienced a few times. Occasionally, when I taste wine, its only happened with wine, I get a position with the flavor. The first time this happened I told my friends without thinking “Well that wine shot though my eyes around my head and went down my back”. They all looked at me like “what are you talking about?” There was no doubt, for whatever reason, that wine was giving me that sensation. One of the wines we did for the SDMB Wine club was like a shock at the back of my throat. Most wines don’t do that, but once in a while its just wierd.

Christopher, no apology neccessary. And perhaps I was unclear in my queston. I’m not asking if drugs (for lack of a better term) will CREATE these experiences. I understand that synaethesis is embedded into a person. My question was, when people who HAVE it add in a chemical factor, does it affect the condition?

I would say probably not, but I can’t speak for everyone.

You’re probably right about that. I didn’t know I was a synaesthete until I read a thread on it here years ago, then it all fell into place for me. The number four is green for me; it just is, always has been, and always will be. There’s nothing cool or mysterious about it for me; it’s just the way it is. It never occurred to me to question other people about it (“Are fours green for you, too?”); I probably just assumed other people associated disparate things like this the way I do.

For the record, I did have an anxiety disorder for 13 years. No autism or ADD/ADHD that I’m aware of. Just the opposite, actually - I have great powers of concentration. I think one thing I do better than most people is making decisions based on taking into consideration the whole situation and seeing the way things relate to each other.

[Hijack]It’s a misconception that people with ADHD cannot concentrate. While the inattentive type might tend to daydream, both types can and do hyperfocus on things they are interested in. The inability to pay attention generally happens when the subject at hand doesn’t interest the individual.[/Hijack]

I think people may have misread my earlier post. The indications were not that people with synaesthesia had ADHD/autism but that they often had relatives who had.

As for the drugs, **Christopher ** is not exactly correct. There is evidence that substances such as caffeine makes it harder to focus on synaesthetic experience. ‘Flats’ who take LSD can occasionally experience the world synaesthetically though nobody has been able to consistently create that effect to my knowledge. Poppers also have an effect but I’m damned if I can remember what.

None of this comes from my own experience (including the caffeine which doesn’t even wake me up) but from reading up on various experimental data. I haven’t any idea of the effect of illegal drugs or medications since I don’t use the former and when I use the latter I’m too sick to pay attention. :stuck_out_tongue: