Synaesthesia

How can I experience it?

That is to say, are their any medicines, drugs, or physical regimens known to cause synaestesia as a side effect? And, are any of those legal and/or safe to experiment with?

Ask Tim Leary

Yes, LSD should do it. Synaestesia isn’t nirvana, it’s a disruption to normal thalamic function of the brain. The thalamus basically receives input from all areas of the brain and reroutes that input to discrete parts of the brain. For example, the thalamus receives input regarding hearing through the cochlear nerve and routes that input to areas in the brain that are involved in specifically analyzing that input. LSD and other hallucinogens preturb thalamic function causing it to send input regarding hearing to say, your occipital lobe, which processes vision. Therefore, you “experience” hearing through sight. Pretty cool, huh?

  • Honesty

Most of the hallucinogens CAN cause it, although it isn’t guaranteed at all. There are almost certainly some hallucinogens legal in your juristriction (although the best ones will be illegal, also almost as surely).

Note that they will also cause many other effects. I think everyone with the least bit of curiosity should take strong hallucinogens a few times.

Is the effect of synesthesia consistent from person to person? For example, we assume that all “normal” humans perceive the colors red and blue the same way. But do two different synesthetes who, say, sense a color associated with the letters of the alphabet consistently associate the same or similar colors with the same letters?

No there are all sorts of synathesias. Here’s a thread I started about it: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=658456

In the case of musical pitch->colour synesthesia, many such synesthetes have drawn up “colour scales”. They’re mostly all over the place but there are some trends. For instance, high pitched sounds tend to produce lighter colours. What is interesting is that most non-synesthetes will also make the same judgements. We will tend to associate light colours and high-pitched sounds. There is a phenomenon called the “Takete/Maluma” (or also “Bouba/Kiki”) effect, in which almost everyone associates the same abstract shape to the same nonsense word. Since the last 10 years or so, research has shown that limited synesthetic effects, like Takete/Maluma, are the norm: our various senses exchange information, sometimes at very early processing stages. Synesthetes have hyper-developped channels that cause them to actually see colours or feel shapes, but most people will have mild synesthetic experiences. We will not only have “impressions”, but in lab settings, it has been shown that congruent and incongruent matchings can influence our reaction time, for instance. Even very young infants show some form of synesthetic bias, preferring shapes that have been matched with congruent sounds.

If you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend reading books by VS Ramachandran. He makes a very strong case that these mild synesthetic effects are of prime importance for the development of culture and creative thinking.

Timothy Leary is dead.

No, wait, he’s on the outside, looking in.

Just to digress a bit: in my wanton youth I had a type of synesthesia that associated color and writhing, rhythmic color patterns to music. Much like a kaleidoscope set to music.

When I was in the mood, I would lie down on the couch, put on some music, put on the head phones and close my eyes.

In my head, I would see a “2001” type color show synchronized with the music, that probably would compete with anything LSD could produce. (I have never used any kind of drugs, so I am assuming.)

Now that I am somewhat more advanced in age, this effect has faded almost to extinction.

However, I still avoid going to those fireworks shows in which they play a musical score in accompaniment with the fireworks. I find that the colors and patterns of the fireworks do not “go with” the music; consequently, I find the shows very irritating, and invariably I end up with a migraine.

I get all blue and moody thinking about that!

It is individualized. Your 4 might be blue, and someone else’s might be red (color-grapheme is the most common). It’s real if you test them some time later and the associations are almost exactly the same.

From what I understand, drugs are nothing like synaesthesia. The former, you can ooh and ahh about all the pretty colors. Synesthetes can take it for granted because what they see is what the always have seen. It can be useful, like when they pick out a slightly dissimilar object in a field of similarity quickly. Also, things aren’t changing rapidly in synaesthesia.

You could probably experience it if medical technology advanced to the level of rerouting connections. Cross your fingers.