For 11 year old Elizabeth, the world of math is an unexpectedly
colorful one. Elizabeth experiences digits as colors. If she sees or hears the
number 5, her brain experiences it as the color red. The number 2 is yellow
to her mind. Does that mean that five plus two is orange?
"No," Elizabeth says with a laugh. "It's actually
green. But I can see where you might get confused."
Elizabeth has a rare condition known as synesthesia, a neurological
condition in which one sense is experienced as if it were perceived by another.
Synesthetes may "hear" color, taste sensations or feel shapes. The
phenomenon is one that is fascinating to scientists and researchers, even if
it is baffling.
Can You Hear In Color?
Synesthesia is completely distinct from conscious visualization. Most of us
can close our eyes while listening to music and allow colors to play in our
minds. What separates that from true synesthesia is five criteria.
1. Synesthesia is involuntary, and cannot be suppressed.
2. The sensations aren't in the mind. They are actually experienced by the sense
that is stimulated.
3. The synesthetic reactions are consistent and discrete.
4. They are memorable.
5. They evoke a strong emotion and conviction that the sensation was felt. Or
tasted. Or seen, depending on the sense.