"I Hear Red. I Taste 5."
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 equals 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.
- Synesthesia is involuntary, and cannot be suppressed.
- The sensations aren't in the mind. They are actually experienced by the sense that is stimulated.
- The synesthetic reactions are consistent and discrete.
- They are memorable.
- They evoke a strong emotion and conviction that the sensation was felt. Or tasted. Or seen, depending on the sense.