TED Ed: Synesthesia

Imagine what it would be like to see the color blue whenever you saw the number three, or tasted cherries when you heard a person’s name. You may have heard of anesthesia, which means “without sensation.” Synesthesia is the opposite of that; a condition that combines two or more of the five major senses in the human body (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch). In this four-minute TED Ed video, you’ll learn about this rare condition that affects four percent of the population, and has lead many geniuses and artists to where they are today.

Synesthesia is not always a burden to those who have it. Many famous synesthetes (someone who has synesthesia) have embraced and overcome the condition. Some have even used it to their advantage. Here are just a few:

Jimi Hendrix – Musician – Would often describe chords and harmonies as colors.

Tilda Swinton – Actress – Thinks in food. Words have associated tastes, when she uses them.

Stevie Wonder – Musician – Although he was blind, he was able to see sound as color.

Pharrell Williams – Music Producer – Last year on NPR he discussed how he is able to see color in sound.

Richard Feynman – Nobel Prize Physicist – In a biography, he discussed how he saw colored letters and numbers.

Charlie XCX – British Pop Singer – In an interview with BBC News, she stated “I see music in colours. I love music that’s black, pink, purple or red – but I hate music that’s green, yellow or brown.”

Vincent Van Gogh – Post Impressionist Painter – Self proclaimed a “musician of color,” many believe that Van Gogh may have been a synesthete. Psychologists believe that his pieces represent the perfect “relationship of color perception and emotion.”

Even fictional characters have been created with synesthesia.

Dazzler, the pop singing diva of the X-Men, has the synesthetic mutant ability to manipulate sound and light.

On the TNT show, The Librarians, Cassandra is a quirky mathematician with synesthesia. She has auditory and sensory hallucinations, linked to memory retrieval. All five of her senses can be connected to her memories at any given time.

In Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille, Remy experiences food and taste as colors and sounds.

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Did you learn something new from this TED Ed video? Share in the comments something that you learned or how you use your senses to their full potential.

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