Can you taste a word? Hear a colour? Feel a sound? Only 4% of the population have this ability. It’s called:
“I don’t know what the colour green looks like,” admits Camerino. “But I know what green tastes like.”
American pastry chef Taria Camerino can taste shapes, music, and even people’s emotions. Inspired by music, she creates one-of-a-kind dishes like moss-flavoured cotton candy or combines flavours to taste like the feeling of satisfaction to show how she explores her world. Her superpower? Synesthesia.
Synesthesia (meaning “to perceive together” in Greek) is a condition where a person experiences something with one sense and then another, seemingly unrelated sense. Hearing a bird’s chirp, for example, may trigger a synesthete see little pink clouds or smell roses! These reactions can be associative, creating unusual connections to senses inside the brain. Or they can also be projective, causing the person to see images and colours.
Synesthetes – people with synesthesia – have different abilities. For example, those with chromesthesia see colours when hearing certain sounds. Painter Vincent van Gogh is thought to have had an ability to see colours while listening to music. Similarly, composers Franz Listz and Nikoli Rimsky-Korsakov are said to have fought over what colour certain notes were.
Synesthesia can combine any two or more senses
Carol Steen, co- founder of the American Synesthesia Association, says there could be more than 60 different types, though not all have been studied. Some rarer types are lexical-gustatory (hearing a word makes you taste something) and mirror-touch (feeling when someone else is touched). Perhaps the strangest is swimming-style, where colours appear whenever you see or think about a certain swim stroke. Interacting senses have been explored for more than 2,000 years by ancient Greek philosophers, American poets, and physicists such as Sir Isaac Newton.
Many scientists agree that synesthesia is genetic and present for the entirety of a synesthete’s life, but its cause is unknown. A major researcher of synesthesia, Simon Baron-Cohen, believes synapses in the brain form more connections, making it possible for independent sections of the brain (and the senses they are in charge of) to communicate. Meanwhile, psychologist Peter Grossenbacher believes information from the outside world is jumbled up as it enters the brain. This mix-up may misdirect sight-signals to the hearing section of the brain and so on.
Do you have Synesthesia?
There is no official way to determine if you have synesthesia, although tests like the Synesthesia Battery measure how often you connect different senses. A synesthete experiences consistent, unique brain activity and will, for example, forever see the letter B as the same shade of red, whereas a non-synesthete may associate the colour orange to the number seven, but only because of, say, a memory of an orange “7” on a poster, and this memory will fade over time.
Synesthetes can do some amazing things. Some can memorize large quantity of numbers using colour associations, while others can tell the difference between two almost-identical shades of the same colour. While synesthesia can be confusing, it is not considered a disorder. In fact, it can create a unique world in which innovative ideas flourish.