The other night, my 3-year-old crawled into bed with me after a fit of tears. Looking at the interesting reflection of the lamp on the ceiling, he said, "Look at the shape my crying made." His comment made me think of a fascinating book that I read once called The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic.
This book describes synesthesia, a condition in which certain sensory perceptions are combined. People who are affected with this involuntary condition perceive sensory input a little differently than most. You might see jagged red lines when you hear a siren. You might taste shapes in certain foods. Or maybe colors have a smell. Any combination of senses is possible, but the most common variant is to perceive letters, words, or numbers as having color. These associations are consistent for the individual -- if the word shoes is associated with the color green, it always appears green.
In his book, Cytowic describes attending a dinner party where the host complained that he had ruined the chicken -- it wasn't pointy enough. Cytowic thought it interesting that this man's house lacked walls; the rooms were open and flowed into each other. He pointed out that you can think of synesthesia in the same way. The usual walls between sensory input -- sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch -- are blurred or absent.
I think synesthesia is a fascinating condition. After I read the book, I kept wondering if I had ever experienced it. The closest I've come is when I'm almost asleep. Sometimes I see jagged black lines when I hear a sudden loud noise. But that's it. How about you?
CNN's Ann Kellan writes that if you are curious about this condition, synesthetes suggest that you rent "Walt Disney's 'Fantasia', an animated film that attempts to visualize music."