Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a rare psychological condition (which is in no way a disease or a disorder) where the owner of the “synesthesia gene” (I’m honestly not too sure what exactly causes Synesthesia, except that it is inherited through genes) perceives a certain stimuli when actually experiencing another. For example, a person with synesthesia may “see” sounds; the note C is green, D sharp is blue, G may be red.  Another example could be “tasting” apples when you hear the word “computer.” Rather than actually “seeing” or “tasting”, synesthesia causes you to “perceive” these extra stimuli. To make things clear, synesthesia is not simply imagining, for example, the color blue when listening to a sad song; that’s “ideasthesia.” Synesthesia is very different than ideasthesia (where certain words or ideas evoke another in your mind – I know, it’s kind of complicated, so I recommend reading up on both syne- and idea-sthesia on the internet to get a better understanding). Synesthesia is much more vivid (but I can’t say exactly how vivid, of course, since I don’t have the condition).


The creative potential for synesthesia is obvious. A great example of this is Jane Mackay and her art, which is influenced by what she sees from her synesthesia-induced perceptions. What interests me the most, however, is the practical (not to say that art isn’t practical) potential for synesthesia. Assuming in the future that the genetic manipulation of embryos is both legal and ethical (it may seem off topic, but bear with me), the possibilities of creating humans with “super-powered senses” are limitless. Since synesthesia has a genetic cause, the exact genes can be found and transplanted into anyone, pre-birth of course. If we get all the details of synesthesia and the genes that cause it down to an exact science in this hypothetical future, we can really give people these “super-powered senses.” Imagine “hearing” (perceiving is the better word) the phrase “Earthquake – Take Cover!” when your body feels the frequencies released by an earthquake seconds before it begins to shake. You would usually just “feel” the vibrations, but, due to synesthesia, it could also be “translated” by your brain into a specific phrase you “hear” (perceive). It’s interesting, but with seismographs that do roughly the same thing (sense earthquakes), it may seem redundant. Seismographs, however, can’t warn you about an earthquake. We don’t have a reliable early-warning system in place yet, so this can save thousands of lives each year. There are many other practical and helpful uses, but there‘s also a giant caveat…


As with anything relating to genetic manipulation, if you take the idea further, it would be possible to create super-soldiers - that’s never good. It’s dangerous and it implies a lack of free will - people would have to be born into the soldier role. Bottom line is, genetic modification is a very dangerous idea when you try to find practical uses for it, and it’s equally complicated when you try to find a use that’s ethical as well. It is however, also really fun to imagine and write about!


Getting back on topic, this article isn’t meant to be a warning against the dangers of genetic manipulation, but rather a short introduction to one of the more mysterious and interesting aspects of psychology: Synesthesia.


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