When most people read a book, newspaper, or magazine, they see the words as black marks on the page. This is not surprising given that ink in most publications is black. However, there is a group of people who do not see the words in front of them as black. Instead, they might say that the number 4 is blue or the word gift is green. Others might say that the pain from a headache is orange, the flavour of sugar around, or a sniff of a bouquet of roses pink. What's going on here?

According to neuroscientists, these people have a condition called synesthesia. The word synesthesia comes from the Greek words syn (meaning together) and aesthesis (meaning perception) and means "joined perception." All humans have five senses-touch, vision, hearing, taste, and smell-and typically these are clearly separated from one another. However, for a person with synesthesia, the boundaries between the senses are weak. So one sense, for example, sound, may seep across to another sense such as sight, so that the sound of an orchestra playing might be seen as green wobbly lines. This combination-an auditory stimulation accompanied by a visual sensation is the most common type of synesthesia. Any simultaneous combination of two or more senses is considered a form of synesthesia.

Neurologist Richard Cytowic became interested in this phenomenon after he found out his neighbour tasted shapes. Cytowic was convinced he should take a deeper look when less than two weeks later he encountered a colleague who saw the sound of his hospital pager as red lightning bolts. Cytowic and other scientists believe that synesthesia is not an abnormality. in fact, we all may experience synesthesia at birth. It is only when our brain develops that the boundaries between each of our senses become more refined. People with synesthesia, on the other hand, retain these indistinct boundaries throughout their lives.

Another finding is that the relationships between the different sensory perceptions are consistent over time. Someone who hears the buzz of a bee as purple will always see it as purple. The sensations are also unique to individuals. One person may see the word table as yellow and another see it as green.

Although anyone can create links between the senses and other ideas or objects through the use of metaphor (for example, heated debate, bubbly personality, or loud shirt), this is not the same as synesthesia. Synesthete's experience these relationships spontaneously without any conscious thought. One young synesthete blogger reports how disillusioned she felt when she saw a famous singer for the first time and he didn't match up to the colour she had seen for him when she first heard him sing. Another reports how the sound of paper makes him feel physically sick, so he hates going to restaurants with paper tablecloths and napkins.

Thus, while some negative reactions may result from synesthesia, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen believes it is more useful to think of it as enriched perception because synesthetes often use their condition as a means to enhance memory or as a source of inspiration. The prominent Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky's synesthesia may have triggered the creation of his famous portrayals of musical compositions as abstract paintings.

Medical science has known about synesthesia for several centuries, but this revival of interest has increased our understanding. We now know that it is more frequent among women and lefthanders and that it appears to run in families. However, estimates of the number of people with synesthesia still vary widely, from 1 in 200 to 1 in 2,000. This may be because many people who have the condition may not realize that it has a name.

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people's names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor. The word synesthesia comes from two Greek words, syn (together) and aisthesis (perception). Therefore, synesthesia literally means "joined perception.

coloured liquid used for writing, printing, and drawing: 
Please write in ink, not in pencil.
The book is printed in three different coloured inks.

the particular way a substance, esp. food or drink, is recognized from its taste and smell:
We sell 32 different flavors of ice cream.
This soup doesn’t have much flavor.

to smell something by taking air in through your nose:
He sniffed his socks to see if they needed washing.
Dogs love sniffing each other.

a garden plant with thorns on its stems and pleasant-smelling flowers, or a flower from this plant:
She sent him a bunch of red roses.

a belief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem:
We have to change the public's perception that money is being wasted.
These photographs will affect people's perceptions of war.

(of liquids) to flow slowly through something: 
The flood water seeped into the basement.

a large group of musicians playing different instruments and usually organized to play together and led by a conductor: 
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

to be uncertain what to do or to change frequently between two opinions:
The government can't afford to wobble on this issue.

likely to wobble or uncertain what to do or changing frequently between two opinions:​
I've been in bed with flu and my legs still feel a little wobbly.
The baby took a few wobbly steps towards me.
Last week I felt sure I was doing the right thing but I've started to feel a bit wobbly about it.

biology of or involving hearing:
The stroke impaired her auditory function but not her vision.

happening or existing at exactly the same time: 
The report will be broadcast in Russian with simultaneous English translation.

a flash of lightning that looks like a white line against the sky:​
The house next to ours was struck by a bolt of lightning.

something abnormal, usually in the body:
genetic/congenital abnormalities
An increasing number of tests are available for detecting foetal abnormalities.

to make something pure or improve something, especially by removing unwanted material:​
Crude oil is industrially refined to purify it and separate out the different elements, such as benzene.

to make a continuous, low sound such as the sound some insects make, or to move quickly while making this sound: 
Something was buzzing around me as I tried to sleep.

a flying insect that has a yellow and black body and is able to sting

happening naturally, without planning or encouragement: 
a spontaneous performance
The children spontaneously gave us hugs and kisses.

disappointed and unhappy because of discovering the truth about something or someone that you liked or respected:
He's become a disillusioned man.
All the other teachers are thoroughly disillusioned with their colleague.

If something is prominent, it sticks out from a surface or can be seen easily:
She has a prominent chin/nose.

when something becomes more active or popular again:​
Recently, there has been some revival of (interest in) ancient music.

happening often; common: 
She makes frequent trips home to Beijing.


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Reference: Focus on Vocabulary
FoV 01 - U02C06

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