Obviously, for most people, receiving light on the retina means having a visual sensation, just as touching something with our skin generates a tactile sensation or receiving waves. However, this pattern of events is not always that simple.
There are people who experience a phenomenon called synesthesia, Which consists on perceive sensations from various sensory channels.
Where synesthesia occurs, one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another. In this way, some synaesthetic people they can see sounds, while others can savor tactile sensations, etc. For example, one of the best-known cases is that of physicist Richard Feynman, who said to see the equations in colorBut the range of combinations of sensations that can occur in the form of synesthesia is really very wide: sounds that generate flavors, numbers and letters that are perceived as colors, etc.
Why does synesthesia occur?
Much of the neuroscientific community in charge of studying synesthesia thinks that it is produced by some sort of “cable run”. Thus, they offer the explanation that when this phenomenon occurs, vvaris neural channels associated with different senses interfere with each other, So that information from the surrounding environment that reaches a sensory organ reaches the brain and turns into another kind of sensation.
For this reason, people who experience it see their senses mixed together involuntarily and without being able to consciously regulate this transfer of information from one sensory type to another, and therefore also that there may be cases in which the Synesthetic blind people may continue to feel colors when touched. , felt, etc.
People with synaesthesia can have somewhat unique brains
In short, the brains of people with synesthesia it seems to have a somewhat different architecture than the rest of the populationAlthough this does not mean that their nervous system is damaged or that they are less able to live normal and independent lives. In fact, due to the automatic and partially unconscious nature of synesthesia, it is not uncommon for a person to have mixed sensations all their life and not have realized what is particular happening to them, or believe that it is happening. product. to the whole world.
What is the extent of synesthesia?
Synesthesia, in its various forms and types, is not something that rarely occurs in people who experience it, and therefore it is possible that it is well understood and considered as the normal way of perceiving reality, because it is part of the daily life of many people.
The fact that many people are synaesthetic without realizing it makes it difficult to calculate the percentage of the population that is, but recently there have been indications that synesthesia is surprisingly common. It could be part of the daily life of 4 or 5 out of 100 people, much more than was believed at the end of the 20th century, the most common type being associate days with colors. Additionally, it is interesting that it is more prevalent in people with autism, which in the future may provide clues to understanding the origin and causes of this type of disorder.
Are we all synaesthetic?
One thing to keep in mind is that there are phenomena very similar to synesthesia which are very common, which can mean that we are almost all more or less synaesthetic.
For example, it is very common to associate angular and pointed shapes with sounds such as the letter “k”, while rounded outlines are easier to associate with the sound of “b”, even if it does not respond to any. type of logic reasoning. This type of thinking has also been called by psychologists cognitive biases. You can find out more about it by reading this article:
- “Cognitive biases: discovering an interesting psychological effect”
The same goes for many other parts of our daily life: we talk about bitter humor, sharp tongues, etc. In the event that the hypothesis that these phenomena are mild cases of synesthesia, our way of understanding the normal functioning of sensory pathways would turn out to be something more complex than previously thought.
- Baron-Cohen, S., Johnson, D., Asher, J., Wheelwright, S., Fisher, SE, Gregersen, PK, Allison, C. (2013). Is synesthesia more common in autism? Molecular Autism, 4 (1), p. 40.
- Simner, J., Mulvenna, C., Sagiv, N., Tsakanikos, E., Witherby, SA, Fraser, C. Scott, K. Ward, J. (2006). Synesthesia: prevalence of atypical cross-sectional experiences. Perception, 35 (8), pages 1024-1033.
- Steven, MS and Blakemore, C. (2004). Visual synesthesia in the blind. Perception, 33 (7), pages 855 to 868.