Symphony of the Senses
For some people, music sets off a firework of colors, for others, words become a painting in the mind's eye. How do the intertwining of the sensory modalities come about - and what effect do they have on those affected?
When I was about six years "Image" my mind did something unusual that felt natural to me. When I heard the name of any day of the week, I automatically associated it with a color or pattern. The words always triggered the same color impressions in me, as if they embodied this shade. Sunday was a dark maroon, Wednesday a sunny golden yellow and Friday a deep green. Saturday was excitingly different. That day conjured up in my mind's eye a pattern of circular shapes in shades of silver and gray that progressively shifted and overlapped, like bubbles in a glass of sparkling water. alt="
Back then, I had no idea that my impressions were based on a neuronal peculiarity: synaesthesia. The term derives from the Greek words "syn" and "aísthēsis", which means something like "shared perception". A sensory stimulus activates additional sensory areas in the brain of those affected, which in most people would not react to it. Neuropsychologist Julia Simner aptly describes this as a state in which ordinary activities trigger extraordinary experiences. Only a fraction of the population feels synesthetic, but it's probably more common among creative people. Artists who reported corresponding impressions range from…