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Synesthesia

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Kenia Velado Bio 100-10 4/14/14 kenia_velado@yahoo.com

Synesthesia Most of us are pretty familiar with world renowned health conditions and diseases mainly because of the number of people affected by them. But what about the ones that are not that common. One of them is a condition called Synesthesia. It is a phenomenon that has been known for about 200 years. Synesthesia has helped scientists learn more about brain functions and has opened a new pathway of creativity. Have you ever wondered what the color blue smells like? Or what the letter A taste like? Well people who have Synesthesia might be able to answer this. Now if we break the word apart we have "syn" which means together and "aesthesis" which means sensation. Synesthesia is a condition in which a person's senses are merged into each other. People who have this condition are called Synesthetes and therefore tastes shapes, hear colors and feel sounds. They also "experience colors from reading letters and numbers" (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0964704X.2010.528240#.U0iAQvldUue) and might taste the words they read as well. Synesthetes all experience it differently so they do not all see, hear, smell and touch the same way. This condition is very rare but scientists have been studying it for decades. George Sachs wrote a latin medical dissertation in 1812 in which he first introduced the phenomenon. Later on in 1848, Charles-Auguste-Édouard Cornaz wrote a thesis in which he also mentioned Synesthesia. These publications resulted in the discovery of various cases of synesthesia. Table 1 shows all the known cases between 1812 and 1873. Cornaz helped raise awareness of synesthesia but it was later forgotten by the 1860s. In 1880, however, synesthesia was once again discovered by Charles Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton. He wrote a paper in a famous scientific journal called Nature about the condition. However most scientists did not really pay much attention to the phenomenon because they made assumptions that it was just an effect of LSD usage or simply not real. Some also said it was all part of people's elaborate imaginations and confusing memories. Eventually, when scientists started to learn more about brain functions so research on synesthesia rose. In the 1990s a new generation of scientists and psychologists began to go more in depth about the condition. Scientists have discovered that the main case of Synesthesia is cross wiring in the brain. Each of our senses comes from information processed in different areas of the brain. For Synesthetes, however, the information is different because the wiring is different. So therefore, for example, when a synesthetic sees the letter J, the brain grabs information from the wrong areas. So the person will see the letter colored. Scientists furthermore discovered that the same effect could happen when the wiring is correct but there is an imbalance between the chemicals going through the brain. This causes cross-activation. Scientists use images such as Figure 1 and Figure 2 to test cross-activation. Synesthesia can cause 2 senses to mesh and there has been a known synesthete named Solomon Shereshevsky who was said to have all five senses linked. There is said to be over 50 different types of Synesthesia. One common form of it is called grapheme and it is when letters and numbers are seen colored. Synesthesia has helped us understand more about where creativity and thought are developed. The condition is "seven times as common in creative people as in the general population" (dallas) Creative people put together ideas that are not related to one another like synesthetes. Research shows that we are all capable of experiencing synesthesia. Our angular gyrus is bigger than apes and causes to come up with metaphors. But scientists believe synesthesia was evolved from this function. Therefore some say that we all have synesthesia and some just have a more abstract form of it. Synesthetes have found ways to express what they experience through various forms of art. There are many well-known synesthetic artists such as Michell Joan (Figure 3) and even Vincent Van Gogh (Figure 4). Van Gogh was said to apparently have "vision to sound" synesthesia. It is hard to distinguish synesthetic artwork from regular artwork. As you can see the rare but curious condition of synesthesia has helped scientists learn more about creativity and our brain functions. Scientists, to this day, are still researching the phenomenon and its connections to deeper levels of the mind. I personally find synesthesia very interesting and it makes me wonder what it would be like to experience it. There are many other different and rare conditions in the world that we may not even be aware of but as the scientists learned from researching synesthesia, a rare condition could open doors to other phenomena.

Jewanski, Jorg, Julia Simner, Sean A. Day, and Jamie Ward. "The Development of a Scientific Understanding of Synesthesia from Early Case Studies (1849–1873)." Journal of the History of the Neurosciences: Basic and Clinical Perspectives 20.4 (2011): 284-305. Taylor & Francis Online. 17 Oct. 2011. Web. 9 Apr. 2014.

Ramachandran, Vilayanur S., and Edward M. Hubbard. "Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes." Scientific America (2003): 53-59. Web. 10 Apr. 2014.

Hubbard, Edward M., and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. "Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Synesthesia." Neuron 48.3 (2005): 509-20. Science Direct. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.…...

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