Resound11: Synesthesia is my Superpower

December 8, 2011
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Shadows and the curve of our street. (photo by Tui Snider)

Shadows and the curve of our street. (photo by Tui Snider)

Synesthesia is my Superpower

I chose Synesthesia as my superpower because, while I find it a positive quality, it is often described as a mental disorder. Check out this article from Discovery magazine entitled, Top 10 Little-Known Mental Disorders, which claims,

“Synesthesia is a disorder resulting in the sufferer experiencing an alternate sense as a result of the first sense.”

Sufferer? Disorder? I love being a synesthete! Makes you wonder how many other things are considered to be abnormal/wrong when, in fact, they actually enrich people’s lives.

What is Synesthesia?

The word Synesthesia has Greek origins meaning, “joined senses.” The “disorder” is defined as an involuntary combining of two or more senses. Synesthesia takes many forms because there are so many ways to combine our senses. This means there is no single way to express this “condition,” although the most common form of Synesthesia, in which a person associates specific colors with each letter of the alphabet, has got a spiffy official name: grapheme-color synesthesia.

In other cases, instead of just hearing music, a person with Synesthesia might also see colorful mental images to go along with the tune, or upon hearing that it’s Wednesday, a synesthete might envision the size and shape of that particular day. To me, for instance, Wednesday is brightly-lit with a smooth texture, like plywood. In my mind, the entire week exists upon a horizontal plane in front of me with the days proceeding in a clockwise fashion.

Not Drug-Induced or an Overactive Imagination

As this Scientific American article mentions,

“For too long, synesthetes were dismissed as having overactive imaginations, confusing memories for perceptions or taking metaphorical speech far too literally.”

I’ve heard the “overactive imagination” thing my whole life, but what really irks me is when people insinuate my creativity is somehow drug-related. (Some of you may recall how I ranted about this a while ago in a post called Do Drugs Make You More Creative?)

Of course, I should add that, despite being touchy about people assuming I’m “high” when I’m just being playful, I took it as a huge compliment when a dear friend told me that during her one and only magic mushroom trip she kept thinking, “This must be what the world is like to Tui all the time.”

Even so, I felt rather validated when I read this section of the aforementioned Scientific American article:

“Synesthetes hear colors, feel sounds and taste shapes. What makes synesthesia different from drug-induced hallucinations is that synesthetic sensations are highly consistent: for particular synesthetes, the note F is always a reddish shade of rust, a 3 is always pink or truck is always blue.”

Exactly! It doesn’t change from day to day. In my case, A is yellow, the number 7 feels like shark skin, and the letter K is not only brown, but has a flaky layered texture, like mica or a Butterfinger candybar.

Synesthesia and Creativity

In the article, “Synesthesia is a Gift, Not a Disorder,” Giby George writes, “It’s no surprise, then, that synesthesia has been found to be most prevalent among creative individuals, specifically among artists, musicians, and novelists.”

Here are some famous creative synesthetes:

Billy Joel
Stevie Wonder
Vladimir Nabokov
Richard Feynman
David Hockney
Wassily Kandinsky
Duke Ellington
Pharrell Williams
John Mayer

(Oddly enough, while studies show Synesthesia to be twice as common in women as in men, I didn’t dig up the names of any female synesthetes while researching this post.)

Synesthesia is a Gift

Far from suffering from Synesthesia, I find that it enhances my creativity, and gives me a more poetic outlook on life. I tap into it often, especially when writing, playing music and learning languages. So rather than think of this neurological anomaly as a disorder, I agree with Giby George, who writes,

“Because of these additional capabilities, synesthesia should be termed a gift rather than a ‘neurological disorder’ or ‘condition,’ despite its physiological irregularity, as it allows the synesthete to appreciate more than simply one facet of a sensory experience.”

What Causes Synesthesia?

While research is being done on the matter, no one fully understands Synesthesia. According to that wonderful Scientific American article,

“Some scientists have suggested that everyone is born synesthetic but that the typical developmental trajectory results in these highly interconnected brain areas becoming far more segregated.”

Now isn’t that interesting? If everyone is born with Synesthesia, could retaining it be akin to maintaining one’s childlike curiosity towards life?

What are your Superpowers?

Before diving into this playful prompt, I decided to poke around and see what other bloggers were listing as their superpowers:

Paula Puffer includes Data Analysis in her list.

MaryBeth Smith possesses an enviable aptitude for sleep.

Kat has the ability to, “hear the stories that are only mine to tell.”

Morgan Dragonwillow was at a loss until her partner pointed out that art is her superpower.

#Resound11 prompt:

Today’s writing prompt comes from Jaemie Gyurik, who created #Resound11 to pick up where #Reverb10 left off.

Superpower: Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound … We know you’ve got one. What’s your 2011 superpower?

For those of you going, “What the what? Stop!” Think about it for a moment: What have you learned that you can do better than anyone you know this year? What can you do that no one else can? Don’t be shy!

What is #Reverb11?

#Reverb11, #Resound11 and #Relish11 are just a few names for a fun end of the year project that mindful bloggers all over the world are participating in. Each day in December, folks choose a prompt from one of several lists, then use that as a launchpad to express themselves on their blog. The prompts are especially geared towards reflecting back on 2011 and paving the way towards a better 2012.

Everyone is welcome to join in. If you don’t have a blog, respond to the prompts offline through journaling, painting or whatever direction your inspiration takes you!

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13 Responses to Resound11: Synesthesia is my Superpower

  1. December 21, 2011 at 19:54

    Yet another synaesthete here! I have pretty mild grapheme-colour synaesthesia. I’m not sure how useful that one is to me – I remember some names and words in colour groupings but this can turn into “I know he’s got a red name, but can’t remember if it’s Mike or Adam …”

    What’s way more prominent for me is tickertape synaesthesia, whereby all speech (or thought) is subtitled. As a result my spelling is near-perfect and if I’m learning a new language I need to know how it’s written, rather than just learning aurally, otherwise I won’t remember vocab. Also, I can speak backwards, though I haven’t figured out yet how to turn that into something lucrative. Anyway, as superpowers go I think it’s pretty decent.

    • mentalmosaic
      December 24, 2011 at 13:07

      Hi Nine,

      I have the same issue as you with the, “I know it’s a red name…”

      Also, I have subtitled speech and thought, too. Like you, it makes me a stellar speller, and when learning a new language, I like to see how it’s spelled.

      I don’t think I can speak backwards, though. Very cool!

      Thanks for swinging by. :)
      ~Tui

    • Elealeh
      April 8, 2013 at 13:22

      Oh, my gosh! I have grapheme-color & ticker tape, too! I didn’t think anybody else thought of M & A both as red, like me, but Adam is almost brownish to me : ) I also have mirror touch & a little bit of motion-sound, how about you? : )

  2. December 13, 2011 at 01:38

    it is great to see you embrace Synesthesi . It is interesting to hear your perspective. I think you explain well why this condition is so misunderstood. I love this clip from QI where they discuss that Mondays are “blue”. This is one of the first times I heard it mentioned in mass media, but I originally read about it in my psych books.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaMWUsJfIYc

    I think I mentioned on my blog that my superpower is absorbing obscure knowledge.

    • mentalmosaic
      December 13, 2011 at 15:02

      Hi Susan,

      I love your informative blog comments! You always send me off in great directions! :)

      I tip my hat to your superpower! :)
      ~Tui

  3. December 11, 2011 at 17:35

    Fascinating!! I’d never heard of Synesthesia. Your perspective is so original, definitely a gift! I used to take care of a toddler who insisted that letters had personalities- she liked J but not I. She had incredible musical aptitude from an early age and is now a “gifted” teenager. I wonder if she’s a synesthete too. It’s no surprise that both of her parents are successful artists (composer dad/ writer mom)

    Not sure if it’s a superpower, but I sometimes communicate with friends when we’re asleep and also have precognitive dreams. Thanks for another thought provoking post, Tui!

    • mentalmosaic
      December 13, 2011 at 14:59

      Hi Robin,

      I understand what that toddler was saying; certain numbers, letters, and even piano chords have personalities for me, as well!

      Fascinating about your dream communication! I’d call that a definite superpower – one that I would like to hear more about! :)

      Thanks for visiting!
      ~Tui

  4. Angelo
    December 9, 2011 at 10:44

    Synaesthesia is a gift I inherited since I exist on this world!

    This is not a condition, but a blessing!

    I have to see if the corresponding domain is available!

    God bless Synaesthesia!

    • mentalmosaic
      December 9, 2011 at 11:23

      Ciao Angelo,

      I bet a lot of things besides Synesthesia are blessings and not conditions.

      Lol – you love to collect domains, don’t you?

      Thanks for swinging by and commenting!

      ~Tui

  5. December 9, 2011 at 05:29

    wow, synaesthesia sounds amazing! Not sure I have a superpower, I will have to think about that.

    • mentalmosaic
      December 9, 2011 at 11:21

      Hi Debbie!

      Everyone has superpowers! It’s easy to overlook them in ourselves, though.

      If you still can’t think of any, ask a close friend. You will pleasantly surprised! :)

      ~Tui

  6. December 8, 2011 at 15:25

    I love this… I had no idea there was a name for it. I thought it was just something that everybody did. I particulary see pictures when I hear music. And yes, I believe we do retain that childlike quality and I have been told that I have an over active imagination. :D Of course I just thought I was so playful because of my Venus and Mars both being in Gemini. The Gemini represents the eternal girl and eternal boy.

    Thank you so much for sharing your Superpower!

    Peace,
    Morgan Dragonwillow

    P.S. It was very sweet to mention some of us that wrote about our Superpowers!

    • mentalmosaic
      December 8, 2011 at 18:03

      Hi Morgan,

      I was really trying to figure out when I first learned that Synesthesia was a “disorder,” and I’m not really sure.

      It wasn’t that long ago, though, I’ve gotta tell you.

      Venus and Mars in Gemini, eh? Let’s see, I’ve got a Pisces sun, Gemini moon and Libra rising. Or as I like to say,
      each one of my twins can put a fish on the scale…

      Even so, I’m not too sure how it all adds up! I’ve never had an official astrology chart reading.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      ~Tui

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