Synesthesia: The Meeting of Senses

"We tend to think of our experiences, especially the visual system, as being bottom-up, But there are many instances where meaning goes back down and influences our lower-order perception of the world. Synesthesia is just one very rare and exceptional example of that."

African creative with Synesthesia, Abiola Ogunsanwo founder of Synesthesia Society of Africa (SSOA) of Nigeria, quotes, "it is something old in our society in Africa. But most Africans see these experiences as a form of witchcraft or something unusual that is not good to talk about." 200 years back maybe, when these conditions were not understood, but in today's world? Being Ignorant is rather limiting in a time all you have to do is read about it.

Have you encountered a synesthete or could you be a synesthete? Our own Design and Creative Director, Adrian Jankowiak, was rather surprised discovering what he was convinced everyone had, was infact a genetic bonus which he shares with his GrandMa. Who you are today being a base for who you become, 17 year-old Adrian self-discovery through a Documentary reflects in his current daily work and career. What are the odds that an innate ability to hear a word, music or sounds and picture colour at the back of his head; would translate to how Adrian presents his Art.

He quotes," I am an artist, in my work when I come up with Brand Identities or colours, alot just is from my inherent, How does it feel? Looking at a word on the screen, I know factually its white, but am also feeling its got colours to it. Within my mind, the more I kind of zoom in on a word, the more I can see some of the details and flashes". Adrian also gives us a glimpse into a synesthetes' view in his alphabet,

Synesthetic awareness can be a beneficial condition, especially for creativity. For this reason too, the relationship between synesthesia and art has fascinated scholars, and some works by artists and musicians are considered paradigms of synesthetic expression.

Following an Invite to participate in a virtual symposium hosted by the Synesthesia Society of Africa in collaboration with the international Association of Synesthetes, Artists, and Scientists (IASAS); Nairobi Design Week (NDW) calls to action through exhibiting work by Isaiah Wakoli and our own projects. Kenyan artist Isaiah Wakoli saw the world differently than some of us do, and it accents his vibrant, boisterous art: with his rare gift called color synesthesia.

Wakoli says. “I have this rare condition called color synesthesia. I love color. I always try to associate moods and feelings with different colors. I’m inspired by color, light and human behavior."

Contrary to view of synesthesia as a neurological defect, most synesthetes see their condition as a sixth sense, not a drawback, and treasure what they consider a bonus sense. However synesthesia can be an annoyance, for too long, synesthetes were dismissed as having overactive imaginations, confusing memories for perceptions or taking metaphorical speech far too literally. Children say it can make reading tricky when they see colors that other people don’t. If you have taste-related synesthesia, it can be startling when a bad taste comes on suddenly.

Derived from the Greek, meaning "to perceive together". Some synesthetes hear, smell, taste or feel pain in color. Others taste shapes, and still others perceive written digits, letters and words in color.

Synesthetes' brains are equipped with more connections between neurons, causing the usual modularity to break down and giving rise to synesthesia; which is an anomalous blending of the senses in which the stimulation of one modality simultaneously produces sensation in a different modality; since for the synesthete to experience visual sensations when channels other than visual are stimulated, implies particular neural connection.

There are many types including:

Grapheme-color synesthesia; letters or numbers associated with specific colors

Sound-to-color synesthesia; sounds cause seeing shapes of different colors.

Lexical-gustatory synesthesia; words or sounds elicits different tastes.

Conceptual synesthesia; see abstract concepts, such as units of time or mathematical operations, as shapes projected either internally or in the space around them.

Synesthesia is widely considered a congenital condition; Perceptions are involuntary; when you hear music and see shapes or see a color when you hear a word, you don’t think about it. It just happens.

Contrary an alternative view is that; "it's underpinned by repeated exposure to combined perceptual features at key developmental stages." this explores the potential for repeated associative learning to shape and bring about synesthetic experiences. Which has me thinking, Could we apply Ivan Pavlov study on Conditioned Reflex to this, what if you and I could learn to be synesthetes, I know I would have loved a sixth sense, or at least experience a simulation. To sum all the above stated words, IS SYNESTHESIA A GENETIC ADAPTATION or WAS IT A RUDIMENTARY STAGE OF EVOLUTION THAT BECAME VESTIGIAL only appearing in the lucky few?

Austrian-American psychoanalyst Paul Schilder wrote: "But we should not forget that every sensation is generally synesthetic. This means that there does not exist any primary isolation between the different senses. The isolation is secondary. The synesthesia, therefore, is the normal situation. The nervous system acts as a unit according to the total situation. The unit of perception is the object which presents itself through the senses and through all the senses. Perception is synesthetic. There is no question that the object 'body' presents itself to all senses."