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Rare but Real: People Who Feel, Taste and Hear Color

synesthesiaWhen Ingrid Carey says she feels colors, she does not mean she sees red, or feels blue, or is green with envy. She really does feel them.

She can also taste them, and hear them, and smell them.

The 20-year-old junior at the University of Maine has synesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which two or more of the senses entwine. Numbers and letters, sensations and emotions, days and months are all associated with colors for Carey.

The letter “N” is sienna brown; “J” is light green; the number “8” is orange; and July is bluish-green.

The pain from a shin split throbs in hues of orange and yellow, purple and red, Carey told LiveScience.

Colors in Carey’s world have properties that most of us would never dream of: red is solid, powerful and consistent, while yellow is pliable, brilliant and intense. Chocolate is rich purple and makes Carey’s breath smell dark blue. Confusion is orange.

Scientific acceptance

Long dismissed as a product of overactive imaginations or a sign of mental illness, synesthesia has grudgingly come to be accepted by scientists in recent years as an actual phenomenon with a real neurological basis. Some researchers now believe it may yield valuable clues to how the brain is organized and how perception works.

“The study of synesthesia [has] encouraged people to rethink historical ideas that synesthesia was abnormal and an aberration,” says Amy Ione, director of the Diatrope Institute, a California-based group interested in the arts and sciences.

The cause remains a mystery, however.
v According to one idea, irregular sprouting of new neural connections within the brain leads to a breakdown of the boundaries that normally exist between the senses. In this view, synesthesia is the collective chatter of sensory neighbors once confined to isolation.

Another theory, based on research conducted by Daphne Maurer and Catherine Mondloch at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, suggests all infants may begin life as synesthetes. In this way of thinking, animals and humans are born with immature brains that are highly malleable. Connections between different sensory parts of the brain exists that later become pruned or blocked as an organism matures, Mondloch explained.

Maurer and Mondloch hypothesize that if these connections between the senses are functional, as some experiments suggest, then infants should experience the world in a way that is similar to synesthetic adults.

In a variation of this theory, babies don’t have five distinct senses but rather one all-encompassing sense that responds to the total amount of incoming stimulation. So when a baby hears her mother’s voice, she is also seeing it and smelling it.

See more at: http://www.livescience.com/169-rare-real-people-feel-taste-hear-color.html