Synesthesia – Concept, uses, types and examples

We explain what synesthesia is as a perceptual condition and what types exist. Also, synesthesia as an artistic resource and examples.

Synesthesia allows, for example, to perceive the color of music.

What is synesthesia?

Synesthesia is a non-pathological condition of human perception, which consists of the ability to involuntarily and automatically experience an additional sense in the face of a specific sensory stimulus, that is, of jointly perceive two senses to the same stimulus concrete. This is a genetic condition whose origins are not fully known yet.

It is not that the senses are intermingled, but rather that when perceiving a specific stimulus (for example, a tactile sensation) some other (for example, the perception of a color) are also activated.

Thus, synaesthetic people can perceive a caress through touch and at the same time by sight, by feeling it with the skin and also seeing a color associated with said stimulus, or even perceiving a specific sound along with the caress, or a specific taste in the tongue.

The first description of synesthesia in history occurred in 1812, recorded by Dr. Georg Tobías Ludwig Sachs (1786-1814), and since then it has been found mostly in people with autism or with special features. It is known that occurs in one person in 100 approximately, that is, about 1% of the world’s population.

Types of synesthesia

The main forms of appearance of synesthesia are three:

  • Lexical-gustatory synesthesia, which consists of the perception of certain flavors when a specific word is pronounced.
  • Grapheme-color synesthesia, which consists of the direct association of a written sign (letters, numbers) as a specific color or a tonality of it.
  • Music-color synesthesia, which consists of the perception of a certain color during certain musical passages, especially with regard to timbre or sound frequency.

Synesthesia as an artistic resource

In the art world, the term synesthesia is reserved for certain types of stylistic and expressive devices, such as rhetorical figures, in which se seeks to mix the impressions traditionally associated with a certain sense with other, in a novel way, to obtain a much more original and expressive result.

It is a kind of metaphor, present in literature since classical times, and of enormous presence in the Spanish baroque and French symbolism, as well as in Latin American modernism.

Expressions such as “sonorous ivory” or “sweet blue” are examples of first degree synesthesia: the impression of two different bodily sensations in a direct way; while others such as “sour melancholy” or “bitter waiting” constitute a case of second degree synesthesia, which combines a bodily sense and an idea or an object, that is, it indirectly composes its image.

Some examples of synesthesia in the literature are the following:

  • In the verses of Juan Ramón Jiménez: “by the green tinged with melodious golds“Or” in the zenith blue, a pink caress”.
  • In the verses of Francisco de Quevedo: “I listen with my eyes to the dead”.
  • In the prose of Luis Cernuda: “then a delicious aroma, and the rainwater collected in the hollow of your hand had the taste of that aroma”.
  • In the verses of Joan Manuel Serrat: “Your name it tastes like grass to me”.
  • In Rubén Darío’s verses: “Hail the celestial sound sun! ” or “Of our sad minds the dark ideas”.