My word of the day: synesthesia.
I’m not sure which rabbit hole led me to this article on synesthesia, a neurological condition that blurs the boundaries between sensory pathways. But I’m glad for it.
I have a lot of rabbit holes.
Synesthetes, as author Cari Romm describes, can “hear colors, or see numbers as faces, or feel that they’re touching something if they see another person touching it.” It’s the kind of experience we usually associate with LSD trips (or that Hollywood does). But for synesthetes, feeling the color yellow may be as vibrant an experience as our visual admiration of a daffodil.
Which I do all the time, you guys. I visually admire daffodils.
Our senses—hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste—are the basic physical infrastructure through which we experience the world. Everything that gets into our brain does so through these five portals. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to have those portals merge with each other.
That’s not true. I can begin to imagine; it’s what I do for a living. But I’m probably imagining wrong.
I can’t taste colors, but I do know that yellow was reliably the worst-tasting color of candy.
Update! As I’m writing this post, my friend tells me her son can’t wear sunscreen because he tastes it. Yeesh—the stuff smells bad enough already without having it in your mouth. Another friend sees colors in certain letters and numbers.
As Romm points out, there can also be positive results from synesthesia as well as negative. If a synethete feels unhappy, touching a specific texture may bring on good spirits.
Synesthesia dovetails with another fascination of mine: how advances in biotech will alter our sensory perception of the world. Visual technology usually takes center stage in these discussions. Eye implants or fully-artificial eyes will radically expand our capacity to generate visual information.
But touch is important too, and here I can imagine a synesthete-like blending of sensory perceptions. Microsoft has been working on a virtual-touch technology for years. Somehow it can give you the sense of touching different textures without having something attached to your hand.
It’s a necessary innovation for VR. And if we make artificial eyes that project fully-fabricated visuals to our brains instead of just relaying light from the real world, it will be indispensable.
And what if our artificial eyes crap out on us during an important date? Could advanced sensory information from your fingers kick in to fill the gap? Touching colors, sensing weather, or mapping a building’s structure by touching just a single wall?
Whew, ok, too sciency, and I don’t even DO science. Besides, it’s not like the concept of fully articulated artificial realities is new. They made The Matrix in the 90s. The NINETIES.
Enjoy your week! Taste as many colors as you can.