Synesthesia is often perceived as a psychedelic condition by those who have never experienced it. But what if you could give yourself synesthesia? Kastalia Medrano of Inverse looks into the possible new technology that could enable you to experience words as colors, sounds, or smells.

Jason Padgett was, at best, an average math student in school. Then, he got mugged outside a karaoke joint in Tacoma and suffered a violent blow to the head. Within a couple days — before he’d recovered fully from his injuries — Padgett began to see the world as complex geometrical equations. He became, quite suddenly, a mathematical genius.

So did the blow unlock a dormant skill that always existed within Padgett? Or did the blow endow Padgett with an extraordinary set of capabilities he didn’t have before?

Synesthesia — the ability to perceive one sense as another, like tasting sounds or seeing numbers as certain colors (i.e., ‘3’s are always yellow) — is fairly rare. Research indicates synesthesia tends to be congenital, something you’re born with. There are some common strains, such as grapheme, where synesthetes associate numbers and letters with colors; musicians like Kanye West have reported “seeing” sounds as colors. Then there are the less understood types, like mathematical synesthesia.

No matter the form, synesthesia has become widely romanticized, probably because of the strong associations the condition has with creativity and artistic inspiration. Synesthesia, arguably, has an almost sexy aspect to it, of being a condition that offers attributes of being both unique and smart. Add the fact that synesthesia has the trippy element of “seeing” colors and the condition takes on an almost edgy vibe, a reputation that hardly any traumatic brain injury has.

In a weird, twisted way, synesthesia is almost … desirable. But could a person go so far as to slam their head on purpose to try to achieve the effects of synesthesia?

There’s not much data on people trying to induce synesthesia in themselves, via drugs, technology, or even injury, but what we do know suggests that we can get close — but never quite achieve the real thing.


Read the full story by Kastalia Medrano at Inverse

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