Idea Of The Day

In the Realm of the Senses

The senses often work in concert: Usually you see and hear a car at much the same time, but sometimes you see it before you hear it, or vice versa. On occasion, the senses can work more confusingly, when, for example, sight and sound become not just blurred but are experienced together. In Lingua Franca, the magazine about academic life, Jim Holt addresses this interesting phenomenon, which is known as synesthesia: “Today about one person in two thousand is gifted—or cursed—with sensory crossover. … About twenty forms of synesthesia have been reported. The most common of these involve various written letters or numbers triggering colors, which are either seen in the mind’s eye or projected outside the body. … In rarer cases, synesthetes say they can see the fragrance of a flower, or taste the note of a trumpet, or even hear the decor of the room they are in.” Who needs LSD?

There’s at least one synesthetic joke: The poet Philip Larkin once turned to a barman, after downing a gin and tonic, and said, “Was that a double gin or a single gin? I’m getting so deaf in my old age that I can’t see a single gin.” 

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