The one certainty in the world of synaesthesia is this: there is no clear answer to why a fraction of the population has it, and others don’t. There are as many theories about the origins and significance of synaesthesia as there are scientists studying it.
Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, postulates synaesthesia as an organic aberration. He espouses a theory of neonatal synesthesia; until we are about 4 months old, all babies experience the senses in a conflated way. For example, sounds would result in auditory, visual, and tactile sensations. During normal development, the senses differentiate. Sensory processing becomes modal: we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, etc. Synesthesia occurs when this differentiation is left incomplete, allowing for cross-modal associations between two or more senses.
Many contemporary neuroscientists believe there is a genetic basis for synaesthesia. The research of VS Ramachandran at The Center for Brain and Cognition at The University of California, San Diego supports a hyper-connectivity theory. Synaesthesia might be caused by a genetic mutation that creates defective pruning of connections in different parts of the brain. This mutation may further be expressed selectively in various structures in the brain, including the fusiform or angular gyrus. This may explain why there are different forms of synaesthesia. Additionally, there may be extensive cross-wiring between brain regions that represent abstract concepts, which would explain the link between creativity, metaphor, and synaesthesia.
The Serotonergic Hyperactivity model purports synesthesia is a defect in the serotonergic system leading to a blockage of regular gating mechanisms for the neurotransmitter serotonin. Professor Berit Brogaard, director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami, studies acquired synaesthesia. A synaesthetic state can be induced in some subjects with drugs such as LSD or psilocybin. Additionally, traumatic brain injury (TBI) occasionally creates synaesthsia in people who did not have conflated senses prior to their trauma.
Theories of synaesthesia continue to develop, as does insight into its meaning and value. For now, “why” remains a point of contention and an unanswered question.
Carolyn “CC” Hart
I have synesthesia too. I don’t really understand it. I’ve know I’ve had it for about 10 years now, and I am constantly discovering more and more ways that it’s a part of my mind and my life. You seem to really have a handle on understanding yours.
You recently followed my Synesthesia board on Pinterest, so I followed you back. That’s how I discovered your blog. I hope you don’t mind me commenting like this. I was just intrigued by how much thought and attention you put into synesthesia, and I felt like I could really relate to it all.
Hi Abigail, Thanks for reaching out. I really enjoy following your synesthesia board on Pintrest! I’m so happy that Pintrest has allowed me to connect with other synesthetes.
Most of us with synesthesia have had this condition our entire lives, even if we didn’t have a word to describe our experience. Synesthesia is created by the way our brains are “wired”, it’s a rare, but inborn trait, although in some cases it can be acquired in adulthood. Acquired synesthesia is typically the result of some type of brain trauma (injury, stroke, etc.).
I’ve learned so much about synesthesia from the books listed on my resources page, and also from the books on my Pinterest page. Also, you might enjoy connecting to other synesthetes through Sean A. Day’s list serve, an international community of almost 1000 synesthetes and researchers. You can find a link here: https://voxsynaesthetica.wordpress.com/resources/
Scroll to the bottom under the heading Community to find Dr. Sean A. Day.
Thanks again for reaching out, Abigail! I’d be delighted if you would follow my blog here at WordPress.
Carolyn “CC” Hart
Thank you so much for all of the resources! I will check them out for sure and I’ll keep reading the blog! It’s so nice to get to read about someone else who has such similar experiences to my own!
Thank you so much for reading Vox Synaesthetica. I truly hope to inform people about the fascinating world of synesthesia…