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Where I'm from, eating hamburgers is a way of life.  Should I be worried about  what mad cow disease could do to my brain?

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Question:

When I hear sounds, I see colours - each sound has its own hue.  What's going on in my brain?  Is this normal?

-Jane from England

 

MegOnTheMind's Response:

 

Dear Jane,

What you are describing is a phenomenon scientists call "synesthesia".  Synesthesia is a genetic condition that occurs in at least 1 in every 2,000 individuals (though many believe it's more like 1 in 200).  It is characterized by a "mixing" of the senses whereby stimulation of one sense (for example, hearing) elicits an aberrant response from another sense (for example, vision).  Synesthesia can come in many varieties.  Some people see colors when they read letters and some people, like you, see colors when they hear sounds.  Less common, are people who taste sounds or smell words. 

It appears that synesthesia exists because of extra (or overactive) connections in multisensory areas of the cortex.  All people have multisensory areas that integrate information from all of the individual senses, but brain imaging studies show that only synaesthetes activate these areas with the input of just one sense (in your case, hearing).

You are definitely not alone in experiencing synesthesia - in fact - there have been many famous people over the years who had synesthesia.  They include:

•        Jazz legend Miles Davis

(Miles Davis saw specific colors when he heard certain chords played.)

 •        Artist David Hockney

(David Hockney sees colors when he listens to music. )

•        Inventor Nicola Tesla

(Nicola Tesla saw words that were spoken to him in the form of light flashes)

•        Nobel Prize winner in Physics Richard Feynman

(Richard Feynman sees colors when he looks at letters in math equations.)

That's what's on my mind, now you tell me, what's on yours!

       -MegOnTheMind

 

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Please note that while all submitted questions to MOTM will be considered, not all submitted questions will be able to be answered. Questions may be edited for clarity.