Synesthesia is intriguing, in the sense that it can be seen or described as a distinctive way of distinguishing reality, through which multiple senses can blend in with each other. As a simply mental ability, it’s often described as an anomalous perceptual capability of the average human. However, it can also be an artistic process, through which the writer, poet or painter can vividly express exceptional feelings, ideas or visions.
Forms of synesthesia
At its core, synesthesia is the ability to essentially unconsciously blend senses in with each other. This happens automatically and it’s not learnt by the individual that can experience synesthesia. Examples of this more commonly include the ability to involuntarily ‘see’ a certain number as being a certain colour, having associated with this combination powerful emotions.
Despite the aforementioned experience being quite striking and most commonly associated with the process of synesthesia amongst those who can experience it, there are other ways that the common individual can experience it as well. A form of synaesthesia is the way many people associate certain feelings or experiences with colours – many people think the colour blue is cold, uncaring and even masculine or charismatic.
How non-synesthetes can experience synesthesia and ancient associations
Of course, there are many societal reasons for which people may or may not like or dislike certain colours or even numbers. Subtle associations in media, society and all around civilization that get repeated over and over create these pathways of connection between what we perceive as ‘red’, for example, and the ideas of aggression, rage, power – of course, that applies to other ideas and colours as well.
Let’s take the example of red and rage. Red is a very powerful colour that gets used in adverts and other means of media. If you want to inspire change or motivation, red can work wonders. At its core, red is associated deeply within our collective unconscious with blood and fire. Both blood and fire can signify power, fierceness, aggression and, finally, chaos. Blue is often the opposite when it comes to perception, being seen as a calming colour (think the wide blue sky that inspires awe or the colour of the vast sea).
These ideas are deeply ingrained into our collective unconscious and most human beings can express similar ideas regarding the most common colours we’ve had to experience over millennia as a species. It’s natural to associate green with progress, prosperity and balance – nature all around us has usually been green in times of prosperity. The cold winter brings forth hardship and all greenery is gone. Of course, nobody really rationalizes it like that when they feel a certain emotion or an idea pops up in their head instinctively the moment they see the colour. You have to take it apart.
This is a form of synesthesia that is present in most human beings, which also raises complicated questions regarding the nature of the reality as we perceive it. Our senses are so deeply interconnected that sometimes it must be difficult to truly distinguish ideas or objects as authentic. Synesthesia and the associated processes can and have been used to control and to manipulate people easier, as well.
Art and pure synesthesia
With the examples given, there are evolutionary and societal reasons for which many people associate colours and ideas, feelings and thoughts, but as we’ve seen, there are also forms of rather ‘pure’ synesthesia, where the synesthetes just simply associate items, numbers, ideas, colours and emotions as they are. Why is the number eight actually yellow for a synesthete, whereas for another eight presents as red? It makes no sense, it just is.
This fabulous ability can be used in artistic processes and has been used multiple times in books, poems, paintings and other means of artistic envisioning. For example, poets that use synesthetic means of artistic expression include Charles Baudelaire and George Bacovia. Literature has endless examples of books where synesthesia is used or mentioned, just like with art.