The soothing sound of blue floats past my sight,
I open up my eyes to hear a shape;
The colours and the music are not right,
The painting tastes more like a stark landscape.
I open up my eyes to hear a shape,
As Turner’s clouds begin to smell of damp;
The painting tastes more like a stark landscape,
With senses overwhelmed until they cramp.
As Turner’s clouds begin to smell of damp,
My mother says they sound like rippled spray;
With senses overwhelmed until they cramp,
The petals falling sound like a Monet.
My mother says they sound like rippled spray,
As neurons in my brain begin to beat;
The petals falling sound like a Monet,
Accompanied by the taste of something sweet.
As neurons in my brain begin to beat,
The colours and the music are not right;
Accompanied by the taste of something sweet,
The soothing sound of blue floats past my sight.
Synaesthesia can be thought of as a “union of the senses”, in which two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically experienced simultaneously, for example seeing colours whilst listening to music. About 5% of the global population is thought to have some form of synaesthesia, and there are many different ways in which it can manifest itself. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia (a condition in which people see letters as having colours) is thought to be the most common form, although over 60 different types have been reported, including people who have visual experiences when they smell odours.
Up until now the molecular basis for synaesthesia has been a mystery, although the condition is known to run in families, implying that inherited factors are important. This new research analysed the DNA of three families in which multiple members, across several different generations, experience visual colours when listening to sounds. In analysing their DNA, the researchers observed that people who experienced synaesthesia also had rare genetic variants that affected their ability to create new axons (also known as nerve fibres, these are the long slender projections of a nerve cell, or neuron, that conduct electrical impulses), thereby pointing to a potential molecular basis for the condition. To better understand these findings, the team is looking for new families and individuals to join their study.
You can find out more about this research, and take a short test to find out if you experience a common form of synaesthesia, here.
An audio version of this poem can be heard here.