The research paper consists of two main sections. The first one describes the different types of synesthesia, and the second investigates the problems of misunderstanding of synesthetes' experiences. The purpose is to highlight the main reasons of lack of agreement between different synesthetes and the denial of their experience by other people. In the research paper, the descriptive and comparison methods together with the method of analysis are used. Having investigated all the informational data, we can draw the following conclusion: the confusion between people with synesthesia and without it is obvious and has its reasons. The main one is that the process of understanding of synesthetes experience has two levels; they are individual in nature and depend on a person. The other reason is that the perception of mixed senses is also a unique process for every single synesthete. Today, there is no technological confirmation to analyze the process of imposition of senses and its nature.
Keywords: synesthesia, synesthete, experience, senses
Types of Synesthesia
According to Simpson and Weiner (1989), synesthesia is "the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body" (p. 1684). Such state varies from person to person. People often have not one form of it; different types can interrelate, join and exist together (Cytowic, 1993). Sensations are actually experienced by stimulated senses. They evoke a strong emotion and conviction that the sensation was felt, tasted, or seen depending on the sense (Baron-Cohen, Harrison, Goldstein, & Wyke, 1993).
There are two main ways to characterize synesthesia. The first one is according to its origin. Here, synesthesia falls into two main groups: acquired and developmental. Developmental synesthesia is observed during life and has a genetic origin. It can be transmitted from ancestors to their descendants. Acquired synesthesia is a form that can be obtained by brain injury or the usage of some drugs (Cytowic & Eagleman, 2009).
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The other way to characterize synesthesia is according to stimulated senses. Here, more than ten types can be observed. They are grapheme-color, tactile-emotion, sound-color, flavor-temperature, flavor-sound, sound-smell, time-units-colors, personality-smell, lexical-gustatory, time-space synesthesia, etc. (Ely & McKenna, 1992).
A lot of people have had the experience of certain associations between senses and memories. Some sounds or smells can recall memories about different people or places. The most studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia. In such form, the perception of letters or numbers is associated with some certain colors. When an individual hears or reads any word or number, every letter is imaginatively written in his/her mind with a certain color.
Time-space synesthesia occurs when a person associates some special place with a certain time of a day, month or time of a year, and vice versa (Ward, 2008). Usually, such type is observed in people with strong habits or scheduled lifestyle. For example, early morning is associated with a way to school, bus or a cab driving to work. The opposite situation is when somebody being in a particular place recalls a certain period of life. For instance, visiting university, one can remember student years (Campen, 2008).
Personality-smell synesthesia is also a very widespread type. A lot of people can be associated with their scents or smells. Here, one can feel the smell of cigarettes only when she/he sees some man because the most memorable sensation about this person is that he smokes a lot. Women can be associated with their perfumes, as well as the smell of a bakery associates with a grandmother (Ward, 2008).
All types of synesthesia cannot be consciously controlled. In reality, people do not feel the desire to stop any of displays because they do not interfere with their daily life and can be really enjoyable. Moreover, they can cause memory benefits.
Lack of Agreement and the Denial of Experience
The main problem in the study of synesthesia is that the only person who experiences mixed senses understands them. It is very difficult to express or describe such sensations to others. That is why there is no obvious agreement between the first-person understanding and the third-person objectivity.
The main reason for such confusion is that every single synesthete experiences everything in a unique way. Even if one can find two people with the same types of synesthesia, their descriptions, emotions, and responses will not be identical (Berman & Steen, 2008).
It is common knowledge that neural impulses are linear. That is the way one thinks about the perception. According to Richard E. Cytowic (2002), "We think of perception as a one-way street, travelling from the outside world inwards" (p. 39). It is a very complicated process in the minds of synesthetes. One can imagine that one sense crosses another one, creating the other way of neural impulses that move to other sensors (Robertson, 2005). That is likely to be the most general description of such perceptional process. If every synesthete experiences individually, the pathways of his/her neural impulses are also unique. As a result, their perceptions can be different.
A lot of people can question the reality of synesthesia because one can hardly understand the way of perceiving the world by a synesthete. In fact, it is hard to prove or refute the existence of mixed senses without having some technological confirmation. It is more difficult for a synesthete to express what he/she feels than for others to believe and understand them. The brain works like a computer, and emotions direct thoughts and actions. As a result, inner knowledge is largely inaccessible to utter in words (Cytowic, 2002). This means that what can be felt about something is brighter and wider than what can be thought or said about that.
Taking everything mentioned above into consideration, it can be stated that the understanding of synesthetes experience consists of two levels. The first one is the way he/she perceives, interprets, and utters mixed senses. The second is the way one understands their descriptions. The conflict occurs because none of these two levels is a reliable source of information. The only trustworthy data is stored in a synesthete's brain. Scientists cannot rely on the subjective thinking about what is happening in his/her head. That is why there is a problem of disbelief in the existence of synesthesia today.