History of Synesthesia
July 11,2006 History of Synesthesia
Synesthesia has been known to medicine for almost three hundred years. After interest peaked between 1860 and 1930, it was forgotten, because psychology and neurology were premature sciences. Psychological theory was full with associations, and concepts of nervous tissue were insignificant. Subjective experience, such as synesthesia, was believed not a proper subject for scientific study.(pg3)
Synesthesia's history is interesting but also important if we are to understand its neurological basis, because the word was used to describe diverse phenomena in different eras. Central to the initial approach in 1980 was a sharp separation of synesthesia as a sensual perception …show more content…
The nineteenth century saw an alchemical zeal in the search for universal correspondences and a presumed algorithm for translating one sense into another. This mechanistic approach was consistent with the then-common view of a clockwork universe based on Newton's uniform laws of motion. (pg 219)
Although medicine has known about synesthesia for three centuries, it keeps forgetting that it knows. After decades of neglect, a revival of inquiry is under way. As in earlier times, today's interest is multidisciplinary. Neuroscience is particularly curious this time - or at least it should be - because of what synesthesia might tell us about consciousness, the nature of reality, and the relationship between reason and emotion.
The words synethesia, meaning "joined sensation", shares a root with anesthesia, meaning "no sensation." It indicates the rare capacity to hear colors, taste shapes, or experience other equally startling sensory combinations whose quality seems difficult for most of us to imagine. A synesthete might describe the color, shape, and flavor of someone's voice. Or seeing the color red, a synesthete might detect the "scent" of red as well. The experience is frequently propelled outside the individual, rather than being an image in the mind's eye. An estimate of 1/25,000 individuals is born to a world where one sensation involuntarily call upon others, sometimes all five clashing together.
It is aphorismic that nature reveals herself by her