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How She Smells What I Hear

Recently, my daughter and I attended a piano recital. As the pianist played Chopin, my daughter turned to me and said, “That music smells like grape medicine.”


It made no sense to me. I thought that the sound triggered a memory of something she smelled when she as younger. How does a sound (that requires one to use the sense of hearing) have an odor (which requires one to use the sense of smell)? My daughter insisted that she could do this, much like a friend of hers can see colored auras around people.

Fortunately, some days later, my daughter directed me to a YouTube video about a condition called synesthesia. The word, Greek for “union of the senses,” refers to a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. This video made more sense than the dictionary definition of synesthesia: “a concomitant sensation, especially a subjective sensation or image of a sense other than the one being stimulated.”

Upon further research, I learned there are different forms of synesthesia. My daughter can tell me what color a word, letter or number is. This is called grapheme-color synesthesia. That my daughter can smell a sound is an example of auditory → tactile synesthesia. It is similar to the rarer  lexical-gustatory synesthesia, in which a word evokes a taste.

There are other forms. Chromesthesia is an association of sound to color. Those with spatial sequence synesthesia tend to see numerical sequences as points in space, either on a line, a curve, or as a clock. Misophonia is a neurological disorder in which negative experiences (anger, flight, hatred, disgust) are triggered by specific sounds.

All this means is my daughter’s not crazy, unless you think Duke Ellington, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Billy Joel, Nikola Tesla and Pharrell Williams are crazy. They are among the many who claim to have this condition.

Until next time! Use the right words!


May 22, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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