From The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series


By Richard E. Cytowic

An accessible, concise primer on the neurological trait of synesthesia—vividly felt sensory couplings—by a founder of the field. The place to go when one wants “more information” about this fascinating topic.

Imagine music and voices seen as colored moving shapes. Words and names that have distinct tastes. Alphabets, calendars, and timelines that wrap in space around your body. Or personalities of numerals and punctuation marks such that “3” is a tall, sporty male while the number “8” is a plump, arrogant lady.

These are just a few of the overt synesthetic experiences felt by 1 in 23 individuals who carry the genes for the trait. While one in 90 individuals inherit the trait to cross-connect perceptions, the gene is expressed with less than 100% fidelity, accounting for the smaller proportion of individuals who manifest synesthesia. Not a disorder but a sensory trait like having perfect pitch, synesthesia confers surprising benefits on those who have it. Cytowic is considered the pioneering researcher who returned the phenomenon to mainstream science after decades of oblivion and disbelief. Synesthesia provides an accessible introduction to this fascinating human experience.

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