PDA

View Full Version : A few questions regarding visual synesthesia



chocowrites
09-10-2009, 04:39 AM
I have a few questions for people that have visual synesthesia.

A little background: my MC does not have synesthesia. However, she begins seeing colors around people, at first only flashes out of the corners of her eyes, but it gradually progresses to full fledged colors.

Eventually, she's bothered enough by it that she decides to go to her family physician.

Questions:

Can you describe how the colors look to you? Do they meld onto your surroundings, or are they more like colors that you see in your mind's eye? Do you see colors all the time, or only for certain things?

How much of the medical world knows about synesthesia? If you just went to any normal doctor and said, "I see colors around me" would they immediately suspect that you have synesthesia? Or is it more obscure than that?

How do they diagnose synesthesia? What kind of tests do they use? Blood tests? Visual tests? Genetic tests?

What kind of specialist would you see for synesthesia?

And most importantly: Have you ever told doctors about what you see and they didn't know what you were describing? What explanations did they offer? Eye disorders? Too much stress? Because I want her going to an incompetent doctor that won't realize that it could possibly by synesthesia (even though it isn't. Sorry, it's a bit confusing).

And then later on, I want her to find out about synesthesia and think that's probably what she has. Even though she doesn't.

Again, sorry if this is confusing.

I have more questions to ask, just can't think of them right now. If you can share any experiences you have had, it will be invaluable. Thanks in advance!

Xelebes
09-10-2009, 07:10 AM
I have a weak sense of synaesthesia, my grandmother has it slightly stronger than I do. To me, when I hear a vocalisation of a number - either from myself or from someone else - I imagine the number and I imagine the number coloured in.

I also think synaesthesia is considered more a phenomenon than a diagnosis. That is, doctors don't really test for it but scientists do since there is usually no problems associated with having it that is to be treated by the doctors. No doctors or medical specialists diagnose it.

Libbie
09-10-2009, 07:52 AM
Synesthesia occurs in about 1% of the population. Most people who experience it do so because of sleep deprivation. It is very rare that a person has synesthesia with regularity, as a chronic issue.

For a pretty good discussion of synesthesia with a neurologist, go to iTunes, search podcasts, and find The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Download episode #159 (it's free.) The discussion of synesthesia (lasting about five minutes) comes near the end of the program, during an entertaining segment called "Science or Fiction?"

The neurologist, Dr. Steven Novella, has experienced synesthesia himself and gives a pretty good account of what causes it, what it's typically like, and how transient episodes differ from chronic synesthesia, which is caused by an incorrectly wired sensory pathway in the brain. It's very interesting.

I have experienced synesthesia myself, due to sleep deprivation followed by way too much caffeine. It's not always colors: It's simply a "crossed wire" between two or more neurosensory pathways, so that your brain interprets signals from one sensory organ as if they came from another sensory organ.

One time, I could feel sounds on the backs of my hands (a kind of prickly pressure every time I heard a sharp noise.) The other time, I saw black rabbit-like objects moving across my field of peripheral vision every time my car hit a bump on the road (never drive when you're this sleep-deprived, obviously. I was being very stupid.)

So, synesthesia can take all kinds of cool forms. But my guess is that a patient presenting with a constant flux of colors that didn't seem to be linked to any crossed sensory cues wouldn't be diagnosed with synesthesia. As for what treats a chronic case, my guess would be surgery, or nothing, since in the case of people who have chronic problems with it, the underlying issue isn't lack of sleep but deformed neural pathways in the brain.

You'd undoubtedly see a neurologist for synesthesia, and although I don't know how it would be tested, my guess is that it would involve the patient telling the doctor what she experienced when certain senses were stimulated. Did she see a color every time a particular note was played? Did she feel a particular sensation each time a sound of a certain decibel was heard? etc.

My guess is that synesthesia is well understood by medical professionals. It's one of those "weird disorders" that is so cool, everybody likes to learn about it. Could a doc possibly not know about it? Yeah, sure. But that seems fairly unlikely given how unusual the symptoms are. It seems more likely a doctor would have reason to believe it was a transient episode due to your character not getting enough sleep than anything else.

StephanieFox
09-10-2009, 07:55 AM
My understanding is that this condition is enjoyable and that people would not want to eliminate it.

You should check if this is something people have all their lives or if they can develop it. I don't know, but you might want to be sure.

chocowrites
09-12-2009, 09:27 PM
Thank you. This helped a lot :)

Izunya
09-14-2009, 02:19 AM
One time, I could feel sounds on the backs of my hands (a kind of prickly pressure every time I heard a sharp noise.) The other time, I saw black rabbit-like objects moving across my field of peripheral vision every time my car hit a bump on the road (never drive when you're this sleep-deprived, obviously. I was being very stupid.)

Huh. Does synesthesia ever involve inexplicable associations within one sense? For instance—every time I pick up something very light and fluttery, like, say, cupping a moth in my hands to take it outside—I get an itchy, fuzzy sensation at the back of my throat. I assumed it was a very mild aversive reaction, my brain trying to tell me, "Hey, dummy, don't touch that, you don't know where it's been." (Well, no, but I do know that if I don't rescue it now, it'll be inside a cat.)

I mention this because it sounds a little bit like your prickly pressure. I've never seen black rabbits following me, and having read Watership Down, that would seriously freak me out.

Izunya

Libbie
09-14-2009, 03:12 AM
Synesthesia is basically any sense you experience when some other sense is stimulated. Feeling something in one spot of your body and simultaneously in another probably isn't quite synesthesia, but it's close. It would be more along the lines of synesthesia if you smelled or heard something distinct every time you touched a moth. :D

Yeah, I've read Watership Down a zillion times and I have a Black Rabbit tattoo, so this was a pretty disturbing hallucination. Happily, I am a boring old skeptic and I figured out what was going on pretty quickly.

Canotila
09-16-2009, 05:29 AM
My answers in red.


Synesthesia occurs in about 1% of the population. Most people who experience it do so because of sleep deprivation. It is very rare that a person has synesthesia with regularity, as a chronic issue.

Actually, a lot of estimates put it between 1/25,000 at the lowest, and 1/300 at the highest. Even at it's lowest is more than 1% of the population.

It is not rare for someone with synesthesia to have "regularly". It is constant, never changing or varying. It is simply how the brain is wired and functions, perceiving the world.

For a pretty good discussion of synesthesia with a neurologist, go to iTunes, search podcasts, and find The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Download episode #159 (it's free.) The discussion of synesthesia (lasting about five minutes) comes near the end of the program, during an entertaining segment called "Science or Fiction?"

The neurologist, Dr. Steven Novella, has experienced synesthesia himself and gives a pretty good account of what causes it, what it's typically like, and how transient episodes differ from chronic synesthesia, which is caused by an incorrectly wired sensory pathway in the brain. It's very interesting.

To my understanding, there is a hypothesis out there that every human is born with synesthesia, and as they develop the neural pathways between the different sensory parts of the brain segregate into separate senses. In some individuals, this segregation is incomplete, so there is cross wiring of senses into adulthood. I wouldn't call that incorrectly wired. It doesn't cause any problems. This hypothesis has not been tested extensively due to the fact that radiation is needed for certain tests, and it's unethical to beam radiation at infants for this kind of research.

I have experienced synesthesia myself, due to sleep deprivation followed by way too much caffeine. It's not always colors: It's simply a "crossed wire" between two or more neurosensory pathways, so that your brain interprets signals from one sensory organ as if they came from another sensory organ.

One time, I could feel sounds on the backs of my hands (a kind of prickly pressure every time I heard a sharp noise.) The other time, I saw black rabbit-like objects moving across my field of peripheral vision every time my car hit a bump on the road (never drive when you're this sleep-deprived, obviously. I was being very stupid.)

Okay, the black rabbit is NOT synesthesia. It is a totally different phenomenon with a totally different cause. Hallucinating from lack of sleep is pretty common. Also, seeing black "things" running around is a commonly reported hallucination from lack of sleep. I have a pretty severe case of synesthesia, and I have hallucinated from lack of sleep. In my case I saw little black silhouettes of rumplestiltskin running across the road as I was driving. Kind of freaky, but NOT synesthesia. It was a totally different experience from my day to day interaction with the world. Synesthesia is not hallucinating.

So, synesthesia can take all kinds of cool forms. But my guess is that a patient presenting with a constant flux of colors that didn't seem to be linked to any crossed sensory cues wouldn't be diagnosed with synesthesia. As for what treats a chronic case, my guess would be surgery, or nothing, since in the case of people who have chronic problems with it, the underlying issue isn't lack of sleep but deformed neural pathways in the brain.
Dude, there are no surgeries for synesthesia. It's not a harmful condition, nor does it impair normal functioning. In fact, it can be very useful in memorizing and remembering things as the brain has more than one sense involved in creating a memory. There are no drugs or treatments for it.

You'd undoubtedly see a neurologist for synesthesia, and although I don't know how it would be tested, my guess is that it would involve the patient telling the doctor what she experienced when certain senses were stimulated. Did she see a color every time a particular note was played? Did she feel a particular sensation each time a sound of a certain decibel was heard? etc.

It's not tested. My neurologist found out by accident when testing some actual problems I had from a head injury, from the way I was answering cognitive questions. He thought it was really cool, and asked me a bunch of questions about it (off the clock, as it was to satisfy his own curiosity). You don't see someone for it though. If you did the neurologist would be like "meh, that's cool". It's just always there. Honestly, it was a huge shock to find out other people don't experience things in the same manner.

My guess is that synesthesia is well understood by medical professionals. It's one of those "weird disorders" that is so cool, everybody likes to learn about it. Could a doc possibly not know about it? Yeah, sure. But that seems fairly unlikely given how unusual the symptoms are. It seems more likely a doctor would have reason to believe it was a transient episode due to your character not getting enough sleep than anything else.

If someone showed up to a doctor with those symptoms, and had never experienced those symptoms before, they would probably be concerned. They would likely run a check on any prescription meds the patient was taking to see if it could be a side effect, and send them to a specialist if it did not resolve.

semilargeintestine
09-16-2009, 07:06 AM
Oliver Sacks wrote a great book (http://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Mistook-His-Wife/dp/0684853949) with info about this. I recommend reading it.

I don't have a good sense of smell. I often smell weird things when something physical happens to me. The most common is Chinese food. I never really paid attention to what causes it, but it usually happens in the car, so it's probably a physical thing.

I also taste primarily based on texture. Smooth, rough, etc. I can't really tell you what salty or sweet taste like. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with synesthesia. If it does, it doesn't bother me at all. It lets me gross people out by eating baked beans and brownies together. :D