Yesterday, as the day was drawing to a close, I was sitting in my lab, trying to look productive in the hopes that, should anyone who actually gave a crap walk in, I might seem to be terribly efficient and hard at work. In truth, my brain had seized up like a poorly lubricated motor and wasn't planning on doing anything vaguely constructive any time soon.
While staring at my computer, contemplating whether it was actually okay to scoot off, seeing as I had nothing left that I could do, I heard a sound coming from the lab opposite mine. This lab is occupied by two of the most fantastic people I know: Sneha, by far the most kind-hearted, gentle soul I have ever met, and Megan, a genius in her own right and about as nutty as a jar of Skippy's.
On this particular evening, it was Megan who was in the lab. She has been working like an absolute slave lately, lecturing at our university to medical students and, at the same time, lecturing at another university entirely, on the other side of town. She was busy packing herself up and getting ready to head off home. I walked in to say hi, and we got chatting.
After a brief discourse over what examples she had used to illustrate some of her points to the medical students (most of which would be considered by most to be wildly inappropriate, such as phantom limb patients experiencing orgasms in both their genitalia and in their phantom limbs!), the conversation somehow ended up on synesthesia.
Now, for those who are normal, and have not memorised some of the more obscure psychological and neurological conditions which exist, synesthesia is a bizarre situation where people have linked senses. For example, in an individual that experiences this, sight and taste may be linked. In such a case, the individual in question will experience a taste when they see a particular colour, as real to them as it is to you when you taste something.
It is thought that the condition arises at a stage of brain development where the brain's neurons grow out and create new pathways. At a later stage, the brain begins to 'prune' some of these connections, severing those that are not needed or and not supposed to be there. The idea with synesthetics is that their brains have failed to sever all of the connections between the sensory centers, leaving links between senses that normally, are not linked.
The point of this diatribe is that during this discussion, I began to realise just how difficult life for a synesthetic must be. Imagine experiencing smells every time that you see something, over and above the already present smells in the air! And the smells wouldn't necessarily be pleasant! Imagine, for example, that every time you saw the colour blue, you tasted bile! And imagine how difficult it must be to try to describe to someone, what an amazing place the world must be when everything you see comes with it's own musical soundtrack that your brain generates and plays to you, as if it were really there. It must be a truely amazing and beautiful curse...