Synesthesia Through the Eyes of A Literature Teacher

Rhea Patel

Maria Zapata Perez, Beka Havlinek

Januar 30, 2017- February 7. 2017

WOK Badge: Sense Perception

Progress Journal

Day 1 (01.30.2017):

Today we decided on our project idea. we chose to interview our english literature teacher. She has synesthesia which is the integrating and intermingling of the senses. We chose to interview her because we want to know about her experiences and life based on synesthesia. To learn more about synesthesia before we interviews our literature teacher, my group and I need to do some more research to understand the idea of it. We will also probably look at some ted talks to get some different perspectives on the topic. We came up with some questions to ask our teacher to get a primary source understanding face to face. These questions will help us better understand the idea of synesthesia.

Day 2 (02.03.2017):

We want to interview our english literature teacher, who has synesthesia, intermingling of the two or more senses. We want to do this so we can understand how our teacher perceives people, places, and things in the world. We plan to ask different questions that may give us more insight on the concept of synesthesia and what it is like to have that extra component of the senses in one's life.

Today Iearned more about synesthesia and how it works. I learned about the different types and how it affects many artists, musicians, and writers. We learned a little bit more about the history of synesthesia and the statistics of its affect. Today we accomplished coming up with questions to ask Ms. K and follow up questions. We decided how we were going to present it. We are choosing to present background information and history on the topic, make an imovie for the interview questions and then tie it all back to our main essential question that asks how a persons understanding of the world changes (because of synesthesia in this case). To finish we need to interview Ms. K on monday during club times and compile the information we discover into a summarization of her knower's perspective. After that we have to take our documented interview and turn it into the imovie we plan to present to the class along with our explanatations and discoveries.

Day 3 (02.07.2017):

My aim is to have people understand the idea of synesthesia and how it affects me and the way they live. Even thought they may not be able to gain the best idea of what it is like because they cannot actually feel what it is like to have synesthesia, we want to provide enough information and a perspective of someone who actually lives with the condition.

My personal goal for this project is to be able to get a better understanding of synesthesia and maybe continue to do more research. I find the topic really interesting and am interested in continuing researching and readng about it. I hope this project will push me towards reading more novels and listening to more music by synesthetes because I want to be able to understand better.

Reflection (02.07.2017)

The main thing I learned from this, is that sensory perceptions are very important when it comes to understanding the world. One cannot live and survive without the senses, because of the huge role they play in perception and interpretation of small things like colors and words, and bigger things like politicial and economic current events. One's sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch is important to how the understand and interpret the world.


To what extent is our understanding of the world shaped by our senses?

Within our chapter, we became intrigued by synesthesia and how sense perception shapes people’s perspective and knowledge of the world around them.

Synesthesia is an unusual condition in which two or more of the senses we normally experience separately are experienced together.

Synesthesia is found in 4.4% of the population.

There are many different types of synesthesia including:

Grapheme color synesthesia:

Numbers and letters are associated to a color.


Sounds evoke an experience of color.

Auditory-tactile synesthesia:

Sounds induce sensations in specific areas of the body


Negative experiences are triggered by specific sounds.

Mirror-touch synesthesia:

Individuals feel the same sensation as someone else does.

Lexical gustatory synesthesia:

Lexical-gustatory synesthesia: Rare form of synesthesia where tastes are experienced when hearing words. Only 0.2% of the population has lexical-gustatory synesthesia.

Taste a word before they ever speak it, the word’s meaning, not its sound or spelling, is what trigger the taste sensation.

Idea: Interview Ms. K about her way of life with synesthesia

Questions to ask:

What is your own definition of lexical gustatory synesthesia?

What in your opinion are the advantages and disadvantages of having synesthesia?

How do you think it affects your everyday life?

Do you think it is a factor that increases your affinity for literature and reading?

After interviewing Ms. K, we also discovered that she tastes the words in the middle of her mouth and it is a cross-wiring of her sense of hearing and sense of taste.

Including this, we learned many different things about her personality and her life. We learned about how the condition has affected her school life, family life, and her interests. Because she is an English teacher, we asked about her love for literature and writing. We got great insight on how synesthesia has shaped her love for different poets and writers based on the tastes she interprets. She told us that when she reads she is “having a feast” and we thought that was really amazing. The ability to connect these senses together is such a unique way to understand the world and the different factors that shape her life.

Questions: To what extent is our understanding of the world shaped by our sense perception?

In this case, with regard to synesthesia and Ms. K, we were able to conclude that our understanding of the world is greatly shaped by our sense perception. Ms. K said in the interview that she “would not know how to live without it”, referring to her synesthesia. Her peculiar sense perception has helped her understand the world and has played a major role in her life, as her affinity for literature, and her passion for her job, is also influenced by her sense perception. Another realization we came to as interviewing her is that there is no way for us to completely understand how and to what extent her synesthesia affects her knowledge of the world as it is very difficult to explain, this shows another example of knower’s perspective and the fact that we will never be able to know exactly how her world has been shaped by her sense perception.

Here is a picture that differentiates a non-synesthete and a synesthete:

On the left is what someone without synesthesia would see and the right one with.

Here is a excerpt from an article called "New Insight into People Who Taste Words"

"For most of us, the boundaries between our bodily senses are clear-cut and rigid. But for a few rare individuals, the demarcation between vision and hearing, or between taste and touch, are less solid, with one bleeding into the other.

These people have a condition called "synesthesia," in which two or more of the senses are crossed. Some see colors when listening to music, while others associate tastes with shapes or words with colors.

A very small number of synesthetes can "taste" words.

A new study finds that individuals with this last form of synesthesia—called "lexical-gustatory" synesthesia—can taste a word before they ever speak it, and that the word's meaning, not its sound or spelling, is what triggers this taste sensation.

The finding, detailed in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Nature, could help scientists unravel how perception works in the rest of us.

Chocolate phonographs

In the experiment, the researchers showed six lexical-gustatory synesthetes images of objects they were familiar with, but which they didn't normally encounter. The images included a platypus, a gazebo, an artichoke, a metronome and a sextant. Doing this induced a "tip-of-tongue" state in the participants, during which they recognized the object but couldn't immediately identify it.

"At the moment they're trying to find the word, we ask them two things: whether they knew any part of the word at all, and what it tasted of," said study team member Julia Simner of the University of Edinburgh in the UK. "I remember one participant, we showed her a phonograph, and she said 'I know what that is…um…um…Oh! I'm tasting Dutch chocolate and I don't know why!'"

Some of the lexical-gustatory synesthetes examined found the condition disruptive. "One of our participants found it interfered when he's having a conversation or trying to read," Simner said. "Or when he's driving and trying to read the street signs, he'll have a really intense sensation of something really unpleasant…like earwax."

But the majority of synesthetes say they wouldn't trade their abilities for anything. "I think if you took a straw poll of 100 synesthetes, 96 would say they would never ever lose their synesthesia, that they like it and are glad to have it," she said. "Some say it is like having a nose or a little finger—it's just there.'"

This article was a good source and helped my group and I understand lexical-gustatory synesthesia better. The different examples like the dutch chocolate provide good insight on the topic.

Another good resource that could be added to the elective reading list are:

Pieces by Vladimir Nabokov

The Great Gatsby


Pieces by John Keats

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