1 in 26 people can see sounds, taste words, and feel smells It’s called Synesthetes. But it’s not a disease, it doesn’t cause any pain and if anything, it is empowering and can put you among elite company of people with special business skills, should you “suffer” from it.
What is Synesthetes?
It describes people that have involuntary connections between senses that we normally don’t mix, like hearing and taste. They also might be able to see abstract concepts like happiness or time projected in the space around them. Synesthesia has also been reported to result after brain injury or strokes, which turned normal people into mathematical savants. Some hear sounds from images. It’s estimated that 20-30% of all people have this faint association of sounds and imagery.
Scientists believe that there is a strong genetic tie to it. It isn’t as much a disorder as it is an example of neurodiversity.
Good for business
The neurological condition has even led to unique job opportunities resulting in its applications in the business world.
In order to improve product aesthetics and streamline the multi-sensorial impact of these products, companies are hiring synesthetes to help designers create cars that are more pleasing to potential drivers. Companies like Ford have hired synesthetes like Michael Haverkamp who runs his fingers across car leather. “If the texture feels rough, I see a structure in my mind’s eye that has dark spots, hooks, and edges,” explains the 55-year-old German, a Ford Motor engineer.
“But if it’s too smooth, the structure glows and looks papery, flimsy.”
His nuanced work helps optimize and coordinate the look, feel, and sound of vehicle fabrics, knobs, pedals, and more.
Today there are synesthesia massages combining all the senses. The nose behind successful fragrances for Lady Gaga, Adidas, American Express, Valentino, Mercedes Benz is an internationally recognized olfactive expert, Dawn Goldworm. Dawn’s rare abilities in synesthesia (blending her sense of sight, touch, sound and smell), transform branding into a complete sensory experience.
Billy Joel and Vincent Van Gogh are among many renowned artists who had synesthesia and helped them develop successful careers.
Wearables based on synesthesia
Neuroscientist David Eagleman aims to give deaf people a new way to hear—and upgrade everyone else’s senses too.
His words plays on people’s wrists with Buzz, a device that Eagleman’s startup company, NeoSensory.
Housed inside a wristband slightly bigger than a Fitbit, the Buzz has a microphone that picks up sound and a computer chip that breaks it into eight frequency ranges. When sound from a specific range activates the corresponding motor, it buzzes slightly. Sounds into vibrations are new tools for the deaf.
Researching synesthesia convinced Eagleman that anyone can develop new ways of perceiving the world.
With a few days of practice, anyone can learn to interpret these buzzes, resulting in either a prosthetic sense that replaces a missing one or a superpower that gives you an entirely new way to detect the world.
His inspiration for NeoSensory grew out of a longtime interest in synesthesia.