This is a “FAQ-in-progress” I just began in order to answer questions I often receive regarding synesthesia. I have not yet addressed these points on other pages in this site. Please let me know if you think anything should be added or changed.
How does idiopathic synesthesia come about?
Synesthesia is something a person is born with, to any low/high degree (associating versus projecting, etc.) and varied degree (chromalogia vs. morphochronia, etc.). When a person is born, he may on one hand automatically perceive colored sounds, or he may on the other hand have the capacity to develop synesthetically-colored graphemes.
Can I catch synesthesia?
No. Synesthesia is not a virus or bacterial disease and thus cannot be transmitted between people. Instead, synesthesia is a neurological condition, much in the same way that seeing a tree and then remembering what the tree looks like in your mind’s eye is a “neurological condition”.
Can synesthesia be turned on and off?
Because idiopathic synesthesia is a hardwired function of the brain, it cannot be turned on and off naturally, just as your sense of sight cannot be turned on and off naturally.
I have heard, though, that taking LSD can cause synesthesia.
Acquired synesthesia, which is not idiopathic synesthesia, can be caused by the brain being physically and chemically altered by certain drugs which therefore have the potential to cause synesthesia in some cases.
Can anything cause synesthesia to weaken or stop?
It is unknown at this point. I would appreciate it, though, if synesthetes would contact me if they have ingested or inhaled any substance that they believe has caused a loss or alteration of their synesthesia in any way.
Do synesthetic perceptions change over time?
Rarely. Usually changes in and additions to synesthetic perceptions are caused by associative learning.
Is synesthesia a disability? Do synesthetes themselves find it to be a disabling condition?
Synesthesia is generally not seen by synesthetes or non-synesthetes as a disabling condition. There are circumstances when it can be for some people (e.g. such as feeling nauseus when hearing windchimes), but most synesthetes report their synesthesiae to be and even pleasant (e.g. seeing blue when C is played on the piano). Of course, each person usually considers their synesthetic perceptions normal. For these reasons, most synesthetes would not want to part with their synesthetic perceptions.
Is synesthesia genetic?
The answer depends on what you mean by “genetic”. It is also important to understand that perhaps half the human population has some form of synesthesia, and further that synesthesia itself is a blanket term for many varieties of “mixed senses”.
For instance, a man may have soundsight synesthesia. His child may or may not inherit the predisposition that would allow her to have “mixed senses”, i.e., the brain structure and chemistry that is necessary in order to have any of the various possible types of synesthesia. And, if she does have synesthesia, it is very commonly the case that she may have an entirely different type of synesthesia than he, such as timeshape.
If by “genetic” you broadly mean that children will inherit “synesthesia” from their parent(s) through a specific gene on a specific chromosome, then this has not been definitively proven. In fact, there are many synesthetes such as myself who are quite certain their parents, siblings, and other relatives have no forms of synesthesia.
Is synesthesia related to [insert random genetic/psychological disorder/disease/infection]?
I seriously doubt it. Synesthesia is merely natural, multisensory perception; it is not a viral or bacterial infection, it is not a disease, and it is not what I would consider a brain malfunction.
However, if you are looking for information on, for example, ADD/ADHD.
I hear voices talking to me. Do I have synesthesia?
No, this is not synesthesia at all. If you hear voices in your head (apart from your own singular conscience), then this could be a positive symptom of a disorder such as schizophrenia that may need medical attention, and I would encourage you to talk to a medical practitioner about your voices.
Are you just making this up for attention?
No. Naturally, there will always be an occasional whackjob who will claim to have this or that rare “special gift” or disorder so as to gain attention from others, but I for one do have synesthesia and did not create this website for attention. In fact, the vast majority of people with synesthesia who do not know it is a natural, real condition, do not talk about what they have until they find out it is such.