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Use Synesthesia for Power Creativity

It sounds either horribly confusing or wonderfully psychedelic. Synesthesia is the ability to hear in color, taste words or imagine numbers as shapes.

The condition comes in a variety of different forms, with the most common linking numbers or days of the week with a color. “Tuesday” might be red, for example; “3” could always look green. Other synesthetes might associate low musical notes with dark colors and higher notes with light tones, or they might taste chocolate every time someone says “table.”

The condition could affect as many as one person in 23 — more if the level of synesthesia is scaled rather than a condition that someone either has or doesn’t.

Interestingly, synesthesia has also been linked to creativity. Synesthetes, it’s believed, may be better able to create associations that can lead to harmonious musical composition or clever wordplay.

So can synesthesia improve your creativity, even if your only experience of the condition is seeing Mondays as black and the figures in your bank account as red?

Here are nine ways to use synesthesia to boost your creative thinking.

1. Mindmap
If we are all synesthetic to some degree, then mindmapping might be a way to release your synesthetic potential. You can create your map on paper or electronically (Mindjet provides a free trial of its mindmapping software) but the idea should always be to use different colors and let the map form its own shape.

Both the colors and the shapes might enable your mind to form associations, sparking new ideas and creating original thoughts.

2. Listen to music
Mindmapping can be tricky, especially if you’ve never done it before. Listening to music is very easy. Many people associate musical tones with color, and composers aim to create images with their music. Relaxing to music then — especially instrumental music — should set those associations flowing.

3. Play with numbers
Number form synesthetes automatically arrange streams of numbers in shapes. One to 12, for example, might appear as a clock face while 20 to 30 could form an arc stretching from right to left. Programmers struggling with algorithms then might find it helps to break away from the restrictions of code lines and arrange the figures they have on a piece of paper. The empty spaces might suggest their own missing numbers.

4. Mix sounds with icons
If sound and color can be associated, and if we know that people “see” low notes as dark and high notes as light, then designers might want to bear those links in mind when choosing the click sound for a colored icon. Synesthesia might help them to create designs with less user dissonance and a closer match between vision and sound.

5. Match text with shapes
In one of the most compelling synesthesia experiments, test subjects consistently associated the word “kika” with a sharp-pointed shape and the word “bouba”with a rounded shape. That was true of non-synesthetes too.

Again, designers could use that knowledge to ensure that the design they created matched the sound of the text on the page. A page with plenty of hard sounds when read aloud, for example (a synesthetic metaphor), might have sharp corners while a page with softer sounds could use rounded edges.

6. Look at a color sheet
In the most common form of synesthesia, numbers or letters are each associated with a different color. It’s possible then that the opposite is true and that colors bring particular numbers and letters to mind. If that’s the case then glancing at a color chart — even the font color options in a word processor — might steer your subconscious towards the start of the next word in an idea or number in a chain as it focuses on a color that appeals. At the very least, it might help you to understand whether your mood is dark or bright — and even affect it.

7. Trust your instinct
The value of synesthesia is in its unusual free associations. So let those associations come. Even if your own level of synesthesia is very low, it’s possible that much of what we call “instinct” is derived at least in part from the associations we make naturally when we look at a word or hear a tune. Instead of dismissing those associations, try to identify them, trust them… and use them.

8. Show what you feel
One way to use them is to depict them in art. Synesthetic painters have tried to portray what they see when they hear music, and composers have attempted to reflect colors in sounds. Whether you’re writing, painting or composing, synesthesia — or an imitation of it — can add a whole new sense to your work.

9. Fake it!
Clearly, all of these ideas are going to be much easier if you actually are synesthetic. If you’re not though, you can pretend you are. There’s no shortage of research material on synesthesia explaining exactly how synesthetes perceive the world. Even if you can’t taste words or hear colors, you can still use that knowledge to cook up a tasty poem or compose a Technicolor tune.

[tags] creativity, synesthesia [/tags]


  1. Simon Masters Says:

    Liked this when I Stumbled! across it
    I found it very ironic to be reading a lot of print (in black) on a white page with no rounded edges. No changes of font, colour and SIZE. No S I Z Z L E there eh?
    Any way
    CHange is gOOd
    I did like the bit about programmers (I am one) and I gnow (sic) I "see" the database as a net and a table join as a shape...this coming at the end of a long day trying to REALLY see (and feel) the schema.
    Today was a good day for seeing. For feeling. For com mun ic at shun.

  2. Kendra Says:

    This is really cool. I think I have a really mild form of Synesthesia, at least once I think of the letter L and any others beyond that, everything feels dark and brownish red. It's weird but I thought it was normal until I heard of this condition.
    Also I am an artist. COINCIDENCE?!

  3. willwindow Says:

    My wife sees colors when she hears music. We didn't know that this was a recognized "condition." Thanks for an interesting post.

  4. Pinar Merey Says:

    My ability is something different than most of the others synesthetic.I define the numbers and the letters as male or female which is making all the living and unliving objects seems female or male to me.For example A is woman which makes all the words begining with A is woman like Apple.
    Hope there is somebody over here which have the same ability of synesthesia.

  5. Luke Craig Says:

    Intricate Intelligence

    Sorry Nerds': It is not about what you know.
    Geeks': It is What You Know ABOUT What You Know! (Comprehension)
    Integrate Information And Interpret Through Conscious-synergy or more agent's or force's
    where-in the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is
    greater than the sum of their individual effects)

    Intelligence Is A Crucial Element Within The Involution Of Evolution Or The Esoteric of
    Exoteric. Consciousness Formulate's What Is Esoteric, here-in consciousness mandate's -
    or direct's your Existential Potential. (Propensity Or Possibility Of Existence)

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