Synesthesia in fiction

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Synesthesia is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. There are many occurrences of synesthesia in books, television and film.

Uses in television[edit]

  • In a scene from the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy is in the hospital. Liz Lemon goes up to him, and Donaghy says, "They gave me some drugs. Now my mouth tastes like purple."
  • In a scene from the Fox medical drama House, a character played by Essence Atkins is in the hospital asking for House's help and says, "I started to hear through the eyes."
  • In a scene from the Futurama episode "Roswell That Ends Well", Fry asks: "What smells like blue?" In another scene, he asks: "Did everything just taste purple for a second?"
  • The protagonist Canaan from the anime TV series CANAAN is a Middle Eastern mercenary and assassin who fights with the aid of her heightened senses and her ability to see emotions and intents as colors.[1] It is also detailed that her synesthesia converts sound to smell and color to sound.
  • In NBC science fiction series Heroes, the deaf character Emma (played by Deanne Bray) suddenly begins to see sounds as waves of color. Holding the cello in her hands, she senses vibrations as sounds which converts to a synesthetic experience of colors.
  • Rachel Pirzad in the SyFy channel original series Alphas is a hyperactive synesthete.
  • Criminal Minds, season 8, episode 9 featured a killer named Carl Finster with synesthesia that allowed him to see words of people speaking to him, associating colors with certain emotions: white determined the speaker was being honest and sincere, yellow determined that the speaker was lying, and red determined that the speaker was truly "evil". Mistakenly believeing his synesthesia was super power he developed a delusion where he was a superhero, using his condition to single out liars and "evil ones" and brutally kill them.
  • Rust Cohle, a character in HBO's 2014 crime drama True Detective, experiences synesthesia as tastes, smells and visions throughout the investigation of a Louisiana murder.
  • In a scene from the anime, Zankyou no Terror, main character Twelve tells Lisa that he has synesthesia and can 'see sounds in colors', using the color of her voice as an example.

Uses in other media[edit]

  • The plot of the 2007 book The Name of this Book is Secret (by Pseudonymous Bosch) concerns synesthesia in many ways. Many characters have synesthesia: the Bergamo twins use their ability to perform impressive "mind-reading" magic tricks, and a boy at the protagonists' school, Benjamin Blake, produces abstract art from his synesthesic experiences. Antagonists Dr. L and Ms. Mauvais also kidnaps children with synesthesia because they believe synesthesia is the gateway to immortality.
  • The 1950 short story "The Man with English" by H. L. Gold has a patient with senses reversed (hot feels cold, smooth feels rough, etc.) undergo corrective surgery. Coming out of anesthesia, the patient sniffs the air, and asks "What smells purple?"
  • InThe Memory Artist by Jeffrey Moore (author), the protagonist, Noel, has both synesthesia and hypermnesia, allowing him to not only see the world in colours and shapes, but to vividly remember every detail of it - none of which he can use to prevent his beloved mother from slowly losing her own memories to Alzheimer's. The book, published in 2005, won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Best Novel.
  • In the comic book series Top Ten by Alan Moore, the character "Detective Wanda "Synaesthesia" Jackson" has synaesthesia. Her advanced synaesthesia leads into the realm of clairvoyance. Once upon examining a crime scene, Detective Jackson begins to hum a tune by Beethoven. Later, she realizes she was sensing the criminal's perfume, Ode to Joy. Further, she relates touch to taste: she describes the touch of an ex-boyfriend's skin as "tasting ashes."
  • In The War of the Worlds, Dr. Forrester theorizes that Martians may have the ability to smell colors. However, he does not expand upon the theory later in the film.
  • In the children's novel "A Mango-Shaped Space" by Wendy Mass, the protagonist, Mia, has synesthesia. When she enters the 8th grade, her synesthesia becomes public knowledge; this puts the shy heroine into the spotlight. "A Mango-Shaped Space" was given the Schneider Family Book Award.
  • In the "Discworld" series of novels, the werewolf Angua seems at first to experience a synesthesia-like effect every time she changes from a human to a wolf and recalls various scents. However this is a device used by Terry Pratchett to show the variance between human and lupine senses.
  • In the game Mass Effect, when the main characters attempt to communicate with the Rachni Queen, a highly alien life form, the latter uses metaphors in its speech which highly resemble synesthesia (songs the color of oily shadow).
  • In the book 'Mondays are Red' by Nicola Morgan, the protagonist Luke wakes up from a coma to find that he has developed synesthesia.
  • In 'Black Sun Rising', The character Lady Ciani describes an adept's sight as a maelstrom of colors where a non-adept could see naught but thin air. This may be a strange form of synesthesia.
  • In Sigmund Brouwer's Absolute Pressure, the main character has synesthesia which makes him think that he is 'too weird' to have a girlfriend.
  • In the 2009 film The Soloist, there is a visual on-screen depiction of the subject of the film experiencing synethesia. This occurs while listening to a rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
  • In the teen psychological/SF thriller Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson, the protagonist Alison has multiple experiences of synesthesia which are described from her point of view and are key to the development of the story. Ultraviolet was shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award and Sunburst Award in 2012.
  • In the futuristic sci-fi novel The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld, neurological implants evoke synesthetic detection of wireless transmitted audio and holographic imagery.
  • In the book 'Starseeker' by Tim Bowler, the protagonist Luke Stanton is a musical genius who associates colours with musical notes, seeing colours and images when he hears music played.
  • In the webcomic Homestuck, alien troll Terezi Pyrope is blinded, but learns to see by "coloring" the smells of things around her. Likewise, her ancestor, Latula Pyrope, loses her sense of smell, and learns to "smell" using her eyes, smelling the colors.
  • In the book Exodus Code by Carole E. Barrowman and John Barrowman, the leader of Torchwood Captain Jack Harkness and only surviving member Gwen Cooper were said to be synesthetes. In the book, various synesthetes started behaving strangely as their senses started heightening due to some mysterious cause.
  • In January, 2014 The Onion, a satirical newspaper, posted a short article titled "Report:    % Of Americans Suffer From Synesthesia", with colorboxes in place of numbers.[3]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ "CANAAN Review". THEM Anime Reviews. Retrieved 2010-03-16. 
  2. ^ S.F. Weekly Review of Ratatouille
  3. ^ "Report:     % Of Americans Suffer From Synesthesia". Science & Technology. The Onion (50•03) (Baltimore). 21 January 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2014.