I’ve got an article in New Scientist on changing scientific perceptions of synesthesia, and how synesthetic experiences are helping scientists understand how language is processed inside the brain. The article is behind a subscription wall, but here’s the link:
For the woman known as AP, everyday language is like a soap opera. Every letter of the alphabet has a distinct human personality. “A is a mother-type, very sensible. I is a little guy, H and G are always fussing over him. M and N are two old ladies who spend all their time together and natter a lot. T is a protective male.”
AP isn’t making it up. She has the neurological condition called synaesthesia, which somehow causes crosstalk in her brain, tingeing the letters of the alphabet with genders and personality types. AP’s condition manifests itself in other curious ways too: she sees letters and numbers as coloured, and perceives shapes when she tastes certain flavours. But it is her personification of language that is the most interesting part, because it simply doesn’t fit psychologists’ understanding of synaesthesia.
I can’t help but think that Vladimir Nabokov, a notorious synesthete, would be amused by this research. While Nabakov blamed his “mild synesthetic hallucinations” on his own sensory “leakings and drafts,” I’m sure he’d be interested to learn that something much more profound is going on.