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See also: synæsthesia



From Ancient Greek σύν (sún, with) + αἴσθησις (aísthēsis, sensation), modelled after anaesthesia. It is analysable as syn- +‎ aesthesia.



synaesthesia (countable and uncountable, plural synaesthesias)

  1. (neurology, psychology) A neurological or psychological phenomenon whereby a particular sensory stimulus triggers a second kind of sensation. [from late 19th c.]
    • 1984 July 1, William Gibson, chapter 18, in Neuromancer (Sprawl; book 1), New York, N.Y.: Ace Books, →ISBN, page 221:
      Into her darkness, a churning synaesthesia, where her pain was the taste of old iron, scent of melon, wings of a moth brushing her cheek.
    • 2002, Sean A. Day, “What Synaesthesia Is (and Is Not)”, in Paul Mc Kevitt, Seán Ó Nualláin, and Conn Mulvihill, editors, Language, Vision and Music: Selected Papers from the 8th International Workshop on the Cognitive Science of Natural Language Processing, Galway, Ireland 1999 (Advances in Consciousness Research; 35), Amsterdam; Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, →ISBN, ISSN 1381-589X, page 171:
      For example, I myself have a type of synaesthesia: The sounds of musical instruments will sometimes make me see colors, about a yard in front of me, each color specific and consistent with the particular instrument playing.
    • 2009, Graham Richards, Psychology: The Key Concepts (Key Concepts), London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 244:
      Synaesthesia can occur particularly powerfully during mescalin and LSD intoxication, and is often given mystical significance.
  2. (by extension) The association of one sensory perception with, or description of it in terms of, a different perception that is not experienced at the same time.
    • 1963, Claude Lévi–Strauss; Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf, transl., “Postscript to Chapters III and IV”, in Structural Anthropology: Translated from the French (Harper Torchbooks; TB5017), New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, OCLC 490234036, pages 91–92:
      On a phonemic level, phenomena of synesthesia have often been described and studied. Practically all children and a good many adults—though for the most part adults will deny it—spontaneously associate sounds, whether phonemes or the timbre of musical instruments, with colors and forms.
    • 2007, Boris Wiseman, “Structuralism, Symbolist Poetics and Abstract Art”, in Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology, and Aesthetics (Ideas in Context; 85), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, page 112:
      For one of the enigmatic features of synaesthesia is that, within a given cultural group, the kinds of associations made by different subjects occur according to statistically verifiable recurring patterns. As Jakobson explains, ‘when we ask whether /i/ or /u/ is darker, testing such phonic oppositions as grave vs. acute, some of the subjects may respond that this question makes no sense to them, but hardly one will respond that /i/ is the darker of the two’ [].
  3. (art, literature) A literary or artistic device whereby one kind of sensation is described in the terms of another.
    • 2006, Stephen Bowkett, “Descriptive Writing”, in Boys and Writing (Pocket PAL), London: Network Continuum Education, Continuum International Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 38:
      Linking moods with colours is one example of synaesthesia. [] As a tool for improving writing, the idea of synaesthesia is versatile and innovative. Why use only visual references to describe visual impressions? Why just describe sounds using sound-related words? Play with cross-matching the senses.
    • 2007, Antti-Ville Kärjä, “Visions of a Sound Nation: Finnish Music Videos and Secured Otherness”, in Roger Beebe and Jason Middleton, editors, Medium Cool: Music Videos from Soundies to Cellphones, Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, →ISBN, page 181:
      [I]t may be stated that the concept of synaesthesia is instrumental for understanding music videos, since videos are based on the soundtrack's visual associations. Yet to discuss associations here may cause some problems. [] [Nicholas Cook] seems to be relying on a rather normative conception of synaesthesia, which for its part supports the idea of absolute, nonrepresentational music. The implication of his discussion is that the "true" forms of music–image synaesthesia come only in the forms of perception of color or light when hearing a certain musical sound.

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