Oddly enough though, according to the theory, called the Neonatal Synaesthesia Hypothesis (or NS in short), this is the normal case. If you never possessed one or more of these abilities, you would be in a minority.
The theory holds that all human newborns up to about the age of four months still have the pre-natal neural wiring which link all the senses, a
situation which, therefore, can make the activation of one sensory pathway result in an accompanying response from another totally unexpected one.
Under normal circumstances, the neural wirings making these linkages in the developing brain of the newborn are pruned and gradually wither a few months after birth; which means that thereafter, the sense organs usually operate relatively independently. But even so, the sense of smell seems vital in order for us to fully enjoy the taste of food, even in adulthood.
However, for some as yet not clearly identified reason, some adults retain the neural wiring in which, for example, the vibrations of sounds - words, musical tones - are mingled with sensations of flavour, colour or smell.
Synaesthesia, or the triggering of one sense in response to the stimulation of another, is still not a fully understood condition. In Psalm 119, verse 103, written by the great Israelite musician, King David, we read: "How sweet are thy words to my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!"
This statement poses a dilemma of sorts. It could be seen as a metaphorical comment in praise of God, but it could also have a literal meaning in that the poet/musician David may have been an adult with a form of synaesthesia enabling even the sight of words to mysteriously excite reactions on the taste buds.
Great appreciation for food
The link between sound and taste is comparatively rare, even though as adults we seem to retain an unconscious preference, when dining elegantly, for soft, soothing music in the background. Some noted first-rank composers had a great appreciation for food.
Beethoven, a man known for violent behaviour, is said to have overturned a plate of hot soup over a waiter's head because the taste was not satisfactory to him.
However, more common links also exist. The most common form seems to be 'coloured hearing', where the individual will see colours when she hears sounds, such as spoken words or music, or when she sees certain letters or numbers.
In this case, both written and spoken language, as well as music, are experienced as a virtual kaleidoscope of colour associations.
Far more females, than males, report such effects. The condition has been traced to many causes, but the chief of these has a genetic basis. It is traced to a dominant gene on the X chromosome, and so synaesthesia is often inherited by succeeding generations of females in a given family, since females are distinguished by having two X chromosomes (XX), whereas men have one (XY).
Many people who do not have these abilities imagine that it would be a wonderful thing if they could suddenly expand their enjoyment of life by seeing colours or have their taste buds activated when they are forced to listen to a boring speech.
But consider the pathetic case of a woman named Julie Roxburg, who could not only see colours when she heard sounds , but also could hear sounds when she saw colours.
This form of synaesthesia led to such information overload, stress, and dizziness, that in order to preserve some modicum of sanity, Ms Roxburg withdrew entirely from public social life and lived in semi-seclusion. A visit to an art gallery would be an unwelcome, and unbearably stressful, jumble of sights and tones to Ms Roxburgh.
About one in 25,000 persons has some form of the more common types of synaesthesia such as 'colour hearing'.
Riding on the ongoing revelations about synaesthesia, there is now the concept of the vision jockey (disc jockey of former times) in pop music, which seeks to add some synaesthetic dimensions, such as colour to the audio performances.
The drug LSD is said to be able to induce certain forms of temporary synaesthesia, and so, unfortunately, presents some youth of the pop
culture with an additional attraction for hard drugs, despite risks of death from overdosing or psychological dependency. Even some Christian musicians are beginning to experiment with a sound, light and colour, but of course drug-free, multi-media approach.
In times past, people with unusual sensory abilities were thought to have received these abilities by traffic with demons, and their very lives were at risk. In modern times we see on television broadcasts many Christian pastors and preachers depicted as performing great feats of healing the sick in the name of Jesus, by laying on of hands in a similar manner to those performed by the apostles, as reported in the gospels.
Tests of the hands of some of these healers show extraordinarily high levels of electrical discharge at the fingertips. We have much to learn about the human body created ('imago dei') in the image of God.
Dr. Marilyn Anderson is dean of the College of Arts and General Studies and a music educator at Northern Caribbean University. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.