Forum Philosophicum

Volume 20, Issue 1, Spring 2015

Józef Bremer
Pages 73-98

Mental Disorder or Creative Gift? The Cognitive Scientific Approach to Synesthesia

In cases where one sense-modality is stimulated by another, we speak of synesthesia, i.e., of a subjective experience of multiple distinct sensations as being quite literally conjoined. The term “synesthesia” is derived indirectly from the Greek words “syn,” meaning “together,” and “aisthesis,” meaning “sensation.” This article focuses on the question of whether synesthesia is in fact a mental disorder or a creative gift. Both the commonsense views that have emerged in recent times, and neurological research, demonstrate that our knowledge of this relatively uncommon phenomenon is slowly but constantly expanding. Proper experimental research conducted with the right sorts of synesthete, and philosophically and scientifically nuanced conceptual studies of synesthesia, can all be helpful when seeking answers to the question posed above, while also confirming general claims about the extent to which our perceptions are really subjective. Most synesthetes see themselves as gifted, and claim that this “conjoining of the senses” enriches the quality of their lives.