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Synesthesia is the involuntary union of one sensory input causing a reaction in another sensory input.[1]. Classic cases of synesthesia are people who smell colors, see smells, hear colors, feel images, or even associate personalities with objects.[2]

The term is especially relevant to advances in digital technologies. Most things in "reality" engage us on multiple sensory levels: the experience of an orange includes the brilliant color, the feel of the soft skin, the smell of the sharp citrus, and the taste of the tangy sweetness. Indeed, the very fact that a smell can be "sharp" shows how pervasive the mixing of sensory metaphors can be. In the digital world, sight often reigns supreme, with the occasional auditory supplement. Yet digital art often combines different senses to create art that engages us on many levels. An interactive installation piece can produce sound, stunning visuals, tactile feedback, and even smells and taste. A common example of the possibilities of computers in producing synesthesic art is the visualizer that comes standard with most audio players. The program takes the music and visually represents the music in real-time. Add a powerful subwoofer and one can literally feel the bass on one's skin, adding another sensory dimension. If the art of the past tended toward uni-sensual experience (a painting, a song, etc.), the art of the future seems to be moving in the direction of immersive multi-sensual experience.


  1. R. Cytowic, "Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses" Springer-Verlag, NY (p.1)
  2. Smilek D, Malcolmson KA, Carriere JS, Eller M, Kwan D, Reynolds M (June 2007). "When "3" is a jerk and "E" is a king: personifying inanimate objects in synesthesia". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 19 (6): 981–92. doi:10.1162/jocn.2007.19.6.981. Retrieved 2012-11-09.


  • Cytowic, Richard E. (2003). The Man Who Tasted Shapes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes - Ramachandran, V.S. and Hubbard, E.M., Scientific American, Vol 288 Issue 5 (May 2003), 52-59.