Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin and the man who coined the term “nature versus nurture,” is often credited with the discovery of Synesthesia. A child prodigy himself, who read by age two, Galton, however, refers to other earlier studies of the phenomena, like a case study of chromaesthesia – the associations of visual imagery for color with sound (Amy’s particular form of synesthesia) – published in 1873. It would seem that the knowledge of synesthesia was known in popular culture during Amy’s childhood, since her mother first documented her child’s seeing of notes sometime between 1870 and 1875, ten years before the Galton wrote about it in 1880. Of course there may have been no link at all between Clara’s discovery and documenting of Amy’s linking of notes and colors and the scientific “discovery” of the phenomena, but it seems more than coincidental that the subject was one of interest at the time Amy exhibited it.

For years Synesthesia has been considered a mental disorder, a brain malfunction of the senses. At the same time, however, it had been observed to occur more frequently in artistic people. In 2003, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California San Diego, put two new twists on the reality of the phenomena: Vilayanur claims that we are all synesthesiaists, but most of us are in denial of the fact! He also has determined that synesthesia is at the root of our habit of metaphor making – why we, for example, use a tactile adjective, “sharp,” to describe the taste of a particular cheese, “cheddar.”

Ramachandran first proved that synesthesia is much more common than the one in ten thousand that people had assumed were synesthetes prior to his research. He found closer to one in two hundred people who exhibit some form of it. (go to p7)