#106: Synesthesia

December 11, 2015

This week we take a deep dive into the world of Synesthesia – a unique quirk of evolution affecting around 4% of the population – whereby one or more of our senses are joined or coupled. Noted author and Professor of Neurology at George Washington University Dr. Richard E. Cytowic MD MFA guides Jesse down the rabbit-hole and beyond the trappings of urban legends and popular misconceptions.

Talking about destroying myths, Jesse shatters a very popular one about happiness and longevity, making it easier for you to be Mr. Grumpy this holiday season (if you so choose). To know more stick around for the Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick.

PS: Enjoy the spirit of Yuletide as it sweeps you towards new beginnings and don’t forget to arm yourself with a subscription to our lip-smackingly delicious weekly newsletter – Brain Breakfast.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:34

    Cross wiring in the human brain.

  • 00:01:44

    This Week In Neuroscience: Out of body experiences.

  • 00:05:10

    The audience interaction section.

  • 00:07:33

    Jesse introduces Dr. Richard E. Cytowic.

  • 00:08:45

    Synesthesia defined.

  • 00:09:43

    Commonalities in the Synesthetic alphabet.

  • 00:10:53

    Origins of Synesthesia and population covered.

  • 00:12:59

    Cross-wiring of senses.

  • 00:14:12

    What led Dr. Cytowic to study Synesthesia.

  • 00:18:16

    Mechanism of action - Synaptic pruning.

  • 00:21:33

    A question about evolution and superior selection.

  • 00:22:25

    Are we all somewhat Synesthetic?

  • 00:23:16

    Consciousness and the 10% myth.

  • 00:24:07

    Prevalence of Synesthesia in different cultures.

  • 00:25:42

    Inducing Synesthesia.

  • 00:28:01

    Bombarded by flux.

  • 00:30:00

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Happiness - a fish that you can’t catch.


  1. Sean A. Day says:

    Towards the end of this podcast regarding synesthesia, with Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, you asked whether “animals” might also have synesthesia. First we need to keep in mind that we humans ourselves are a type of animal; so the question instead would be whether allo-animals have synesthesia. Then we need to also consider that, while we are currently the only type of human around, it was not that long ago that we had sister species, including the Neanderthals and Denisovans, with whom our species interbred; their brains were different but quite similar to ours, thus they might have also experienced some forms of synesthesia.
    On back a handful of years ago, I created a series of podcasts on various subjects related to synesthesia. One of those addresses the question of synesthete allo-animals. It may be found at the following:

    Sean A. Day, Ph.D.
    Dept. of English & Journalism;
    Dept. of Behavioral & Social Sciences
    Trident Technical College
    Charleston, SC 29423 USA
    (843) 574-6539

    President, American Synesthesia Association

    1. Jesse Lawler says:

      Thanks for the note, Dr. Day! Yes, *non-human* animals, I should have clarified. I share your curiosity about Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the other extinct Homo branches… I wish we had a handful of them around to learn from/about. (Sigh.) I’ll check out the podcast link you posted. Very much appreciated.

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