Popping popcorn? Maybe that always makes you see the  color blue. Hear the word "amazing"? Maybe that always makes you smell hot dogs. It all might sound like Frankenstein's cobbling something together again, but for people with synesthesia, it's everyday life. Far from being a scary or perpetual hindrance, the condition might actually break down serious barriers to creativity.

Wait, wait. Synesth--what?

Synesthesia refers to a condition where two or more of the senses are linked or fire together based on the same stimulus. Each person with synesthesia can perceive differently even if the general links are the same. For example, you and your neighbor both might connect smell and hearing, but you might smell wood when you hear guitar, and your neighbor might smell cake. Subsequently, there's virtually limitless possibilities about how the world can seem to people with the condition.

It's all in your noodle

In your brain, there are roughly 100 billion individual neurons (nerve cells). Synapses (junctions) connect these nerve cells, allowing them to send impulses and "talk" to each other. Normally, the neurons and synapses are supposed to be somewhat contained or separated in different sensory systems. In people with synesthesia, though, separations aren't very clear. Scientists think this "blending" is the norm for everybody when they're born, but that over time, non-synesthetes gradually compartmentalize and lose the links. From the genetic standpoint, synesthesia might be a dominant trait on the X chromosome.

Neural links connect to creative awesome

Whether you're a musician or painter or anything in between, being innovative usually requires that you look outside the box for ways of doing things or solutions to problems. Having synesthesia might take the struggle out of this process and supercharge it. It's a bit like most of the population pulls out a dictionary where each word stands alone, whereas synesthetes constantly flip through a thesaurus, referencing from word to word and translating emotions and ideas into new or alternative forms that more members of the public easily can access.

You've probably heard of these synesthetes

Synesthesia might occur in as many as 1 out of 2,000 people, with the most common form of the condition linking hearing and color. Some of the individuals that claim to have the condition might be recognizable to you:

  • Kanye West--singer/songwriter; connects auditory cues, such as music notes, and colors
  • Vladimir Nabokov­--author, "Lolita"; connects sounds with colors and shapes
  • Richard Feynman--mathematician, Nobel Prize winner; connects colors and letters/characters
  • Mary J. Blige--singer/songwriter; connects auditory cues and colors
  • Jimi Hendrix--guitarist; connected auditory cues and colors
  • Marilyn Monroe--actress; connected visual and auditory cues, saw vibration

A condition to love

Synesthesia might mean you see the world way differently compared to somebody else, but if that means increased ability to tap into genius, then hey, it's pretty doubtful you'd find anybody who'd count it as a loss. Embrace who you are, linked-up brain and all.

Published on: Jul 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.