You may have heard of synesthesia (or synaesthesia) in an English class while discussing poetic language. In literature, it is a description of one sense in terms of another. In the health field, though, the word has a different, yet highly similar, definition. Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense is experienced through the perception of another sense.
Sure, you've often smelled something and tasted it at the same time, but have you ever smelled something and seen colors? Or heard a noise and tasted something? These are the kinds of connections that the mind of a synesthete creates. They may hear music and see colors or feel pain and smell something that is nowhere in the room.
The perceptions of a person with synesthesia aren't always a direct trading of two senses. Many also associate colors with letters and numbers, insisting that the number 7 is green or that the letter P is a yellowish orange. Entire words will have a unique color based on the colors of their component letters. This isn't a matter of simply associating a letter or number with a color; they will actually see the colors when presented with text or even when thinking of letters and numbers.
The possible link between synesthesia and creativity has been studied in the past. If the person experiencing synesthesia is able to channel their extra perceptions into a creative work, the results can share their vision with the world and create unique connections. Vladimir Nobokov, the author of Lolita, has been recognized as a synesthete, along with the painter David Hockney and the composer Olivier Messiaen. Countless others have perhaps simply not been recognized.
Despite being a "condition," synesthesia is not a handicap or disability. It is simply a different way of processing sensory information. A synesthete may feel a bit strange the first time she tries to describe the colors of her alphabet or the things she tastes when listening to music, but will typically embrace the richness of the overall experience.