first, a disclaimer. i don’t pass the consistency check for long-term periods. as i said in this post, some things tend to change. mostly stuff related to names of people, places, that kind of name. (conversely, pomegrenades have been golden ever since learnt their name in English — in that sense i pass the consistency check, just as with those dull “give a colour to each letter of the alphabet” questionaires). but names of people, those tend to change. reason is i’m not a proper synæsthete; synæsthesia is to me a symptom to me of something bigger (my PM buddies know of a couple of other things that are symptoms to this exact same condition: —my poet and my demon). enough with disclaimer, lets try to get this through to you people.
visualise an apple. really, follow me here: visualise an apple. have it in your hands. feel the strength of its material, the smoothness of its outside, its sweet and subtle smell. picture yourself biting it. the juice leaking away, the sound of your bite, its internal consistency and texture, its smell. i think everyone here can, without much effort, visualise one of these parts more or less vividly. some people can really feel the consistency of the apple against their hands. others can reconstruct the smell to the point of feeling their stomachs grumble and their spine shiver from the sweetness. other people can really feel the texture of the apple bite against their tongue.
regardless of what aspect or aspects of this visualisation you can reconstruct the best, i think there is a sense in which we can all agree that reconstruction was very vivid (if you put some effort, it was more vivid than you usually think yourself capable of) and there is a sense in which it was just a trace, something on the background — a reconstruction, after all.
this is what the synæsthete experiences. some more or less vividly than in a visualisation exercise, but the feeling is just the same in nature. i think we can all agree it is not the same as seeing an apple in front of you, or actually feeling its taste just as if you had it on your mouth. it’s more like experiencing the redness as a hint, out of your visual field, or like experiencing a strong memory of a taste — strong enough to even generate some collateral reaction in your system, the shiver, the stomach, but not strong enough to trick you into believing there’s an apple in your mind.
this is the basic idea. i think this also helps see why asking “do you see the colour” is a bad question. because the synæsthete is tempted to reply “well, yes and no”. you do visualise, but see? see involves projecting it somewhere. sure, that classical stereotype of seeing colours to letters makes confusion simple enough: the synæsthete could arguably see the letter coloured their personal way! but what about music? where in your vision field will you project what you visualise with music, shall you be that kind of synæsthete? it makes no sense, mm? getting a synæsthete to try and explain what’s going is rather frustrating, as there’s no agreement on what vocabulary to use or what distinctions to make:
“it’s not that i see the colours, i experience them: i see them! …no! i mean, i don’t ‘see’ see them, i just— i can see them, but not with my sight, i see them somewhere else…”
it’s endless, confusing and terribly frustrating. i hope i’ve helped you guys understand the basic drill though. in my words (which are by no means a scientific distinction, just a way to help here), synæsthesia is about visualisation, rather than sight, or in broader terms, reconstruction, rather than factual experience. factual experience would’ve been what we call psychotic hallucinations: believing you actually have an apple in your mouth? that would be very confusing, and make synæsthesia suddenly some clinical “condition” comparable to, yes, psychosis.
edit: what’s going on here
on a more scientifical note, the brain scans show activity in the parts of the brain relative to the sensation being reconstructed. so one might say the experience is real: you do see the red, somewhere out of your vision field, but you see it, you see it with the “vision” area of your brain. then again, visualisations and (since we’re in this forum) dreams also light up those parts of the brain. the fact your experience is in no way projected onto the real world, as a hallucination would, tricking you into confusing reality and other kinds of experience, is key to understanding what’s going on, though.