What Causes Synaesthesia?
Most would agree that the mixing of senses experienced by synaesthetes are caused by some sort of cross-wiring in the brain. Exactly how this occurs is still, for the most part, a mystery. It's highly possible that the causes of synaesthesia vary from person to person. Basically, there are numerous theories about what causes synaesthesia and no-one knows how many (if any) of these theories are correct.

One theory is that during the early stages of neurological development, the brain detects that a particular area in the individual's brain is somehow (for want of a better word) "inhospitable" for it's typical function (eg processing of stimuli such as music, flavours, letters, voices, smells, digits, shapes, touch, etc), so this function is transfered to a more "hospitable" area of the brain. So, for example, a person's function for processing of music could be transfered to, say, the area which processes colour and texture, hence this individual will "see" music as having distinct colours and textures. Obviously this is a great simplification, but that's the basic idea.

As mentioned before, people have synaesthesia from as far back as they remember. It's common for letter-colour synaesthetes to think they picked it up from those fridge magnets, that coloured alphabet above the blackboard in kindergarten, their building blocks, etc. If you ask me that theory is a worthless pile of bollocks. Ok to be fair I suppose it could conceivably happen, but that would be an association based upon memory, which is not the neurological condition of synaesthesia. Personally my letters and digits have textures and personalities, and these obviously aren't remembered associations. I remember getting annoyed that my blocks, the letters on Sesame Street, etc were never the right colours! Also, once my friend invented a simple code (replacing the letters of the alphabet with nonsense symbols). As I learned the code, each of the symbols acquired colours (eg the symbol for 'm' became light purple, but the actual letter m is crimson). On top of all that, I also see sounds, some people, tastes, physical sensations, etc as colours, textures, etc. New stimuli gives new associations. So, for me at least, there is absolutely no way that my synaesthetic associations have been learned.

It's interesting to note that synaesthesia has been known to occur as the result of taking drugs such as LSD, pot, mescaline, peyote, etc (think "Whoa, I can
see the music..."). It's also been documented in cases of severe migraine hallucinations. I recently heard that people can become synaesthetic (temporarily or permanently) as the result of brain/spinal injuries/conditions. Apparently this happened to British comedian Rik Mayall as a result of brain injuries sustained in a recent motor accident. He said: "So, next time it happened, I knew what was coming.  I was at Gatwick airport, flying out to Canada to do Kevin of the North earlier this year.  I shouldn?t be telling you this, really, but I will.  I was by the bookstall, and I couldn't tell the difference between colour and sound.  I could see the colour of sound, and I could hear the things I could see, and I knew it was declining, my ability to understand what was going on." Click here for full article.
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