An Unusual Case of Synesthesia

An Unusual Case of Synesthesia

In a 1913 article in the The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Isador Coriat describes a case of “colored pain,” which is still considered a rare form of synesthesia. These synesthetes perceive colors as they experience pain. Coriat’s subject is an intelligent forty-year-old woman suffering from anxiety, sleepwalking and headaches. As far back as she can remember she’s seen different colors when she feels pain. Pain produces clear, distinct colors and a certain “kind of pain” consistently produces a certain color. “Each type of pain produced its individual and invariable color, for instance: Hollow pain, blue color; sore pain, red color; deep headache, vivid scarlet; superficial headache, white color; shooting neuralgic pain, white color.” The woman sees colors as masses with no recognizable shape, except when pain “involved a jagged, longitudinal or round area, the color stimulated by this particular type of pain had a corresponding geometrical figure”. I’m guessing by this Coriat means that the woman’s pain might have a certain shape, depending on where it is on her body. But I’m not sure. This made me wonder what exactly is it to experience pain. What exactly makes a kind of pain onto which certain colors map? An understanding of pain can help us better understand “pain-color” synesthesia and to compare it to other forms of synesthesia. Here I only want to look at what Murat Aydede (2013) refers to as the act-object duality of pain. We can then think of one way this tension differentiates pain-color from grapheme-color synesthesia. Someone with a paper cut would tell you that pain is a bodily sensation. It seems to occur somewhere in the body and is measured in ways we measure tangible objects or quantities. Some see pain as the same as any perceptual process, like hearing or seeing. Many see it as quite different. As with sound or color, you can measure pains intensity. Yet pain is different from those external properties in that it can only be accessed by the person experiencing it. Our conception of pain divides into two threads: (1) pain is something that occurs in a particular part of the body and (2) pain is a subjective, private experience. The tension between these threads is the act-object duality of pain. In the first thread, pain exists in a location in the body that endures a certain length of time. We report pain, saying things like “my head is throbbing” or “my lower back has been aching all day.” We measure pain by comparing different instances of pain with one another. “My throat hurt more when I had mono than when I had a cold”. We also talk about how we experience pain, with words such as “feel” to...

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Struck By Lightning

Lightning results from a negative charge in the clouds that causes the ground to become positively charged, pulling the electrons toward it at a great force. When struck by lightning, people usually either die or suffer long-term negative consequences. However, in rare cases being struck by lightning can unlock the genius within. read...

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Do You Suffer From Emotional Pain or Anxiety? Pop a Tylenol

Emotional pain is often said to be very different from physical pain. Past studies have revealed that this is not quite right. The brain interprets physical and emotional pain in similar ways. A new study indicates that the brain also interprets anxiety as a kind of pain, and that these forms of psychological discomfort can be lessened by taking a Tylenol. read...

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