The Ohio State University at Marion

Cross-wired: Synesthesia and how we experience senses

Written by Morgan Marconi, freshman journalism major

At Ohio State Marion, opportunity is always knocking. Knocking, a sound that is heard with our ears surprisingly can also be seen in colors.

Psychology students in Dr. Nikole Patson’s honors introduction to psychology 1100 class had the opportunity to listen to and engage in conversation with Marcia Smilack, a professional photographer with synesthesia. Synesthesia is a disease in which one sees sounds and hears color.

Students were left with dropped-jaws and endless questions for Dr. Smilack. Smilack spoke about how when she was a girl, she hit a key on the piano, and saw a color. “I didn’t associate [the color green] with a note,” Smilack said. This was her first millisecond in her experience of this disease. Smilack sees sounds, which is a major influence in how she captures her mesmerizing photographs. According to Smilack, she does not need music to inspire her art, all she needs is the perceived sounds around her.

Students in Patson’s class were simply astonished by Smilack’s experiences and how she puts having synesthesia in her own words. Many of the students, including freshman psychology major Jackson Merino have heard of synesthesia from television shows and doing their assigned readings. “I find it cool, weird, and interesting: all of the above,” said Merino.

Even students not majoring in psychology found ways to relate synesthesia to their field of study. Freshman Hudson Hill, a computer information science major, shared synesthesia may be useful in his field of study. “I see it as a way to understand how people are layering certain structures. It gives you an insight into the way other people think and I feel like that’s an invaluable skill to have in regard to major,” said Hill.

A mere 0.0005% of people in the world have synesthesia. Ohio State Marion has a unique approach in order to bring this kind of individualized diversity to its students, and that is also hard to come by.