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Taste-shape synesthesia

A subtype of gustatory-visual or gustatory-tactile synesthesia


(This page only talks about shape concurrents evoked by taste. For cases where colours are triggered by taste, see the page on taste-colour synesthesia. There is also more information on the general page on gustatory-visual synesthesia. Also see the page on gustatory-tactile synesthesia.)


Some synesthetes consistently see or perceive different shapes (geometric figures, etc.) triggered by their sense of taste. These shapes are perceived visually and often also as a tactile sensation or via proprioception, as if the shapes were in or on their body or forming “part of them.” They can have a spatial location, a particular movement, they can constantly morph and rearrange as nuances of the taste make themselves felt, or they can expand and replicate. For some synesthetes they have colour, while for others there is no colour experience. They can also be accompanied by a strong emotional component.

 

What kind of shapes are perceived? Very often they are 3D or 2D geometric figures. Some of the most common shapes that have been described are squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, semi-circles or arches, spheres, cones, prisms or polyhedrons. Other manifestations such as lines, spirals, rings, dots, stripes, dips and peaks, curves and waves are also reported. They are not figurative images: they are purely abstract. They can be simple, or incredibly complex.

 

Some people see the shapes visually, projected into the world (projector synesthetes) or actually feel them physically somewhere on or in their body, while others perceive them in the mind’s eye or just “know” what shape each particular taste has (associator synesthetes). For some, all tastes without exception have a shape, but this is not the case for others. In any case the shapes are consistent and do not normally change throughout the synesthete’s lifetime. It is an uncommon type of synesthesia (more information on the page on gustatory-visual synesthesia in general). Finally, it appears that for most of these people the shape concurrents are not only triggered by taste but also by smell (olfactory-visual synesthesia), as the two senses are closely related.


Here are some cases, descriptions and representations of taste-shape synesthesia:


“When I encounter certain flavors or even textures, I can physically "feel" or see a shape. I don't have any color association, more like a shape with a specific amount of sides.”

(Source: a comment on a post in the Facebook group “Synesthesia”, 2020.)


The shape of dairy products: cow’s milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, ice cream and cream.

(Image: Susan Brice in the Gallery of the website sensequence.de)


"Vanilla concentrate (it’s like a milk powder to put in your coffee, with a strong flavour). I only tasted it “neat” once and I wouldn’t ever try it again, not even in coffee. It created a perfectly focused round sphere on my tongue, very uncomfortable as you can’t close your mouth, you have a sphere in your mouth. It’s two different realities you’re feeling at the same time, and one is just as clear as the other: the real one and the synesthetic one. In the real one you can close your mouth, in the synesthetic one you can’t. Two superimposed realities. Unpleasant, in this case, and I’ve never liked vanilla. But in general when I feel the shapes created by a taste it makes me feel really happy!”

(Source: Pau 365, my own experience.)


“For example, milk chocolate. It starts off round and spreads out forwards before curling at the edges and forming a sharp ramp upwards with a gentle slope downward. It doesn't get thinner, but spreads out into a thin line curving back on itself like a C rotated 90 degrees to the right.

A lemon is a horizontal bar about 2 inches thick and 12 inches wide like a ruler, that starts to become a concertina, then the horizontal like line shoots forward stretching longways but thinning lengthways until it reaches a sharp pointed end, before doubling under itself and turning backwards. It ends curling under itself, about 4 inches behind its original edge.

It doesn't change, it's the same experience for that particular flavor ever time I eat it. I have this experience with many foods.”

(Source: This post on the online debate platform Reddit/Synesthesia. 2020.)


Fine art student Jingyi Li draws her complex perceptions of smell and taste and keeps a “diary” where she commits to paper the sensations triggered by different foods and drinks.

“A day I woke up with a lot of desire for sweet. The taste:

_[Peach Jam] the smell and taste.

When I put it in my mouth, the first impression was the intense sweet with fresh explodes on the cheeks; the shape looks like a peacock feather, it starts from purple to yellow. And then I found that there was a tiny wound at the apex of the tongue, the edge of the tongue is made up of the open triangles of astringent. The background was blurry which is not so special.”

(Source: Jingyi Li, in this post in the Facebook group I have Synesthesia: I’m not a freak, I’m a Synesthete. 2020.)


In 1995, when the phenomenon of taste-shape synesthesia was still practically unknown, Richard E. Cytowic wrote about it in his pioneering book The Man Who Tasted Shapes. There is a more detailed description of this on the page about gustatory-tactile synesthesia, as the synesthete he studied perceived his shapes as being more tactile than visual, which is actually often the case.


Go to the page on taste-colour synesthesia

 

Go to the page on gustatory-visual synesthesia in general


Go to the page on gustatory-tactile synesthesia


Go to the page on olfactory-visual synesthesia (smell-colour and smell-shape)


This page last updated: 11 June 2021


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