I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Merleau-Ponty’s claim that we experience transcendent things synesthetically. As I noted in this post, he says that we experience overlapping, multimodal layers of sensations that overflow beyond our sensory limits, and that the things comprising the layers transcend us (are independent of us, do not require us in order to exist—at least, that’s our experience).
But to me, synesthesia is the wrong word to describe overlapping, multimodal sensations. Overlapping means that there are seperable sensations, with different envelopes, that may co-occur. But the way I experience synesthesia is quite different. When I hear a loud, unexpected noise, it brings the sensation of bright color. Smells have texture. Flashing lights have an auditory rhythm. These combinations aren’t the result of exploration over time, and they don’t overflow. They aren’t like a coffee cup which can be seen, smelled, and touched at the same time. Synesthesia is self-contained. Synesthesia is integrated.
It’s pretty clear to me that Merleau-Ponty’s idea of synesthesia and the widely documented neurological condition by the same name are different phenomena. Therefore I think it’s important to use a different word to refer to each. So for the phenomenon that Merleau-Ponty is identifying, I say “intersthesia” is more apt. It better implies overlapping layers of sensation that come and go continuously, in multiple dimensions. With this new word, we can say that we are all intersthetic all the time, and some of us are synesthetic some of the time.