Can You Smell, Feel or Taste This GIF?

Viral GIF and the synesthetes who do more than hear it

Posted Dec 05, 2017

A several-year-old silent GIF of pylon towers playing jump rope is breaking the internet because a researcher tweeted it and asked if people hear anything.

The media is doing a good job of explaining that if you do hear something it is due to synesthesia – bonus senses present in at least four percent of people – but we synesthetes want to know why is the discussion focusing on only the hearing?

We can smell, taste, feel, and even colorize that GIF as well!

For me, a motion to hearing synesthete, the sound is "thud-boing" repeatedly but I also feel the thud on the bottom of my feet whenever the jumping tower sets back down.

And my fellow synnies have even more going on in their sensoriums:

"I hear it like the sound of ramming in of poles in the ground for the foundation of a building a mile away, but it is subsonic and it is dark brown with dark yellow with an earthy smell like pavement tiles after rain,"  synesthete Sanne van Wees of The Netherlands explains. "I know that smell is caused by a fungus becoming airborne, but smells earthy," she continues – describing petrichor.

Carrie Barcomb of Pennsylvania experiences it even beyond the five major senses. She hears it but also describes a physical reaction. "When it hits the ground I hear the deep boom and feel a physical sensation of shaking like a rippling sound wave, as if the ground was literally shaking beneath my feet."

"Motion-to-sound is really obvious in GIFs or videos without sound," explains synesthete Catherine Ryczek, an Ohio native now living in Japan. "A lot of people seem to be able to hear something. I guess the question is, do they hear the movement outside GIFs, too? Probably. It's one of those things that was so secondary for me, I didn't even think about it – I just thought I was a weirdo who liked to make video game sound effects with everything."

She adds: "The towers are really personified, and for me, the more person-like a thing is, the more likely I am to feel matching spatial movements in my own body. When I look at the two side towers, I feel a wobbliness in my upper torso and head as they move, and when I direct my attention to the middle guy, a jumping and sprawling sensation in my legs. Actually the wires too, though not people, create a circling sensation in my chest."

There are two main tactile feelings happening to Catherine as well, depending on where she looks. "There's a rumbling and buzzing under the feet, then the wires smacking the ground feel like guitar strings lightly hitting my cheek. Most things that touch something that's not a body part ends up as a sensation on my face or in my mouth. (I don't know why; it's kind of unfortunate.)"

She adds that as a side note, for the motion to sound, it's not just the rumble. "The small tower's legs make a 'fwee' sound when it jumps, and the wires make a swinging wire sound. I feel like I'm more inclined to hear only the 'rumble' part because the camera shakes the video amplifying the audio hallucination."

Sarah Ludwig of Illinois hears the same crashing thud as many synnie observers, "but also soft whistling as the wires move. But along with the thuds, there's a light blue-colored shuddering sensation on the right side of my head. The sounds I hear also have their usual colors - the thuds are tan and black and jagged, and the whistles are smooth white lines."

And Lidell Simpson of Mississippi reports that he hears the swooshing of the power lines as well as "such a thundering crash as the pylon hits the ground."