Sensual Signals

[First posted on The Times of Israel:]

Ibn Ezra Genesis: Miketz

Sensual Signals

“If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

Do you ever taste sound? Hear a view? Smell a touch? See a scent? It would seem physically impossible; however it is part of our language. We talk about sweet sounds, loud lights and various other confusions of the senses.

However, there are some people for whom mixtures of senses are common. There is a condition known as Synesthesia whereby people will actually see different colors, hear different sounds, feel different textures, smell different scents and/or taste different flavors, when no such stimulus is present.

Our Patriarch Jacob speaks with a cross-sensory metaphor when he “sees the food in Egypt” while he’s sitting in Canaan listening to the reports of the food in Egypt. Ibn Ezra (on Genesis 42:1) picks up on the language and provides the first description of Synesthesia centuries before modern medicine diagnosed the condition.

Ibn Ezra explains that because all the sensory inputs connect and are interpreted by the brain, sometimes they get mixed up, hence the beautiful, artistic and surprising cross-sensory metaphors that we end up with.

May we keep mixing metaphors to our listeners’ sharp consternation or bright delight.

Shabbat Shalom,



To synesthete physicist Richard Feynman. Other notable synesthetes include Billy Joel, Itzhak Perlman and Nikola Tesla.


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