A Beautiful World: Synesthesia and tasting the London Underground

A London Underground sign sits on the side of Sloane Square tube station.
A London Underground sign sits on the side of Sloane Square tube station on November 29, 2017 in London, England.
Jack Taylor | Getty Images

Editor's note: MPR News is replaying this episode of A Beautiful World from 2015.

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"My idea of a beautiful world, is everything's got nice round edges," said James Wannerton. "Because I absolutely love the taste of round edges."

James Wannerton and his Taste Tube Map
James Wannerton shows his "Taste Tube Map."
Courtesy of James Wannerton

James Wannerton has a neurological condition called synesthesia, which makes him taste sound.

It has many subvarieties. His is called lexical-gustatory synesthesia, which means his ear and his tongue are biologically wired together.

When Wannerton hears a sound, his taste buds simultaneously fire off, and produce (or inflict) an amazing array of flavors in his mouth.

"It's like an eyedropper of taste, and each of these drops vary in intensity," he explained. "Some are strong, and some are very weak. It's like having a fluorescent light turned on and then off again. That's what happens with these tastes, they sort of flash/fade, flash/fade."

Wannerton has been tasting his world since he was a little boy. On his way to school, while riding the London Underground Tube with his mother, he'd get strange, involuntary tastes in his mouth every time they passed through a station.

At the time, being a child, he just assumed it was normal. He thought everybody tasted names. As an adult, he learned it was "far from normal."

Here's his story.

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