Winona native Lidell Simpson will be featured on the History Channel’s “The uneXplained” with William Shatner this coming Saturday, July 18 at 8 p.m. central time. Simpson is leading expert in the field of synesthesia, a neurological trait in which stimuli is cross-processed by more than one of the senses. He has traveled the world speaking on the subject, been featured in books and magazine articles, and on television.
Born deaf, Simpson lives with synesthesia, a neurological trait that blurs the boundaries of the senses - touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell. Although he is deaf, Simpson hears the world around him, with each object and movement having a distinct sound inside his head.
"Everything I see translates through sound," Simpson said in a 2017 interview, who can hear sufficiently with hearing aids. "I have been deaf all my life, but I am never in silence. Kind of like Roadrunner and Coyote sound effects."
According to the article in “St. Louis Magazine” written by Jeanette Cooperman, “Simpson has polymodal synesthesia: Everything that he hears, sees, touches, or smells “pings” in his brain as particular sound. This is all the more striking because he was born profoundly deaf. He’d been labeled retarded until a specialist realized he had a rare form of deafness—his ears were fine, anatomically, but there was nerve damage in the part of his brain responsible for hearing. Once he was fitted with electronic hearing aids, he soon learned to speak.
By then, his mind had already made itself a rich soundtrack—a sort of techno, outer-space music punctured by sound effects he associates with certain faces or experiences. Motion shows up as sound, too: He has his own private Doppler effect, with pitch increasing as an object comes closer. Even tastes come to him as sounds: He was once served a heavenly lamb shank, but “the restaurant quickly filled up with people, and the noise of the chitter-chatter was so great, I could no longer hear the taste.”
Over the years, Simpson has made quite a name for himself in the field of synesthesia. He is a founding member of the American Synesthesia Association (ASA), a founding member of International Association of Synesthetes, Artists and Scientists (IASAS), and is an affiliate researcher with the Borgaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami. He has been giving presentations since 2005 in the United States, England, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and Russia. He has been featured in the New York Times, “Smithsonian Magazine,” “Scientific American,” as well as two books, Wednesday is Indigo Blue and The Superhuman Mind.
When he was contacted by producers of “The uneXplained” to be featured for synesthesia, Simpson didn’t hesitate. He has already been featured on a five-part series that has aired in Canada and in Europe.
“In November 2018, I was filmed in San Francisco for a five-part episode documentary by a crew from Paris France, ‘HUMAN PLUS The Future of our Senses,’ by French crew led by and interviewed with Vincent Barthelemy of Bonne Pioche Production,” Simpson said.
Simpson said the producers discovered him on the internet and wanted to discuss how he was “superhuman because of my synesthesia.”
“I was flown to Los Angeles where I spent a few days filming,” Simpson said. “I sent four hours being interviewed by the executive producer, Jeff Sepp.”
Since his diagnosis, Simpson spends much of his time raising awareness of synesthesia.
“A lot of people with Asperger syndrome also have synesthesia,” Simpson said in 2017. “I think in many cases, it is misdiagnosed. There are a high percentage of those that have the two. [Someone with Asperger syndrome] has different brain architecture than everyone else. They are often overwhelmed by their senses.”
Simpson said the medical community are beginning to realize its significance. He said the study of Synesthesia has provided major insights in the past decade in areas such as understanding autism, schizophrenia, and sensory integration therapy for phantom limbs, and advancements in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, including ones used currently by military and scientific organizations such as the United States Air Force and NASA.
“They are trying to treat it,” Simpson said. “This isn’t something that needs to be fixed. It is a trait, not a disease. There is no cure for it. We just have to deal with it.”