Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Synesthesia is a neurological condition that causes people's senses to behave in unusual ways. If you've heard of it, you've probably heard wrong – but it is a fascinating phenomenon that is rarely detrimental and often somewhat enjoyable to those who experience it.

According to Wikipedia, synesthesia is commonly misrepresented in literature. I'm not surprised by that, as most high-profile conditions (neurological, mental and physical) get a clumsy handling in the world of fiction, and genuine portrayals are few and far between.

I'm working on the novel I started during NaNoWriMo (no, I didn't get to 50,000 words  not even close) and the plot that has been rolling off the top of my head includes a lot to do with synesthesia – both the real synesthesia, and a fictional related condition. The thing is, while I don't want the portrayal of real synesthesia to be seen as totally ignorant, I also want it to be somewhat whimsical and hyperbolic. This is mainly because I like a dash of whimsy in just about everything, but also because the character in question is highly intelligent and imaginative and exhibits a rarer, more curious form of synesthesia: ordinal linguistic personification.

Of course, NaNoWriMo is all about writing without editing as you go, and even though it's over I intend to continue in that spirit, so I'll address these concerns later. Hopefully I won't write myself into a hackish hole.

 
 
James Roday as Shawn Spencer and Dulé Hill as Burton Guster
On the surface, USA Network's Psych is just another fun show. As a detective series it's not especially groundbreaking: a quirky detective constantly flouts the rules, but the cops put up with him because he gets results. The plots make liberal use of tried-and-true mystery tropes, and a lot of episodes follow a predictable first body, second body schedule.

At the same time, each cast member is quite charming in his or her own way, and together their chemistry is perfect for the catchy (if sometimes unrealistic) dialog. It's also laden with fun '80s references, though only about a quarter of them make sense to me since I spent most of the '80s on a five-mile-long island with cobbled streets in a country that censored Michelangelo's nunchaku.

But none of this has anything to do with why I love Psych. I love it for what I see as the core principle of the show: an unwavering commitment to skepticism and science.  

The premise is simple but clever: Shawn Spencer was raised by his super-cop dad to be the perfect crime solver, and as an adult he possesses incredible observation and deduction skills. He is too undisciplined for life on the force, so he ends up tricking his way into solving crimes alongside the police (and his best friend Gus) by pretending his snap assessments are in fact psychic visions.

That's great just by itself: in this world where mediums, ghost hunters, 2012-ers and other deluded folk are getting unprecedented media exposure, Psych is a popular show about someone making it all up.

But it doesn't end there. After becoming famous as a "psychic detective", Shawn's agency periodically gets contacted by all manner of loons seeking his assistance with ghosts, werewolves, mummies and other bumps-in-the-night. In these episodes, things inevitably escalate until Gus starts seriously considering supernatural explanations - but never our trusty hero! In fact, Shawn immediately mocks his best friend every time he brings up "real" oogly-booglies as a theory. He utterly refuses to talk about impossibilities when there are plenty of mere improbabilities still on the table. And he's always right in the end.

Boy that's refreshing.

I should point out that when I say Psych is committed to "science", I really mean the principles of science and reason. Sometimes the details get fanciful, and complex concepts get a TV-makeover – but it's always done with comedic grace, and the final message is simple and lovely: psychics aren't real, but that doesn't make the human mind any less impressive.