Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My ABC's are Red and Blue

Guess what interesting thing I've learned recently? I am a synesthete! Yeah! What in the world is that?
A few weeks ago a friend heard me say "I think in color" and she replied, "There's a name for that!"
I see things in colors, like words and letters and numbers. When I was a kid I thought I was super weird! Nobody seemed to understand what I was talking about, so after a few hesitant attempts, I decided to never mention it again. Case closed! 

Well anyway, I looked it up and it seems I'm not so weird after all....let me rephrase...I'm not so alone in being weird. Ha ha. 

Here are some quotes from two sources that were helpful in defining what synesthesia is.
I am mostly the "common one", color-graphemic.

Our friend, Wikipedia
(also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, plural synesthesiæ or synæsthesiæ), from the ancient Greek σύν (syn), "together," and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), "sensation," is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.
 In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.

The American Synesthesia Association (ASA)

Erica Goode wrote in the New York Times in September 1999, "Most people experience the sensory world as a place of orderly segregation. Sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are distinct and separate: A Beethoven symphony is not pink and azure; the name Angela does not taste like creamed spinach. Yet there are those for whom these basic rules of the senses do not seem to apply. They have a rare condition called Synesthesia, in which the customary boundaries between the senses appear to break down, sight mingling with sound, or taste with touch." Copyright © 1999 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with permission.

Now in 2005, we believe that this ability called Synesthesia is perhaps not as rare as it was once believed to be. Though synesthesia has been known for the past 300 years, it is only in the last two decades or so that it has been seriously studied by scientists.
(from the ASA website, About Us)

Here's how I see letters and numbers. Basically. There aren't enough shade choices, but you get the idea.


a b c d e f g h I j k l m

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The color-grapheme thing was obvious to me at a young age, and when I went to school I was confused because I was being taught the letters in a different color than I saw them in. This was tough, but I kept quiet about it. The curriculum that was being used taught each letter on a large card with a colored letter and a corresponding animal.

I managed to convince myself that the letter was supposed to be the color that the teacher showed on the card. In trying hard to do this I became mixed up
and some letters that had been very clearly a certain color began to change or shift. I still to this day struggle with the exact shade of a few letters.

The first confusion was that the letter was "wrong".

After my first year of school the letters all "came right" again, or reverted back to the original color I saw them in. In thinking back, part of the confusion was because the letter color and the animal color seemed to collide, or not match.

For example, we learned the letter S with a sunfish. But a fish to me was dark blue or grey. And the letter on the card was yellow. And I saw S as cherry red. Also S was masculine and the sunfish was characterized as female. The meaning and the sound was a struggle, with these competing colors before my eyes. I learned fast though, reading at an early age, and I got over it.

The other interesting thing I remember about learning the alphabet was that I thought the color and the animal were just as important as the shape and the sound of the letter. I could not separate the animal and the shape of the letter from the sound and color; they were all mixed together. The letter M was always a mule, always, whatever word he happened to be in. Oh yeah and the letters have genders....and even personalities. An interesting phenomenon that I always assumed was normal for everyone.

So! How about you? Any other synesthetes out there? Don't want to admit it? Come on, it's a sign of genius.

Well, not actually, I made that up. But it COULD be, for someone!

Some famous or more well-known synesthetes were/are:
  • Vladimir Nabokov (author)
  • Franz Liszt
  • Richard Feynman (physicist)
  • Billy Joel
  • Nikola Tesla (inventor)
  • Tori Amos
  • Duke Ellington
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Stephanie Morganstern (director)
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Eddie van Halen
  • Michel Gagne (cartoonist - eg. Ratatouile)
Good company, I think!
I'm not ashamed of it anymore, I think it's awesome. Let the world be in colour.

1 comment:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_synesthesia

    The above link is a fascinating read. Many musicians and writers. Which makes a lot of sense to me.


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