November 15, 2004

Synesthesia

For as long as I can remember, in my mind’s eye, I have seen letters, numbers, days of the week and months in color. Until I was around 19 or 20, I thought everyone did. When I asked a friend of mine what color her “four” was she just cocked her head and said “Huh?” Years later, I was reading the Nov. 13, 1989 issue of U.S. News and World Report and came across an article that had the lead: “When, at age 7, the writer Vladmir Nabokov told his mother that each letter of the alphabet had its own distinctive hue, she understood perfectly. Like her son, Elena Nabolov was possessed of an odd sensory ability called ‘synesthesia’”. I was floored! There were other people like me!

If you follow the link I posted, you’ll find that there are many different manifestations of this weird “cross-wiring” in the brain. Mine is the most common among synesthetes but others see colors when they hear music or taste flavors or see shapes when they hear sounds or voices.

This kind of perception has given me an uncanny ability to remember number sequences as I memorize the color pattern along with the numbers themselves. I have a strong affinity for the number four because it’s my favorite color: green. I also see my forties as a “green” decade and so feel pretty cool about this time of my life. (Of course that’s not the only reason). Words take on the color of the first letter they begin with and zero is almost always white or cream for most synesthetes; though every synesthete will have a different color scheme for their own letters and numbers. For me, words take on the personality of their color along with their inherent meaning. (This makes good sense to me, but I’m sure sounds a bit weird). The word “Algebra” is red, a color I have always been a bit uncomfortable with. “Calculus” is gold-yellow and I’m not much on that either. It doesn’t mean I hate every word that starts with a or c, but …well…do you get the idea? It’s hard to explain. Also, some letters have a more pronounced color than others.

I haven’t yet met anyone in person that has this. I joined a group online, but lost interest after awhile, after all…how much is there to talk about – it’s just they way we see things. I did meet a woman in one of my classes two years ago that had a son that saw colors when he hears music. No one in my immediate family has it, although I’ve read that it is passed down father to daughter, mother to son. My dad is from Ireland and his family is scattered throughout England, Ireland and Scotland. I was there in my twenties but didn’t think to ask anyone about it. My son could have gotten it from me but he doesn’t seem to have it either.

Posted by LindaFondrk at November 15, 2004 08:12 AM
Comments

Wow! I never heard of such a thing! It's a very interesting concept. I guess its normal for you however since you have never known anything different, just as people who are born color blind never know what "red" or "blue" actually is. I also find it interesting that it is passed from father to daughter and mother to son, i wonder why?

Posted by: erin manko at November 15, 2004 10:01 AM
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