Tuesday, September 28, 2010


From as far as I can remember, I have always seen colors when I hear sounds, feel temperature, and slightly when I taste things. Mentioning this to people throughout my childhood usually just resulted in confusion and funny looks. For example, there was the time that my family and I were playing a word association game, and the word someone told me was "teacher". Me, being the honest boy I was said straight out: "The color peach". People just thought I didn't understand the game. Another time, I was being taught about the blue and red markings on water taps (to tell which is which). I wanted to asked: "Why are they red and blue? hot is pink and cold is yellow". And yet another time, in the car with mum, I asked "You know how the sound 'ee' is light blue right? well..." With the reaction mum gave me it was then I certainly knew this was specific to me. I was so glad in 2002 when I finally found out this was called synaesthesia, and that there were others like me. The first type of synaesthesia I have is sound-to-color. This is where I see a color in my mind's eye when I hear a sound, rather vividly. Its worth noting that for some synaesthesia can be quite debilitating as color can be projected outside the body rather like an elusion, though mine only remains in my head. All sounds produce a particular color. For example, the sound of a lawn mower is pink, and a trumpet is yellow. It seems for me, that there is some pattern to this. For those well versed in sound and harmonic theory, it seems as though a sine wave going from low to high presents a backwards color spectrum, (blue, green, yellow, orange, red), but is extremely biased to red. Rather like looking at a rainbow through red glass. However, when further harmonics are added, such as in a sawtooth wave, or other instruments, the rainbow becomes more vivid in one or more parts of the spectrum. E.g. a sawtooth wave is primarily bright green, a guitar is purple-pink, a base guitar is dark blue. The second synaesthesia I have is grapheme-to-color. This means that when I think of a number or letter, I again see a particular color in my mind's eye. For example A is white, B is dark blue and C is yellow. Or for an example of numbers, 2 is blue, 3 is red, 4 is rust. Related to this, I also see colors when I think of particular words. Sometimes the color is simply generated from the contained letters and or sound. But for certain categories such as days of the week or months of the year, these have very vivid and specific colors. Feeling large changes in temperature with my hands etc also produces colors for me. Very cold is yellow, this fades away to nothing as it approaches my normal temperature, and then getting warmer produces pink to white (too hot). Finally I see dull colors for taste, including pink for sweet, blue for salty, yellow for sour and tan for bitter. My synaesthesia doesn't just produce colors, in some circumstances it also gives shape to those colors. An example of this is time of day. When I imagine a certain time of day, I see all the hours represented by their associated number colors, placed in a huge ring around my head. How ever, this ring isn't completely horizontal. The ring is tipped so that 12PM is slightly higher than 12 AM. When I think of an exact time, (in my inner mind) i turn to face that time in the ring. So if I think of 12PM, I see 12pm right in front of me, but slightly higher than my nose, and I see 1PM to the left, and 11AM to the right. Yes, that's right, my time ring actually runs anti-clockwise. If I am thinking of say... 4PM, I see 4PM in front of me, at about mid height, with 3PM to the right and a touch higher, and 5 to the left and a bit lower. The hours are their number-color equivalents, except for the fact that the hours from 7PM to 9AM are slightly darker than normal. Days of the week, and months of the year also show themselves as a slightly tipped-up ring around my head, going from right to left. Lists like letters and numbers (which don't rap back around) just keep going up and to the left. In fact, all ordered lists that you can think of, all show themselves to me as going from right to left. The only exception to this rule is the spelling of words, and musical scales. These both go from left to right. I do not think of my synaesthesia as a disability or something negative. I find it can help me to visualize and remember numbers, or sometimes to help me remember names. However, sometimes I must admit it can get me in to a bit of trouble. An example is 2 pm and Thursday. Both of these concepts are the same type of pink. So sometimes I can't quite remember if the appointment was at 2 pm, or it was on Thursday! I was born with only partial sight, and at 15 became totally blind. Therefore I am extremely glad that my synaesthesia exists, as I don't think I'm ever going to forget the wonderful world of color. Indeed, one of my most favorite pastimes is to relax with some headphones and some music such as Enya, which can always produce an amazing display of colors for me.

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