Connect the Colors

For those with synesthesia, the world seems no more interconnected than they assume it always is for the rest of us, until the person with the condition casually mentions how lively and bright blue the letter K always is to a playmate, who then reacts in a baffled way.

It is a condition that an unknown number of people have, but it is a condition to which the modifier “suffers” can not be added, because it does not often have negative effects on an individual’s life. It is not known how many people have or might have some form of synesthesia because not many people take the time or are offered the opportunity to describe the way they perceive how they perceive the things they perceive.

A person who is color-blind usually learns at a young age that there is a color that everyone else sees and can name that they do not see. (I am a person who does not have color-blindness, so I have difficulty describing it. I have had color-blind friends, and one, a great writer, made it sound like something I wanted to experience, too, which was not his aim.) Opportunities do not present themselves very often to mention that when they see blue they taste sweet, and when the first opportunity comes and the synesthete takes it and is met with a puzzled look that they interpret as criticism, most do not mention it again.

It is a world of connections that the synesthete occupies, with sounds presenting colors or colors tastes. At its most benign, it is not an intrusive sensation; there are not many reports of individuals avoiding specific words or numbers because of a foul taste or harsh sound, or vice versa. But there are some. Most people with synestesia report that the experience is an awareness that, for instance, a color is involved with the letter or word they are looking at. It is something that can be ignored or enjoyed.

Somewhere in my school days, I must have mentioned seeing words as I speak them, and the classmate to whom I told this must have made me feel terrible. What remains in my memory is a ghost of a thought that I was somehow a bad person for this and needed to tell on myself to the teacher the next time we had a spelling bee: I thought I was cheating whenever I “saw” a spoken word and could spell it out loud as if it was in front of me. (I think I did try in my eight-year-old way to tell her and was met with a baffled look.) Maybe I am simply a very good speller and that’s that. Maybe everyone sees their speech. (It is always word by word, not whole sentences and they are always white letters.) If it is a form of synesthesia, it is the most boring case of it anywhere, ever, and all it ever did for me was earn me a lot of 100s in spelling tests in elementary school.

To this day, if I concentrate, I see the words I speak … somewhere in my perception. Not so plainly that they block what I am looking at in reality, but they are somewhere, usually to my left. This was the case when I studied foreign languages, too, the spelling just came naturally. There are words that never show up, though, and those are the words I always need to look for.

How does one describe one’s perception? Perception may be the most unique and personal portion of human experience—or it may be the most identical; either way, we do not have a means of testing it, except based on anecdotes from individuals. Perhaps strawberries taste the same for you as they do for me—in which case, Hooray for us! because “strawberry” is the best flavor, period—or they do not. And there is no boundary definitively marking the areas in which a “blue always seems to cheer me up” casual causality that most people express and the areas in which a child can spell, not because of an “i before e” rule, but because red always goes to the left of green, which tastes better anyway.

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  1. lifelessons · December 21, 2014

    A perfect choice for this theme, Mark. Certain colors of blue make me dizzy or nauseous. I suppose this might be a form of synesthesia. I once had to close my eyes to be led out of a museum installation where the entire room was painted blue. Judy

    Liked by 2 people

  2. wscottling · December 21, 2014

    My daughters have a friend who cannot see the color purple. I can’t imagine a world without purple, but since she’s never seen it… Synesthesia has always fascinated me. It’s one of those things I’ve heard and read about and often imagined if I could perceive the world in the same way the people who have it perceive the world. Sometimes it’s imaginable, and sometimes it isn’t. As you said, perception is difficult to explain…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Leigh W. Smith · December 22, 2014

    Always a perceptive and thought-provoking post. Did Shakespeare have synesthesia, Mark? (I can’t remember if I’ve read that.) This really puts a spin on the human brain, really, and all its wrinkling complexities. I have an extreme (perhaps) aversion to styrofoam; from whence does it come? It’s the sound of it and the thought of hearing or touching it. Just styrofoam. Go figure. I don’t ‘like’ certain words for no real logical explanation that I can remember. I generally, sort of like the perception you mention, can hear the words as and before they come out. They seem to be in my voice, but I can remember, but can’t produce unfortunately, lyrics and certain sounds (I guess) extremely well. So, my particular ‘bent’ seems to be aural/auditory, not visual so much. It’s a little puzzling, and a little not, as I have ‘impairments’ in both areas. Why isn’t my visual enhanced then? It used to be “better,” I tell myself, so perhaps that was just a matter of practice (I could ‘see’ where the words appeared on a page, not an eidetic ability, unfortunately). It seems you have ‘chosen’ the perfect vocation then, Mark. Words are you and in your blood, nature, and body as such!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. abodyofhope · December 24, 2014

    This was very cool, Mark. I especially enjoyed your exploration of the differences between perceptions of any two people. As much as we can feel connected with one another, we each have a unique experience. Just like your taste for strawberries.
    You described it all so well.
    Synesthesia is very fascinating. To see a number as a color or a musical note as blue… I find this wonderful! Like you said, this is a condition with no drawbacks!
    Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Courage, clarity, confidence · January 18, 2015

    Hi! I also have synesthesia, and I loved reading this! It’s so good to know I’m not the only one out there having these kinds of perceptual experiences, but I also love the way this post talks about perception being unique – makes me feel a little less crazy, a little more special. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. angloswiss · June 7, 2015

    I have no problem with colours, at least I don’t think so, more an understanding of what to call a colour, but my dad is colourblind (bless him with his 100 years old this September). I have two sons. The oldest autistic, but it seems he knows his colours. The other a media jurist, but I remember his first colour test at school. He was given glasses and it was found he was colour blind. I remember the day when he was going out with one green sock and one brown sock, so I had to slightly correct him. Now whose fault is all that, mine of course. Being a woman we rarely get colour blind (I believe having a mother with the gene deficiency and a father that is colour blind produces a colour blind daughter). However I digress, yes it is my fault that my son is colour blind, I am a carrier. Somehow he realises when the traffic light changes from red to green and vice versa, but probably because one is at the top and the other at the bottom.


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