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More on Synaesthesia

These are my answers to more questions that I’ve been asked:

How did I come to realise that I have synaesthesia?

I don’t particularly know when I first “realised” any difference between how others and I perceive the world/senses/pain and I am continually intrigued by how others can perceive things differently – it leads me to think how just generally every mind must be so different. I think a child generally assumes that the rest of humanity is like them and I think that realising difference is akin to how any child becomes, over time, less naive, less innocent, and gradually becomes aware of many differences between people e.g. differences in race, or how others live in poverty. I don’t really remember how I perceived things when I was younger, as I never really thought about it all. However, I equally cannot remember not perceiving things in the same way that I do now, no do I remember noticing there being any change in my perceptions. I can’t remember. In my memories of being around aged 4, and first learning to read, I can remember the words being coloured, but I could be imposing this colour onto the memory, seeing I as cannot visualise something in no colour or the “wrong” colour e.g. trying to imagine a blue letter “a”. In one such instance, I was reading the word “Llandudno” when I was maybe 6, and I remember thinking that I knew this word, because it was yellow. I can remember the colours of people’s voices who I’ve never met again since when I was much younger. In answer to the question, I happened to read an article on the internet about synaesthesia and it was immediately obvious that it applied to me.

Do I know why the colours are what they are?

I have very little idea – the colours never change, but they seem rather arbitrary. There are various “theories” flouted around the internet/in books which overall seem to agree they’re random, but there are some suggestions that having e.g. certain letters linked with certain colours in your environment when very young could be an influence, say coloured fridge magnets (the fridge magnets in may house had many of each letter of the alphabet, all in different colours). I used to watch LetterLand videos when I was maybe aged 3, but my colours are nothing like the same colours as those (and I remember finding it the wrong colours on them a bit irritating). I have noticed (or, rather, had pointed out to me during various conversations), that there are a few patterns in the colours, such as that p, 6, b and d are all similarly shaped and are all shades of blue in some form, but in terms of shade/texture they look nothing like each other even if  I could call them all “blue”!

The letters of the Cyrillic alphabet (I do Russian at school) are also coloured. There are cases where a letter in the Latin alphabet e.g. g means a different sound in the Cyrillic alphabet, yet they are still the same colour, suggesting that colour is based on shape over sound for anything visual (but that’s probably expected!) – though what the sounds looks like if the sounds are voiced are obviously different.

What colour am I?

My name, Clare, is a mixture of yellows, and a bit reddy-orange, a bit like fire but it’s mainly yellow. I never notice what colour my voice is; I don’t really see it – I don’t think it’s tinged any particular colour and is just the colour of the substance of the sounds.

Would I rather not have synaesthesia?

I’m rather neutral – I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have synaesthesia. I find it difficult to even mentally separate sound from vision. However I guess if I didn’t have synaesthesia I would be equally used to that and think it would be weird to have synaesthesia like how I think it must be strange to not have synaesthesia!  I think I would find it hard to comprehend words/numbers as easily without synaesthesia, as I think I tend to read the colour more than the actual shape of a letter, and I think it would be harder to tell the difference between words or long streams of letters or numbers  if they weren’t all differently coloured. Maybe my memory is better than it would be without synaesthesia, as I have a very visual memory and colour sticks in my mind, but who knows (I think I just have a good memory anyway to be honest). Moreover, I doubt I would love music so much if it didn’t look so awesome!

I don’t think there are any significant disadvantages of synaesthesia, other than occasionally it can make me feel overwhelmed with sensory input.

Do I get the “reverse” of my synaesthesia?

By “reverse”, what is meant is: does seeing a colour make me hear a note, or do I see a letter “m” when I see its colour? The answer would be no – and I think it would be like hearing a complete din whenever you opened your eyes if it was! (but then again I’ve been told that my description of what I see when I hear sound seems like a lot of plaint/fireworks being randomly thrown around in front of me, and people do have this type of synaesthesia) I also doubt I would ever see something that was EXACTLY the same as its “proper” colour – as by colour I include also the nature of the colour (I keep saying texture but I can’t think of any other words – maybe hue, how aerated it is, how distant it is, how grainy/murky/smudged/clear/defined it is)

What happens if something is in the “wrong” colour?

I think that there are two issues to deal with here:

1 – words/anything written

If a whole block of text is written in a single colour, it doesn’t really matter what colour it is, but I find it really annoying when single letters or words are in individual colours and they’re the wrong colour, as it takes me longer to get my head round what it says. Interestingly, the words for most colours are not the same colour as the colour they refer to, for example “lilac” is very very yellow.

2 – sound

I dislike music played at Baroque pitch (or tuned to higher than A at 440Hz or out of tune pianos) as it’s like the whole colour spectrum has been shifted in one direction – in terms of Baroque pitch it’s generally duller and bluer. Other than this I don’t think there are any situations whereby I could have sound presented in the “wrong” colour as in reality you don’t get whole rooms painted say red or music notation coloured in.

What exactly do I see as a piece of music is played?

I see each sound for as long as I hear it, and I see it roughly where the sound came from, but it moves towards me in the instant that it’s first sounded.  There are transparent blobs, of varying texture, of colour in the region of where the sound comes from, and the colour is a mixture of all the pitches/timbres making up a sound.

Does the colour of someone’s voice ever change?

Not that I’m aware of. I can’t say if it would change over really long periods of time as I’ve not lived long enough to be able to tell. When someone say has a cold or talks on the phone their voice looks different, but then it sounds different too, so that would be expected, and the shade of the colour rarely changes much from their “usual” shade.

I can’t think of any more questions at the moment, so I’ll end here for now.

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Synaesthesia

As I’m in a writing mode, I think I’ll tell you about something I’ve been thinking about recently. I am starting with this as my first topic as then you might better understand me.

I have a “neurological phenomenon” called synaesthesia (American spelling: synesthesia). This is where an input in one sense automatically, simultaneously invokes an input in another sense.  I’ve told maybe 10% of the people I know of this, and am going to write about this because I get asked so often about the exact nature of it and recently I’ve been asked questions about synaesthesia about which I’ve never thought, as as far as I was concerned until I was 13 and a bit, the whole rest of the world perceived everything in pretty much the same way. For what reason would anyone have to think otherwise? I think I’m just as intrigued by the concept of how non-synaesthetes perceive things as they are about how I do.

FAQs re: synaesthesia and me

How does synaesthesia affect me?

Firstly, I have grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which means that as I look at what I am typing, although I am fully aware that it is “black”, is coloured – colour is projected onto each letter, an arbitrarily small space above the letters. Each individual letter/number/pretty much any symbol/set of random lines has a colour. The colour of a word is a mixture of the colours of all the letters in it (likewise for long streams of numbers), but it is most heavily influenced by the colour of the first letter, and by letters with “stronger” colours.

As a rough guide, these are the colours I see: (these descriptions won’t be very good as it they are very exact shades in a given state of appearance but I even in a infinite amount of time I would struggle to describe the colours/texture exactly)

a – neutral red, a bit light, male, a capital A is a bolder shade of red, as if the A is physically closer to me than an a

b – neutral blue, male

c – bright, rounded yellow, female, defined edges to the colour

d – darkish royal blue, D is darker than d, and more noticeable, male

e – an orangey-pink (not very pink) colour, quite dull and faded, female (the other letters all have gender but I’m a bit bored of writing them by now so I’ll leave them off the rest and add them later, this is called ordinal linguistic personification I think)

f – a proper orange colour, not that bright/fluorescent

g – a dull grass green

h – a dark, royal green (if such a colour existed)

i – mainly white, a bit creamy/yellowy depending on context (i.e. what letters surround it). Capital I is yellowier than i

j – light-fuschia-pinky-orange (not really but I never know how to describe j)

k – light green, not a bright shade, solemn, well defined edges to the colour

l – yellow, not as rounded/goldy as c. neutral

m – rounded green colour, like an oak tree leaf

n – dark greeny-black

o – brown, fairly light, appears as dark brown when surrounded by dark letters

p – paleish blue, not bright

q -white-turquoise-greeny colour, (green as in really diltured apple juice – but I mean the whiteish apple juice as opposed to the reddish-green apple juice)

r – a firey red, more orangey than a, and much brighter/stronger than a

s – red, less orangey than a, but darker/stronger than a, a bit wispy in shade

t – lightish yellowy-green

u – light purply-blue

v – darkish bluey-blackish-purple (not at all plum coloured by the way)

w – very dark, slightly bluish, black

x – dark grey, can be a bit bluish in some contexts

y – goldy-yellowy-tan colour

z – dark blackish grey, darker than w

Numbers:

1 – bright, goldy, strong, well-led, yellow

2 – darkish blue, quite royal in colour

3 – orange, not that bright but not really pinkish or reddish in any noticeable way, like an orange that is starting to go off

4 – bluey-greeny-slightly orangy (but very very slightly)-black (so hard to describe!)

5 – a royal red, like crimson but brighter (I love looking at this number)

6 – a pathetic blue, not light or dark particularly, a bit smudged looking

7 – flourescent light green, but a bit paler – I absolutely HATE the number 7 because it looks horrid and gives the impression it’s going to grow fangs and eat me (I’m not mad, I just really dislike the number 7, apparently it’s called septaphobia, but I’m not afraid of 7, I’m perfectly rationally aware that it’s just a line bent in two, I just dislike the number 7 very much just how some people don’t like sprouts, which I, incidentally, love)

8 – dark blue-black

9 – green, like peas but a bit darker/more rounded, wears a hat

0 – faded orange-light brown.

I also have sound-colour synaesthesia, so I see pretty much all forms of sound as if on a screen projected at about arm’s length away from me. This includes music, voices, and generally random everyday sound, but it’s pitch that specifically has colour. The exact nature of the colour and its texture depends on what’s making  the sound, its timbre, where it’s coming from, its octave.

I can fairly reliably tell what note something is from its colour, since I can remember what colour each pitch (referring to those used in western music) is.

Off the top of my head (I mean without going and getting my violin and playing each note and spending hours trying to decide how to describe each colour), these are them:

A – bright red, rounded, strong

A sharp/B flat

B – pale light blue, slightly lilac-coloured

C – yellow, can very from dark mustard to really clear light yellow depending on octave

C sharp/D flat – dark blueish mustard colour (not in any way green!)

D – royal blue, rich, sky coloured (on a clear day) at higher octaves)

D sharp/E flat – dark reddish-pinky-orangey-black

E – murky orange

F – bright orange

F sharp/G flat – dark, bright orange, very slightly very very dark green tinge

G – piercing, sickly green, like grass but less bright and less full in shade

G sharp/A flat – medium darkness greeny red (mainly green)

I also see pain as colour, generally green/red/blue/black.

Days of the week are also coloured, and I perceive them, along with numbers, and time in general, implanted in 3D space around me (spatial sequence synaethesia).

People are coloured, but I think it’s their voices (i.e. the colour of the sound of their voice) and maybe some subconscious link with the colour of their name.

To be continued

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