Questions about Synesthesia
Here’s some Q&A that I get when people find out I have synesthesia:
Q. What is synesthesia?
A. It is a neurological phenomenon where senses somehow become connected (literally, “joining the senses”). The form I have is grapheme synesthesia, where letters, numbers and sometimes symbols (graphemes!) appear coloured when I see them, and when I hear them. Other people with synesthesia (synesthetes) might combine colour with music, taste with shapes, and other mixed senses. I think I combine colour with other things as well but it doesn’t count as synesthesia unless the colours are always the same, so I’m in the process of deciphering that.
Q. How did you “catch” it?
A. I didn’t “catch” it. I’ve probably always had it or something similar. It is neurological and as far back as I can remember, it has been there.
Q. So the letters on this page aren’t black?
A. Yes, of course they’re black. I can see the black. My colours are kinda “behind” the black. It’s more like the letters glow, or that the spaces within the letter contain the colour. It’s an impression of colour, rather than physically seeing the colour. I can only see the colour inside my brain. There’s nothing wrong with my eyes. (Well, besides the usual myopic astigmatism, anyways.)
Q. So what colour is my name?
I’m happy to answer this individually. You can try and trip me up, but unless your name starts with a K or J it will always be the same. I have a lot of trouble describing the colours I have assigned to K or J so sometimes I will use a different colour to describe it, even though to me the colour is always the same.
Q. What does it mean, that my name is (insert colour here).
A. Absolutely nothing. There’s nothing new age about my grapheme colour assignment and your name. As a matter of fact, if you find another synesthete and ask him/her what colour your name is, you will probably get an entirely different answer. It appears that no two synesthetes will assign colour in the same way.
Q. Does having grapheme synesthesia improve your math/memory/writing?
A. Other synesthetes might see improvement, but for me, decidedly not on most fronts. It doesn’t help me at all. In fact, it makes my math worse because my 3s and 8s are nearly the same colour so I sometimes get them mixed up. I also can’t trust my word/name memory (see my post Caster, Coaster, whatever) because words and names can have the same colour and be completely different. However, my synesthesia does help with my phone number, license plate, and general number recall. And it does seem to help with my spelling.
Q. Did you pick your children’s names based on your synesthesia?
A. Yes. If I didn’t like the colour of the name, it wasn’t on our list. And if the name didn’t go nicely with the colours in our last name, it didn’t get picked, either. My daughter’s name is a lovely red and blue and my son’s name is white.
Q. Do your children have synesthesia?
A. Not as far as I can tell. They look at me funny if I mention it.
Q. How did you find out you have synesthesia?
A. I was twelve when a program was on TV about a man who could taste shapes. Even though it was different to my synesthesia, my brain clicked. I knew that was exactly what I was experiencing. From then, I looked it up in the library. However, my friends and family didn’t know I am a synesthete until I was in my twenties. I had learned long before then that nobody else in the family had it and they’d consider it extremely weird. Now there are communities online where us synesthetes can discuss our similarities and differences. Like Mixed Signals.
Q. Can you post your colour chart for me?
A. No. I’ve tried it several times on a computer and can’t get the colours right. I think I’d need a package of Laurentien Pencil Crayons to get most of them (I did do the colour chart using those, once.) and it’s made difficult by the nature of a couple of the colours that shimmer, take on the colour of the next closest coloured letter, or aren’t a recognised colour (ie, there’s no name for it).
And on that note, even though I can look at black letters and other random coloured letters, I can’t abide looking at other synesthete’s colour charts. They drive me batty because they are wrong!
That’s the end of my Q&As. I’m happy to answer any other questions you have, too. 🙂
- Reading in 2 colours at the same time (eurekalert.org)
- Your name tastes like purple (bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com)