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Anecdotal Evidence Theater, Essay Version

There have been three interesting public posts on my friends list about synaesthesia of late. (1, 2, 3), plus two interesting friends-locked ones. Far be it from me to do anything other than mindlessly follow the cool kids!

I think "synaesthesia" as the official medical definition goes is reasonably uncommon, but most people I've talked to have some strange conceptual/sensory associations - letters or numbers or sounds or colors or personality, whatever.

Tell me about it?


I'm a bit jealous that I *don't* have synaesthesia, it seems more and more people I know have some aspect of it.

I doubt you have none, though. One of the posts this week mentioned this image (or one like it) and pointed out that when people are asked which of the two shapes is the 'kiki' and which is the 'boba,' 19 in 20 people picked the same set. :) That's a sound/shape thing, at least.

It's not "clinical" synaesthesia, but most people have something along these lines. Do certain pieces of music remind you of colors or scenes? Do certain people seem to fit with certain colors? Certain moods with scenes or colors? Stuff like that.

Guitar chords, when I'm playing them, have moderately distinct colors in my head. E is royal blue, G is forest green, C is white, F is a light yellow, Am kind of maroon, Dm a muddy orange. But only when I'm playing them, not just hearing them, and only as an abstract thing in my head, not directly visual at all.

I think sometimes it's one's relationship with a thing that gives a sort of personal understanding, to the level of it changing our perception of how we work with it, how we do it. Everything like that becomes a matter of a spatial sense in some way or another - I know a full map of a lover's body, or I know where to move my hands on a keyboard, or the thing I'm focusing on doing right looks to be at a different depth of field. It's interesting that as I relate more and more to a keyboard (having avoided the things like the plague until 3 years ago), I don't just move my hands (or internal hands) in various directions in connections with changes in pitch, there's an automatic inclination towards my hands being where they belong on a keyboard. I am starting to be able to figure out notes in my head from knowing C. And C very much has a color in my head. It's not that way for other people's music, unless I'm figuring out how to play it in my head.

I've always figured that Feynman talking about seeing Bessel functions in color was something along those lines, for example.

Vowels have taste. A is sweet, sometimes too much. E is savoury and kind of nice. I is a bit astringent. OU is neutral except for maybe a little salty. O is kind of hard to describe but isn't unpleasant, but maybe a little hollow. (Yes, tastes can be hollow. Is this another example in a separate area? I don't know. I do know people have gone "what?" when I've described something as tasting hollow.) U alone is kind of ... bleh. Kind of a hint of rubberyness, like an eraser. I tend to want to spell words so that they have a balanced "taste," which often leans to issues with vowel selection.

If it's at all explainable, what makes a word's taste balanced?

It's weird that shanmonster's post features so much mention of eyes-closed stuff, as I spent much of my childhood playing with such things. My favorite similar thing was to rub my eyes hard and then stop, and the weird visual disturbances that result. That said, I can definitely (normally) get closed-eye-visuals of a fairly detailed sort (at least when sleepy.) Also the previously mentioned (I think in my post) fun with changing my perception of colors by staring at things for a long time (especially in low-light or low-color environments.) The eyes-closed thing is very much, for me, a short-cut to short-circuiting video-in and switching to mind's eye in a pinch, too. Every time I've mentioned the "strands" of my life for the past few days, I've seen a literal rope of these interesting vinyl-textured ropes like red vines in all sorts of colors linked with lots of convergence points and then lots of them streaming off into the distance to join up with other ropes of other sorts.

Mmm, mindhacking.

I hate closing my eyes voluntarily. I usually fall asleep with them slitted open (though I usually wake up with them all the way closed). Somehow I can't hear very well with my eyes closed, and touch doesn't work very well for me like that, either. Creeps me out.

for fairness' sake

I am not a "real" synaesthete, but I do have some amount of random sensory oddness.

  • I have a strong music/math crossover. Solving a math problem is a matter of getting the music to come out right. For sumple algebra, this is just a chord or two - you know everything in the equation is in the same key and all you have to do is find how the individual notes fit into the chord. For calculus, I get elaborate and lovely things like fugues; the same melody, self-modifying, played against itself in shadows and inversions, harmony with silence, a beat and a beat.

    Works the other way, too. I can feel the number-theory underpinnings of music when I'm singing and listening to the harmonies, or in arched spaces sketched gull-wing over harpstrings by my fingertips.

  • I perceive most sensory input as visual. Sounds are usually these translucent glassy looking things, some of them soft-edged and blurry as dawn, some with long intricate purple fractal sea-urchin spines. I can see a sound and the thing that makes it occupying the same space; neither blocks out the other. Scent is usually kind of multicolored borders around the universe, like someone has put a frame around the whole world, sometimes intricate and knotty, sometimes organic and interwoven. They're not quite in three-dimensional space properly, I guess. Touch is just washes of color and texture, not shaped.

    Pain is the big exception. While pain usually has a visual component corresponding with whatever sort of sense it is, usually white - it also has something else that isn't visual. I don't have any idea what to call it, though.

  • I am also a very visual thinker, and some of my thoughts appear in front of me so it looks like I'm seeing them, along with whatever's in the room and all the spiny harpsichord music and smells of things and the like. Not things I'm thinking about, actively, just opinions I have. Like - I see every person I've met as having a color and a texture, unique to that person. vixyish is a sort of a lovely smoky smudgy orangy-purple, like she walks around in her own little puddle of sunrise. I see this every time I look at her. If I'm in a dark room with her, the whole room seem sunrise-colored.

    I always feel like the colors are not perfectly suited to their people - they are those people.

Re: for fairness' sake

how does this differ from classic synaethesia? looks like it's spec to me. :)

I have a very boring clinical sort of synaethesia which I keep meaning to email a synsethesia association about, 'cuz I've never heard of it happening to anyone else.

I hear skin irritation (such as the beginning stages of athelete's foot) as a rapid drumming in my right ear. A faster drumming sound correlates to worse irritation.

I remember having this even when I was a very small child, although the drumming sound may have been in both ears, then.

this is why i should go back to tagging entries. i doubt i put the posts about synaesthesia in my memories.

for me everything has taste. not necessarily a 'real' taste, but a sort of back-of-the-tongue sensation-taste that may or may not corrospond with something that can be tasted with taste buds. ...or, possibly it does, since i've tasted a good many things that were familiar the first time i tried them.

other senses have additional cross-senses. sound has everything but smell - taste, sight (color and shapes), sensation. it physically hurts when i hear something badly off-key (but thankfully i like pain, so in some contexts that can be pleasant), and i react as though getting beaten when i hear something too loud.

taste can be color, but frequently taste is just taste. smell usually is color. color is taste-sight and sometimes sensation. sensation is frequently color, too, come to think of it. luckily i didn't inherit my mother's colorblindness; i'd go crazy.

I remember reading about this a long time ago, when it was a rather unknown disorder. At least general public-wise. I've never really been sure if I actually have it.

I have a lot of mood/memory association with certain smells and/or types of weather. A really sunny day will remind me of working at the great escape and the general happy feeling of working outside in the summertime and being sociable. I also associate certain songs with certain people and every time I hear it I'm flooded with memories of them.

I see a very dim, dark red when I close my eyes. I used to have a very strange sequence of objects (very much like the kikibooba actually) work over my field of vision for a while. There were peachy blobs that mutated into thin red and black splotched sticks. This would go on for 2 to 15 minutes sometimes before I would actually get my mind clear enough to sleep. Whether or not this is a result of synaesthesia, I don't know.

I also have a tendency to associate certain smells with colors.

It's a fascinating study really. I haven't thought of it much since the article all those years ago.

This is 2tiffanyway btw. I wasn't logged in to the writing journal when I saw this.

weird. interesting. weiresting. inteird. hmm. :)

I have always smelled/tasted colors, but I don't think it needs a vague and multisyllabic term. I just figure this is all pretty natural since our thalamus isn't exactly operated by AT&T. Plus, while we're fond of naming all the little nerves and cells and studying action potentials, we really, really don't know what the fuck is going on in there. *pokes*

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

You actually feel things being out of place, don't you? Your body language really betrays that. Likewise, I suspect mine betrays that it's a relative-position/spatial thing for me. I've noticed recently that the way I move my hands around sometimes seems to relate to the way I'm manipulating stuff in my head. For example, last night when I was trying to figure out how many days to Thursday (or was that the night before - whatever), I was seeing this bouncing ball (like karaoke ones) going between this linear set of blocks representing days, searching for the one in question, and then counting the number of day-length lines between the points where the ball had dropped, and I realized that my hands were manipulating those lines in space in front of me.

touch - corivax   Expand  

You were there, and involved, in my coming to realize that a lot of how I deal with mathematical relationships has a sorta synaesthesic aspect. When I say mathematical relationships, I mean just about anything that can be mathematically modelled (and a lot of things that probably oughtn't to be, but more of that later). I usually refer to these and geometrical abstracts, and at the simplest level they are often models in my head of collections of entities and relationships, often involving weights and balances. Though they also involve color, temperature (I think the latter two are often, though not always, related), texture and density, degrees of purity, and then a whole set of attributes having to do with their energetic interactions with eachother. (Which are often also, color, temperature, degree of purity or consistancy of signal... except they have their own sensory mode, so it's more like I'm hearing one set and seeing the other. They exist in the same space, but the don't really overlay.) I think one of the reason I love the dynamic protein modelling is that it just fits so well into how my brain works.

Thanks again, BTW, for you part in figuring that out. Realizing why it had always been so painful to talk math with most people about math has been useful in terms of getting better at doing so. And I'm getting better -- on really good days, sometimes I can see the abstraction and immediately and fluently write it out as an equation. That's rare, but getting better. And my labmates have been great. Even the ones who clearly think that I'm insane in this particular area seem to kind of value my insanity. And I've only come close to making someone cry once. And people make all kinds of entertaining assumptions about what my background must be and why I ask the questions I do.

I have been noticing that I apply the same kind of conceptual models to all kinds of random other stuff. Emotional interactions, both between people and inside of people make the same kind of models as do most equations, except that the entities generally operate under a different set of constraints.

I noticed recently that when I'm in a large, busy parking lot looking for a parking space, and I have to decide whether I'm going to turn into a particular row before I can see whether there are any open places, I'm at some level consulting a sense of pressure, kind of, from that row. A full row feels saturated, and static, whereas a row that might have an open space feels kind of incomplete, and a little wobbly. I don't really know where I'm getting this from, but I think it might be subconscious processing of the movement I see of other cars, kind of the way one can pick up on a lot of non verbal stuff from people that looks psychic, but isn't, really.

Or when I talk about likely studying other languages because when I think in other languages my thoughts are in different shapes, I mean that quite literally. Chinese is even more nifty, because the characters don't have the linear directional characteristics that phonetic languages do, so they have this potential for non linear, or multiple different linear relationsips between characters. (I realize that there is no hard and fast reasons why you can't do this with english, it's just much more comfortable for me, and more geometrically satisfying, to do it in chinese. Maybe this is why I always annotate my chem notes in chinese. I'm not a very linear thinker, and figuring out how to string the words together in a meaninful order is often the most painful part of explaining something.)

Hmm... the sense of openness or closedness of sets, balance, or completeness or incompleteness shows up in a lot of places. I don't hear biochemical pathways, but the other day we walked through most but not all of a particular system, and it made the same shape as a major seventh -- all set up and no resolution. I didn't have enough information to model the system, and it was making me jittery. (So after the lecture I grabbed the professor and pepper him with a lot of very specific questions, until I got the pieces I needed, which settled in with a very satisfying *click* and the system worked. In my head, anyway.)

Whoa. This is really long.

Have I told you recently you have a beautiful brain? :) Thank you for taking the time to write that out - lots to contemplate. "Evergetic interactions" are particularly fun braincandy.

Hmm... I remember when I was learning multiplication tables I calculated them based on the numbers' personalities/emotions. I can't recall all of them now, but 2 was friendly, 6 was afraid and 8 was a cruel bastard.

I do have a tendency to describe tastes in terms of colors, because, well, that's the right word. I also find that certain sounds will trigger odd reactions, like a sudden sense of peace triggered by a ticking noise, or hunger from riffling paper, or suchlike.

Have you read any of C J Cherryh's Foreigner series? Much of the society of the atevi is based on similar numerical associations.

Speaking of unusual colour effects, did you know that your posts appear as black-on-black when I click on them to comment?

Anyway. I can taste certain things, like oil, steel and other metals, and concrete, when I touch them, or hear them being abrased somehow (except for oil, obviously). I've never really figured out what the criteria are, but it's pretty consistent for a lot of metals, at least.

Ooh! Anything conductive has a taste for me, at least slightly. At least, it's something like that. I blame this on sucking on too many coins and sticking too many batteries to my tongue when I was small. Sensory feedback for things like textures and the like I tend to take for granted.

Obligatory 'just thinking about touching a cotton ball has such strong pan-sensory associations that it makes me want to scream' :)

I was just about to comment "Thanks for reminding me that I am the only person in the entire world</a> that doesn't have any synaesthesia at all."

Not only do I lack any trace of synaesthesia whatsoever, I lack several senses. I can only truely see at dawn and dusk, visually imagining things in my head is actually easier with my eyes open than closed (too many distractions in the black drop that's never truely black), touching things confuses my brian, and while the last hearing test I had put me above average, I know things are getting lost in the traslation. For that matter, language of any kind is a real challange.

I think the only change in my senses occurs when I look up at the stars. Then everything changes. I can't smell at all, or taste for that matter (and they're usually my strongest senses), but what I see is so connected to what I feel I can't explain it past saying I'm no longer standing on Earth, but rather on the edge of Earth.