by Neva Bodin
Technicolor sin… I am helping a committee at work update nursing aide policies and procedures because of the upcoming nursing aide training program I am putting together. Halfway through the forms I found an amusing typo. Describing possible cyanosis, the instruction read, “Note if the sin is pale or bluish in color.”
I immediately recalled the book I had just read. One of the characters had synesthesia. I had never heard of it. I was curious and did some research, having trouble believing it wasn’t part of the fiction. The lady saw her pain as orange.
Synesthesia exists! And, brings a lot of ideas on how this could be used in crime novels, medical novels, etc.
Looking it up on google, it is defined as “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.” In its Greek origin, it means joined perception.
“Synesthesia can involve any of the senses. The most common form, colored letters and numbers, occurs when someone always sees a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or number. For example, a synesthete (a person with synesthesia) might see the word “plane” as mint green or the number “4” as dark brown. There are also synesthetes who hear sounds in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or who feel something in response to sight. Just about any combination of the senses is possible. There are some people who possess synesthesia involving three or even more senses, but this is extremely rare.
Synesthetic perceptions are specific to each person. Different people with synesthesia almost always disagree on their perceptions. In other words, if one synesthete thinks that the letter “q” is colored blue, another synesthete might see “q” as orange.” https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html
What an intriguing condition! In the US, three times as many women as men have it; in the UK, eight times as many women as men have it. No one knows why.
No one knows what causes it. But think of the possibilities of using it in a story. And it is not the same for each person. Some famous poets and artists were thought to be synesthetes.
“Marsha, I love the color of your hair, it is so vibrantly blue. Let me touch it.” John wove his fingers through her coal black waves.
“What? John! You must be blind! My hair is orange! Get your hands off my head!”
Perhaps, “seeing red” when angry was coined by a synesthete?
How colorful their world must be. I am envious. A most common form is seeing numbers in different colors. It may be easier to remember those numbers. One artistic lady in a You Tube video paints her colors in her art from music she listens to that is in color for her.
It is not just sight, but any sense can be affected. It is thought perhaps the sensory nerves cross over each other in the brain, producing more than one sense to react to stimuli.
Pain may be seen as a color. They might see a color as projected outside the body rather than in their “mind’s eye.” Certain music might produce the taste of a certain food.
They may see numbers, or days of the week, or months suspended in space around them. These items will be in color.
By Kelly “this is a very rough sketch of how i view the days of the week via my spatial-sequence synesthesia. it’s a circle,” originally posted to Flickr as synesthesia: days of the week, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6981468
Synesthetes test as normal or above normal intelligence, are usually left-handed and probably inherit the condition.
“When Senses Collide – Synesthesia” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGYrBaK-JYI
In this you tube presentation, a gentleman has different tastes appear in his mouth when hearing certain words. A brother and sister compare their associations of letters and colors. Fascinating. One man sees colors corresponding to certain words even though he is blind. A brain scan showed areas connected to sight lit up in his brain (that should only be stimulated by vision) when those words were spoken.
Most synesthetes will not confide what happens to them, at least more than once. They are often ridiculed or accused of making things up. Or called crazy.
But studies in the US and London have proven it exists. The why is not so clear.
Someday, somehow, I plan to use this fascinating ability in a future story. Does anyone know a synesthete?