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Thinking in Colour: Synesthesia

Synesthesia

As a kid I loved the weekend because it meant we had two yellow days next to each other. I preferred the yellows days way better than Monday – the only red day of the week. Tuesday was also yellow. But a darker yellow than Thursday which was a bright fluro yellow. Wednesday was orange and Friday was green. But Friday was special because it also had a picture with it. A green jelly-bean shape with dots in it. I had no idea back then but I was experiencing the symptoms of synesthesia.

The mind of a Synesthete

When I think of numbers, they are all stacked bottom to top and they each have their own colour. When they get to 11, they start going horizontally. The twenties are all purple, the thirties all green and the forties all red and so on. One hundred is a red castle with a flag at the top.

The months of the year have their own colours too, and they’re set out on a timeline; like a ruler, with a large monolithic divide between the two years. I am positioned on that ruler too – quite close to the end now as it’s December.

What is Synesthesia?

This is how my mind works. I have synesthesia, meaning that my mind associates words, letters and numbers with colours. Some synesthetes smell, taste or feel pain in colour and sometimes shapes as well. There are those who also see these colours, not in their mind’s eye, but floating in front of them. Some hear in colour and physically feel music within their bodies.

Lorde: “It’s hard to explain this to people who don’t have synesthesia because they don’t know any different,”

Singer Lorde has chomesthesia type synesthesia. She hears in colour which helps her to create beautiful artworks – that also sound pretty good too.

“If a song’s colours are too oppressive or ugly,” she explains, “sometimes I won’t want to work on it – when we first started Tennis Court we just had that pad playing the chords, and it was the worst textured tan colour, like really dated, and it made me feel sick, and then we figured out that pre-chorus and I started the lyric, and the song changed to all these incredible greens overnight,”

Synesthesia

 

Doesn’t everyone think in colour?

Thing is, I always assumed that everyone saw words, numbers and letters of the alphabet as colours and images. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that it’s actually a somewhat rare attribute. According to the American Psychological Association, around one in 2000 people are synesthetes but it is suspected that around one in 300 have some lesser form of the condition.

It’s believed that synesthesia runs in families and it tends to be more common amongst women. Personally I’ve always kind of liked my synesthesia. It’s just how my mind works. But I really wish I could up my synesthesia skills and start hearing colours. That’d freaking awesome. Could such a gift be trained?

Can Synesthesia be Learned?

Well, according to synesthesia expert, Jamie Ward, “no”. I know. Sadface. “You can train yourself to think of the letter A as red, but you wouldn’t literally see it (that way) if you were just to associate the colour to the letter.” Ward goes onto explain however that some people may acquire synesthesia after losing another sense. For example many people who go blind begin to associate sounds and words with colours. “These are hallucinations that blind people begin to have, which are triggered by sound.”

Pharell Williams: “I’d be lost…I’m not sure I could make music.”

Pharrell Williams, is another well-known Synesthete. He sees his synesthesia as a gift and would feel deprived if it was suddenly taken from him, claiming, “I’d be lost…I’m not sure I could make music.”

Like me, Williams also assumed that thinking in colour was what everyone did.  “Oh my God, it’s always been this way. But I thought all kids had mental, visual references for what they were hearing.”

Williams sees colours of the rainbow when he makes music, and believes that as well as having a correlation to musical notes, each colour also has an effect on a different chakra point. “There are seven basic colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. And those also correspond with musical notes … White, believe it or not, which gives you an octave is the blending of all the colours… For every color, there is a sound, a vibration, a part of the human body, a number, a musical note…You have all of your chakras.”

Williams also has an interesting theory about synesthetes and people with ADHD. “I happen to have a theory that synesthetes and people with ADD/ADHD will rule the world. You want to know why I think that is the case? Because historically, that is the case.”

Synesthesia

Other Famous Synesthetes

Other well-known synesthetes throughout history include Vladimir Nabokov, Vincent Van Gogh, Franz Liszt, Stevie Wonder and Marilyn Monroe. While they may not be well known politicians or activists likely to change the world in a revolutionary sense, people with synesthesia tend to be of the creative persuasion, which isn’t overly surprising when you think about it.

Secret Advantages of Synesthesia

Generally, those with chromesthesia (the sound to colour form of synesthesia) are inclined to become musicians as their form of synesthesia allows them to see notes in colour, which is a helping hand when it comes to learning pitch.

It’s believed that synesthetes who have the form known as special sequence synesthesia are more likely to have excellent memories as they view time in a physical special way in their minds. I too have this form of synesthesia and I remember everything. Seriously, there is very little from my childhood that I don’t remember and if I’ve seen a film I can tell you all about it. Even if it was years ago.

Do you have Synesthesia?

I think the weirdest part about having synesthesia is actually discovering that other people don’t have it. It makes me wonder what they see and how they think. It’s allows me to ponder at just how different we all are and that sometimes we have gifts that we aren’t even aware of.

Do you have synesthesia? I’d love to know!

Full Time Unicorn

2 thoughts on “Thinking in Colour: Synesthesia

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