Sunday, April 24, 2005

Colors of the Mind

The other morning, I was laying in bed listening to NPR's "Morning Edition" before I had to get up, and a particular story caught my attention. It was about a condition called "synesthesia," an apparently rare condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as an additional sense, such as sight. The story featured a female musician who hears colors, in that to her every note has a particular color associated with it.

The reporter went on to interview a researcher at Vanderbilt University, whose specialty is studying people who perceive distinct colors associated with numbers, letters, and words.

And here's what startled me about this story: I didn't know that everyone DIDN'T do that. All my life, I've seen particular colors associated with numbers, letters of the alphabet, days of the week, names, etc. It's totally involuntary and unconscious. It's never been a matter of my deciding what color a word or letter reminds me just "is" the color in my mind. For example, Monday is a reddish burgundy. Tuesday is green. Wednesday is yellow. One is white, two is get the idea.

It never occurred to me that this is unusual. I can't even imagine having a black and white alphabet.

I polled my family. My sister does this as well (although she has different colors for things) but my parents don't. I haven't yet encountered a friend who does this, although one friend says that she "feels" colors when she gets a massage. I think that may be a variety of synesthesia.

Here's an article explaining synesthesia, basically. Fascinating, isn't it?

Do you have involuntary color associations? Or other cross-sense perceptions that may be synesthesia?


  1. This is so cool! I read a kids/teen book about it (A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass) a year or two ago, in our mother/daughter book club, but I never actually knew anyone with it. It must make quilting even more fascinating.

  2. I agree with you. The first time I saw a segment on the news about this, I got sort of irritated. I thought, what's the big deal? Almost every artist I know smells colors or hears colors.

  3. I know that I taste colors all the time. It seems normal to me though!

  4. I don't have that type of relationship with colours...colours gives me words memories, stories, emotion...I think this is why I love faces/people in quilts. I want to master that but don't have the patience right now. My first calling was poetry and I still have the soul of a poet. For those of you who sense things in colours, I just find it nothing short of fascinating and gifted.

  5. Anonymous7:05 AM

    I neither smell, taste nor hear colors (how boring I am) but colors so evoke memories for me. I would love to be a synesthetic.


  6. As an artist I bet that having synesthesia is an inspiration due to your different way of seeing the world.

  7. I don't smell, taste, read or hear colors. but I know one person who does: Roberta Flack. Her directions to musicians working with her are always to play music specific colors. I can't imagine the first day working with her...