"One of my earliest memories
April 17, 2001 12:32 PM   Subscribe

"One of my earliest memories is that I could tell the difference between Canadian and American accents because the Canadian accent is more yellow." Most of us would have to take some heavy drugs to start seeing sounds. But it's how this lady lives her life. Kinda makes you think about how we percieve the world around us, and if what you see is the same as what the person next to you is seeing...
posted by CrayDrygu (13 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

I had a friend tell me that he saw colors in words as well. I remember that a power chord on the guitar was green.

I just assumed he did too many drugs.
posted by jragon at 12:54 PM on April 17, 2001

There is a great book about synaesthesia, "The Man who Tasted Shapes," by neurologist Richard Cytowic. . The book explored this melding of the senses to try to understand more about the brain structure and our senses and was very understandable and engaging for me, someone who doesn't know all that much about the subject.

dmoz category on the subject including a link to this CNN article mentioning the book. (OT, did CNN really have such horrible backgrounds on their pages back then?)
posted by mutagen at 2:12 PM on April 17, 2001

One of the questions I frequently ask people whom I'm getting to know is whether they think visually or aurally (the test is to count to ten in your head; do you hear or see the numbers?). It always fascinates me when people experience music visually, given that I'm more likely to hear a painting. I think a lot of people's inability to understand each other has to do with the fact that our brains work in very different ways.

It's a severe effort for me to visualize most things. I cannot, for example, picture the faces of my children very easily. I can hear what they said to me this morning, and I remember exactly how they sing. But for visual items, I remember the attributes (hair: brown) usually without picturing them. I think almost entirely in words, phrases, and music. I can't get through a conversation without three or four words triggering songs in my head, unless I'm in the car with the kids, in which case I just go ahead and sing them, much to their consternation.

I suspect that ways of thinking are along a continuum, with most people having a mix between visual and aural, but that's just a guess. I also suspect there are multiple axes, or multiple ways of thought. Some people probably think in a tactile manner. I can remember what it feels like to hug someone more easily than I can remember what he or she looks like.
posted by anapestic at 3:34 PM on April 17, 2001

A friend of mine associates colors with letters so powerfully he documented it on this fine site.

He told me he was, as a child, annoyed by magnetic letters, the kind that went on the refrigerator: They were all the wrong colors.

I know only a little bit of what he means. Except that 2 is definitely a brown number and S is red.
posted by argybarg at 3:37 PM on April 17, 2001

Rumor has it that an amazingly high percentage of people with this ability see the letter 'e' as red. One of my friends in college had this condition, and she said it was so for her.
posted by SilentSalamander at 4:17 PM on April 17, 2001

anapestic said:
It always fascinates me when people experience music visually, given that I'm more likely to hear a painting.

That's striking. I used to imagine the catalog of piano pieces I could play as a sort of art gallery - there was a specific abstract image associated with each one. When I composed pieces I sometimes just called them by their dominant colours ("black & silver", "swirly green with charred bits", etc). I know not everyone sees music, but the idea of hearing a painting sounds so strange I can't imagine what it would be like. I can't fathom where the sounds would come from.

So... I'm a bit jealous of people with synaesthesia. I wonder, does it have any disadvantages? They aren't apparent. Then again it might just feel straightforward and ordinary, so perhaps it's just the rest of us who get to wonder at that way of looking at the world.

posted by Mars Saxman at 5:02 PM on April 17, 2001

I've always associated numbers with colors. For instance...

one = white

two = blue

three = green

four = brown

five = red

six = blue

seven = yellow

eight = purple

nine = orange/red

ten = I'm not really sure

the strange thing is, though, that I've never given this type of association much thought before -- it was just always there. Interesting to think about it, now
posted by lizardboy at 6:34 PM on April 17, 2001

I always thought of my name, Jessica, and also the number 4, numerically and written, as the color green.
A lot of times when I hear people talk, I imagine the words they are saying scrolling along the top of my mind. They move at the rate at which they are spoken.
I can never remember the lyrics to songs, even the ones I hear all the time, unless I see them written down.
How about that?
posted by jessicool at 7:23 PM on April 17, 2001

the article doesn't go into it, but it's thought that the original state of the senses when you are a baby is to be highly synaesthetic, with most senses overlapping. as we grow, for most people, our senses make themselves distinct, and we lose most of our synaesthesia. but some people's brains retain some of the cross overs, for one reason or another.

there seems to be a certain stereotype of a person who has synaesthesia. they're predominantly left handed females, and often have good memories (due to the helpfulness of being able to cross reference experiences with colours and sounds that are otherwise unrelated)

i used to have fairly typical synaesthesia when i was younger, but it's dwindled away with age. and i definately don't fit the stereotype, being a forgetful right handed male.
posted by titboy at 9:05 PM on April 17, 2001

I definitely have either a mild synaesthesia or just a very well-rooted sense of metaphor, as some of the parallel connotations are practically instant.

I'm always amused, though, that those sound-light processer things, like Geiss and G-Force, do a nice job of translating musical mathematics onto the screen, but don't really match the "colours" and "shapes" of the sounds in themselves. At least, not for me.

(Isaac Newton actually thought the colours of the spectrum mapped against the notes of the octave in a divine symmetry. Which wasn't too misguided an intuition.)
posted by holgate at 9:28 PM on April 17, 2001

Hey Mars: you got "Swirly Green with Charred Bits" as an mp3 file? I must hear it.

Hearing paintings isn't all that difficult. An awful lot of them sound like Satie ;-)
posted by anapestic at 11:35 PM on April 17, 2001

Rumor has it that an amazingly high percentage of people with this ability see the letter 'e' as red.

I've got synaesthesia and 'e' is red for me, although it's more of an orange red than the dull red of 'd' or 'r' or the bright red of 'a'. When I'm writing songs, I remember the chords by remembering color patterns - every song looks a certain way. I also remember phone numbers and email addresses by their colors: hence, no address book for me.
posted by iceberg273 at 7:08 AM on April 19, 2001

I believe that people who have perfect pitch tend to see different colors when hearing music.
posted by gyc at 6:20 PM on April 20, 2001

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