My Experience With Synesthesia

Synesthesia Fractal

I realized I had synesthesia about 6-7 years ago. I first heard about the condition in a college psychology class, but they mostly focused on the more exotic types – like people who taste shapes or touch colours – so I didn’t connect the dots immediately.

Some time after that, I was talking music with friends and realized that I kept describing sounds as shapes and colours. “You know, that guitar tone, kind of red-sounding…” I would also gesticulate to describe some passages, and not just to mark the rhythm. That’s when it clicked. When I realized that others didn’t “see” guitar solos as lines of different colours and thickness, and that their experience with music wasn’t similar to the “visualization” plugin of a software music player.

I didn’t just see visual metaphors that moved along with the music, I saw the music.

After a bit of research, I found a piece by Vladimir Nabokov about his experience. This was the real “eureka” moment.

By paying more attention to it, I found out that I also associated numbers, letters, days of the week and months with certain colours and shapes. Unlike certain other synesthetes, I only see those in my mind’s eye; not on the printed page* or elsewhere. For music, the album artwork usually has a big influence on the colours that I will associate with the sound of the album. It’s not the only factor, but it’s a big one.

Melanie, my girlfriend, also has colours for numbers, letters, days of the week and months, but they are different from mine (which is expected) and she doesn’t have any synesthesia with music.

Being fairly tone-deaf and having very little sense of rhythm, I sometimes wonder if I would enjoy music as much without synesthesia. I’ve tried and it’s impossible for me to turn it off, so I can’t know how others hear music. It’s a bit frustrating, but I’m sure it’s just as frustrating for someone who doesn’t have synesthesia to try to understand what it’s really like (the picture at the top of this post is not what I see).

I don’t really consider it like a medical condition (or at least, not an handicap) since it doesn’t keep me from doing anything, and it might actually be adding to my life. I’m sure some forms of synesthesia could be unpleasant – touching certain textures leaving a bad taste in your mouth, hearing certain noise generating unpleasant smells – so I’m glad I have the types that I have. I could say I won a decent prize at the synesthesia lottery.

*Some synesthetes who actually see colours on the page could look at the picture on the left and actually see it as it is shown on the right, so at a glance they could see which are the 2s and which are the 5s.

Synesthesia Test

Update: I found an interesting post about synesthesia over at Cosmic Variance.

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15 Responses to “My Experience With Synesthesia”

  1. lawpoop Says:

    Can you post a drawing of what you see when you listen to a particular music?

    The music that you see — does it have a timeline, like sheet music, where it changes with the song over time, or is it a single image for a song?

  2. Sue Xian Says:

    1 = Black
    2 = Red
    3 = Yellow
    4 = Green
    5 = Blue
    6 = Orange
    7 = Purple
    8 = Yellow
    9 = Orange

  3. Nin Says:

    I always thought that it was normal to see numbers as shapes, and it comes in really useful during mental arithmetic, as I can just tesselate these shapes into new ones and know the answer. I also colourise people’s names- for example, Jeremy is extremely rich dark green, and David is an intense dark blue, Jennifer is yellow, Andrew is beige….that sort of thing. I also have that thing when I don’t just have a tune in my head, but I have the WHOLE ORCHESTRA with every single note played. I hear that’s quite common though.

  4. theo Says:

    I developed (or recognized) my synesthesia about a year ago. Like you SEE music, I HEAR light. Once I identified that other people didn’t have this sensation it began to make sense to me why my ability to hear clearly would vary. To me, there is always a faint sound in any lit environment, even when my eyes are closed. (I suspect the quality of light filtering through my eyelids provides enough data for my brain to translate).

    I’m not talking about the standard high-register noise that fluorescent and halogen lights make, or even the not-quite-so-high-register noise that a blank CRT makes. Those are perceptions that simply require a wide range of hearing. (For the record, I hear those as well.) For me sunlight sounds chaotic, like a clash of metal that is faint and in the distance. Fluorescent lighting sounds like white-noise, and halogen lighting sounds like bees or a swarm of gnats. White Christmas lights sound like chimes, although too many of them and they become dissonant. Colored Christmas lights sound like pitched percussion, with different colors having a different tone.

    It’s fascinating to read about other synesthetes experiences and modes of perception. I really don’t talk about it much because most people don’t understand what it’s like to have a perception so different from their own. Most people just assume that I’m using metaphor heavily (Which is a fair assumption, since I am a writer ;)

  5. ShortChelsea Says:

    Oh. I’m researching it for a class. I happen to be a synesthete who looks at people and feels their colors. My boyfriend is dark purple, soft, and he feels pressured. My boyfried thinks its awesome, but I’m not so sure…

  6. Efren A. Says:

    hello, me and a friend have synesthesia but at first i did not knew what it was or how was it called… he told me about the condition when i told him that i could see the song “requiem for a dream” and all the sensations i would have. i thought it was interesting and started to understand the world as my own personal world. its awesome what i can see and write with such power…

  7. Hanna Says:

    hi…. im hanna…. i read a book about synethsesia, and ever since ive decided that i would like to know more. i have even considered being a neurologist, specializing in synesthesia. I am 14, and for my english class i am writing a research paper on synesthesia. it would be really cool if i could talk to you about it. can you email me?its sweetstyle_cj@hotmail.com and i would really like an inside opinion. so ne/waz, thanx for ur time, and i hope you write!!

  8. Alasdair Says:

    I’ve found nothing like what i have anywhere in what i’ve read in what adds up to hundreds of hours of trawling through the net for information. I experience everything as basic symmetrical shapes. This covers anything i experience in my life, from an item on the news to the way a puddle splashes when my dog runs through it to the concept of nuclear war. I see these in a more than 4 dimensional space above and behind my mind’s eye. It would take ages to describe exactly what its like but the shapes have a density/brightness/emotional feeling/direction of travel. I don’t see numbers/days/etc as colours but i’ve had occasions when i know things are wrong because they have felt like they were wrong colour and also in 1 case, the taste of HP sauce was involved as well. I have also experienced sensation in my body connected with some things as well but this doesnt happen that often either, its mainly just the shapes.
    Does anyone else get anything similar to this or want a further explanation? I’m on weespeccy@live.co.uk and wouldn’t mind help identifying this as i’ve never seen something like this documented anywhere.
    Cheers Al

  9. Alasdair Says:

    I thought i’d add this as well as i forgot above. The shapes can all have texture as well… for instance, one felt like jelly(jello) but at the same time, the surface of it would feel like recently sandpapered wood. On top of this, some shapes i “see” can have aspects that exist and don’t exist at the same time and also some shapes can have parts that exist in 2 places at the same time but its the same object. I think it was better to leave this one to a subsequent message because this is beyond explanation by a 3 dimensional world.
    Cheers again Al :)

  10. Lilly Says:

    I discovered about a year ago that I have synesthesia. If you’ve ever read the book “A Mango Shaped Space” (I highly recommend it even for those without synesthesia), you know its about a girl who discovers her synesthesia. I read that book about two years ago and even when i read it, it didnt click in my head what my perceptions were because she saw hers in the air and saw shapes, while I only have associated colors in my minds eye that match the weekdays, time, letters, numbers and words. Sometimes I feel textures or hear sounds from reading different words, or I occasionally, I see their color on the paper/screen. I was not the one to recognize my synesthesia but actually it was my friend who told me that I could have it because I told her that her name sounded like an angry cat.

  11. crazyasuka Says:

    Unlike certain other synesthetes, I only see those in my mind’s eye; not on the printed page

    Same with me. When I read about synesthesia, I was discouraged by that 5-green 2-red on the page test. I can’t do it. I don’t actually “see” the colors, they are just a perception in my brain. But I guess what I do, although mild, it’s still synesthesia.

  12. Zoe Says:

    Hey! I’m Zoe! I love synesthiesia and would love to have it! I am doing a science project about genetic disorders on it. I also read a great book called “A Mango Shaped Space” ,and did a book report on it. I think you all should read it! It is like the best book ever!

  13. si ash Says:

    hey! im Si.
    well i kind of working about a project about chromesthesia wich is your kind of synesthesia…
    first of all i think its so cool to have this kind of talent or whatever it is..
    second of all i would like if u’d give me some more informtion about it..
    i’m trying to find a nedical definition for the chromestesia but all i’ve found is a short sentence that every website uses… and i need more..
    this project is for my final exam next year so its pretty serious..
    thanx for reading this long comment and for your help!
    have a nice day! :)
    si!

  14. sylvia Says:

    well i see numbers in colors in my mind
    0=white
    1=black or dark green
    2=yellow
    3=red
    4=purple or blue
    5=orange
    6=purple or gray
    7=pink
    8=green
    9=gray
    10=black and white

    and ummmi can allso relate days of the week to color..
    sunday is a yellow day
    monday’s a purple day
    tuseday’s a red day
    wednsday’s a light green day
    thursday’s a dark greenday
    friday’s a pink day
    saturday’s white day

    i also vision letters in colors and stuff like that.. could i be synesthethic too?

  15. mrgamma Says:

    I think if I have this then it is a mild form and it is probably closely related with ASMR, here http://www.asmrstudio.com/

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