On Synesthesia

On a yawning Sunday afternoon, lazily surfing the cyber waves, I discovered I am affected by synesthesia. It sounds like an awful disease, but it’s actually a very interesting neurological condition which cause letters, sounds, numbers, dates, times and even movements to be mixed up, thus allowing people to hear colours or associate numbers with different types of personalities or locating time in space. Sometimes sounds are also connected to visual motion, and the most common type of synesthesia is the one that causes letters to be perceived as coloured.

Ever since I was a kid I have pictured notes as colours in my head, but I thought it happened to be everyone. When I was 16 I also tried – failing miserably – to paint, and I decided to portray a song. I had been obsessed with a song called San Francisco, or something like that, and I wanted to try and reproduce on canvas the colours I saw in my head. It wasn’t very easy, even though the result is not that far from what my brain perceived. The problem is that the colours I see are not fixed in space, and they are not even definite – they kind of spill into each other and move with the harmonic sequence, or they expand and contract, resonate and vibrate, with the melody. I would say they are liquid but I don’t perceive them as matter – it’s hard to explain and perhaps meaningless, but they just are.

I have noticed though that some colours correspond, most of the time, to the same keys. I tend to see the same colours, for example, everytime I hear or play a song in C minor, and so it happens with A minor etc. They are not the same colours all the time, because it might be that a combination is created in the music which causes colours to mix. And in any case, as I said, the colours I see are slightly different from the ones we know and name, because they are moving all the time. It’s more an impression of colours perhaps, even though my brain still manages to perceive all the colours individually. How thick they are and how wide, or even how liquid, depends on the arrangement of the song.

I tend to fix months, weeks and days in a precise, physical space. I’m not sure if others do it, that is why it confuses me. I thought everyone saw months as a circle which is read anti-clockwise, and weeks as divided into two blocks which are put one above the other, like this:

Monday          Tuesday        Wednesday

Thursday          Friday           Saturday        Sunday

When I have to fix an appointment – say for ex. on Monday I am told I have to meet someone on Friday – my brain elaborates this as if I were physically moving to point A to point B, specifically going down the stairs of the Week 2-floor block, moving to the second half of the week. When I think of a month that is coming, say March, I picture it as if I was going, again, down a curve, as if there was a road leading to that month. Or, again, years are in a row. 1900 is very far behind, not only in time, but also in space , as if they were stones or again steps – not going upwards or downwards though – I walk on. Years are not a circle, they are a curve which goes up and down, as the Great Wall of China.

It’s a bit difficult to explain and I admit it sounds a bit odd, but I just discovered it today, and perhaps someone reading this blog is affected by the same condition and never knew it, as I didn’t know it, thinking it was like this for everybody!


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