Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Synesthesia is a neurological condition whereby stimulation of one sense is jumbled up in the brain to create the effect of another sense.

Or as Wikipedia says,
a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway
So a person with Colour Synesthesia preceives numbers or letters as having an inherent colour.
5 could be purple or D could be black
Some have it from sounds so a French horn could be light green or a high soprano, white, sometimes with movement too.

Another one that is new to me is perceiving letters as personality types, e.g. U is pleasant but unexciting, F is frazzled, nervous.

Why is this relevant to writers, emerging or otherwise?

Synesthesia has been a source of inspiration for artists, composers, poets, novelists, and digital artists since the Greeks (the ancient ones, not the bankrupts of Europe).

When you are describing something, in a poem or fiction, dialogue or whatever, spice up that description by using a synesthetic adjective.

a spiky ring tone
a faithless wine
verdant sunshine
loud table lamp
ruby tuesday
a grumpy door

The artists Kandinksy was a synesthete, as is David Hockney, the writers Joanne Harris and Nabakov, musician Duke Ellington, Physicist and personal hero of mine Richard Feynman, composers Lizst and Rimsky-Korsakov.

I know of at least one Irish writer who has some aspects of it. Anyone reading this?


Cheryl said...

I have a strange thing where Christian names (not all, but most) taste like a food in my mouth. 'Deborah' (my sister's name) is, for example, mashed potato with butter. 'Steven' is digestive biscuits. 'Carol' tastes like Rolos, 'Sarah' like raisins.

It's always been this way since I was little - my mum used to think I was nuts. Not sure if this qualifies as a mild offshoot of synesthesia, but there's definitely some jumbling-up going on somewhere! x

Michael Farry said...

What a sparkling, silky, crisp post, Kate!

Anonymous said...

I've always seen letters and numbers as having inherent colours (for me 5 is a sunny yellow colour and D is scarlet.) Nothing more exciting than that unfortunately, no rainbow symphonies to date!

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks Michael. I was feeling very popcorn.
Jessica, that's fascinating. Does it ever come out in your writing?

Emerging Writer said...

Cheryl, that is rather wonderful. Thanks for sharing. Do you use this at all in your writing?
Anyone else with unusual perceptions?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it's like a stream of ticker-tape that seems to add other senses, overlaying the primary experience and creating new colours that have no names or sounds that only dogs can hear. I think we all suffer from/enjoy it to a greater or lesser degree but we're trained by schooling and ridicule to ignore it all. I suspect our ancestors thought it possession or the work of the devil and kept quiet or became prophets... sorry, got a bit existential there, but I hope you know what I'm trying to say

Emerging Writer said...

That's an interesting thought, Guy.

Unknown said...

Hmmm very much food for thought... Ha is that saying related?? I love the sound evoked by your spiky ring tone...

Emerging Writer said...

Food as synthesia. I don't know. A pizza kind of a day. A custard manager. Hm

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post! I didn't know Rimsy-Korsikov was a synesthete--maybe that's why I like his music so much. :)
I have very intense sound-to-color synesthesia. While most people "see" the colors in their minds, I see them physically, as if I can touch them. It looks a bit like the Northern Lights, only more...chaotic.
Hm, I've never thought of it as a creative tool. It's mostly just a pain. Fire alarms and similar sounds blind me (Which is so scary!). It definitely comes out in my writing, though--I had several elementary and middle-school teachers freak out because my descriptions were so odd :)

Emerging Writer said...

See if you can channel something out of it and let us know how you get on, Marie