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Synesthesia


A pigment of the imagination?



We have to remember this, there is the eye and the mind’s eye. In daylight the eye overwhelms the mind’s eye, but  can never abolish it. In the dark, the mind’s eye has a free reign, but for most of us, but probably not all, can never substitute for real vision. For things of nature, that is enough. The mind’s eye, latching on to the vision of the eye, can recognise, confirm and agree colours, shapes  and positions. For things not of nature, for example the regular shapes of letters and numbers, the relationship between the two may be different. The eye pulls the mind’s eye into sharp focus and two visions are superimposed. The eye gives the information and the mind’s eye recognises and accepts and, for some, adds something of its own which can surface as synesthesia.  A synesthetic, reading this page, will see the letters as black on white. The page does not sparkle with  colours, but the colours are there as if could the word be peeled away, the colours would lie there beneath it. In the absence of the printed word, the image in the mind’s eye  lacks the precision of the black text, but the blackness is retouched by the colour palette.


There is little apparent order in the colours ‘seen’ by synesthetics, but it is apparently quite common for the letter O and the number 0 to be white, most probably because most of the symbol is actually white. This is possible in the mind’s eye because white shines against the indeterminate colour of the perceived background, most probably the grey/brown most people see with their eyes closed. It is not hard to see how these symbols could be perceived as white without raising any suggestion of syesthesia, but whether or not other synesthetic shapes are infilled is little discussed. It is hard to take this discussion further without a description of personal experience, here limited to S, R, 5 and H.  Of these S is most easily discussed. On asking the question do the s characters in ‘discussed’ appear to be yellow the answer is No!, but reformulating the question as, do these characters not appear to be yellow? gives a different perspective. They are not yellow when you look at them, but on turning the eyes away, they were yellow and that is how they are in the mind’s eye. In some curious way the colours are both there and not there at the same time.


There is another less discussed, but probably more common, aspect of synesthesia, the attachment of place to shape resulting the construction of a number lines,letter lines, days of the week lines and lines for many other ordered quantities. which, once learned, cannot be forgotten. Not only will numbers and letters appear in the mind’s eye in their colours, they will also appear in a fixed place with respect to the observer. This now brings in the concept of the home base. Given the infinite length of any number line, the so-called observer has to be able to move along it, but if only the concept of numbers or letters is mentioned, they will always start from the same place, move away, but always return. The prediction, from personal experience is that the number line will be apparently viewed from a position related to the age of the observer which the numbers were first learned.


* How does synesthesia work with handwriting?