I’ve had an interesting day. My synesthesia has been giving me troubles.
It’s not the sort of thing an aspirin will cure. Synesthesia—specifically, in my case, grapheme → color synesthesia—is a neurological phenomenon that causes people to see letters and numbers in different colors.
It’s not a “vision thing”–when I look at a page, my eyes see letters as they are. But somewhere on the way to my brain, the characters get a dye job. In general, this doesn’t interfere with my daily life. It’s fairly pleasant to have a rainbow tossing around in one’s brain, and it can work as a memory device. For example, if I want to remember a street name on the fly, I take note of its “color,” to help me recall it later.
(No, she’s not crazy. Stay with me for a minute here.)
Today, the more perverse side of synesthesia reared its head. I needed to find a certain website, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember its name. I knew that the site had a red color scheme; and without realizing it, I was trying to remember “red words” for the title. Finally, a desperate Google keyword search revealed the address I needed.
I would never have remembered it.
What’s so hard to remember about “Helium,” you ask? Well, this is how it looks in my brain:
Much as I stare at that logo, I can’t make it sink into my brain. I’ve been doing it all day, and I’m willing to bet I’ll still have a hard time remembering it tomorrow. (Thankfully, the gold version is now imprinted on my gray matter.)
I “see” certain colors assigned to letters. They’re always the same, and they often blend slightly when put together in words.
I’m finding that this color synesthesia isn’t relegated to letters and numbers alone, but also to everything associated with the characters.
The website of a friend of mine has a color scheme that’s mostly dark blue. But no matter how many times I visited, I always remembered it as purple. I think my brain just presumed it was purple, because that’s the dominant color I see when I look at her name. Another friend uses shades of rose in her sites; but that originally shocked me, because I see her name as light green!
I was always aware of this odd mental trick, but I never expected it to cause difficulties for me. Yet here I am, mixing up graphic design work and getting lost on the internet—all because of the way I look at things.
So what does the world look like through your eyes?
Whether we’re dealing with wonky color associations, or holding to a certain point of view, each of us looks at life in a different way. Sometimes our perspective enables us to contribute value to a situation; but there will be other times when what we see is not, in fact, what is really there.
In cases like that, we might find ourselves having trouble communicating, losing our way—even getting hurt, or hurting others.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from synesthesia, it’s that it can be a real challenge to change a point of view. Sometimes the brain doesn’t want to accept what’s right in front of it. But whether it’s in my reading or my everyday life, I’m eventually a lot happier if I make an effort to see things as they really are…not as I perceive them to be.
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© 2008 Christine Taylor