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Medical Do you see coloured images if you listen to music?

  1. May 30, 2005 #1
    Do you see coloured images if you listen to music?
    Does a certain music chord taste salty for you?
    Are numbers coloured for you?


    Then you might be a synaesthete. I'd like to ask if anyone here
    has such a synaestetic ability.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2005 #2


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    My older daughter has synesthesia. She sees numbers and letters as colors.

    She is a gifted artist, one of the traits of a synesthete.


    "synesthesia, which is considered to be a “gift” not a mere condition, seems to be more common among artists, writers, musicians and other creative individuals."

    “The painter David Hockney talked of hearing the colors that he subsequently painted, and the writer Vladimir Nabokov saw colors in the words he wrote. The composer Franz Lizst reported seeing the musical notes he composed in color. Then, there were the many artists and writers who desperately wanted to be synesthetes, such as Baudelaire.”
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2005
  4. May 30, 2005 #3


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    There is a man (i forgot his name) but he saw numbers as shapes and sizes. he could remember pi to 21,700 digits, and could do complicated equations in his head.
  5. Jun 4, 2005 #4
    I'm synesthetic. I see sounds as colors, and sometimes tastes as colors. It's a lot of fun. I also have "calendar lines" for days of the week and months of the year. That means I see the days or months arranged in a circle and I can "walk around" it in my mind.
  6. Jun 4, 2005 #5


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    this isn't a joke
  7. Jun 4, 2005 #6


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    Evo, does your daughter actually take advantage of her gift or is it simply another aspect of her perception? In other words does it influence her art or just come along with it?

    Synesthesia is really an interesting condition that currently and historically has elicited neurophysiological and psychiatric investigation. PubMed brings up about 43 articles dealing with this condition. I haven't taken the time to dive into this subject, but it's quite compelling. Many such conditions or diseases have driven basic and clinical research to find out new aspects of neuroscience and human behavior. My quesiton is if a synesthete is also colorblind, do they hear F-sharps as C-minors? :wink:
  8. Jun 5, 2005 #7


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    I think it's the later, I haven't discussed it much with her, I was really surprised when I found out she saw letters and numbers as colors when she was in grade school, I had never heard about this.

    :rofl: Good question!
  9. Jun 17, 2005 #8
    What do you mean, "a joke," Evo?
  10. Jun 17, 2005 #9
  11. Jun 18, 2005 #10
    I don't think Liszt was synaesthesia. He was probably bragging and being intellectual. I think it was quite in fashion to have Synaesthesic experence as a musician/composer those days.

    Rimsky-Korsakoff is probably the most famous composer who had synaesthesia. Messian is often callen a 'true synaesthesia'. Beach was also a synaesthesia.

    Scriabin was probably not. He probably took his colours from Newtons 'Optica' and the circle of fifths. Thats what his major biographers wrote and it seems logica. Scriabin was quite insane though. Maybe Hypochondria or some form of Epilepsy or other nervous breakdowns or seizures. He would get terrible headaches for a day or two and then he would write music franticly.

    To hear if a note is A F# or C# requires perfect pitch. There are some people with mental disorders that limit their possibility to connect musical sounds into music. So to them music is random sound and they can't enjoy it. But pitchblindness? Never heard of it. Relative pitch is the way normal people listen to music.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2005
  12. Jun 18, 2005 #11
    I would argue that a good portion of the population is pitchblind...especially in the shower.
  13. Jun 18, 2005 #12


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    Daniel Tammet. He's an autistic savant who nonetheless has remarkably well-adjusted social skills-- you wouldn't know he was a savant just by talking to him, which is quite unusual for a savant. He has strong synaesthetic responses to numbers, experiencing each number as a unique perceptual object with its own characteristic traits of size, shape, color, and emotive charge. Many of his impressive cognitive feats seem to arise from the heavy cross-modal representations in his synaesthetic experience. For instance, he describes doing math and working with numbers not as an abstract reasoning process, but as a process where he just observes a perceptual landscape in his mind's eye and literally 'reads off' the answer from that landscape.

    There was a show about him recently on the Discovery Channel called 'Brainman' which, among other things, showed clips of his performance of reciting pi to 22,514 digits and becoming conversant in Icelandic (a notoriously difficult language in both grammar and pronounciation) in the course of a couple of weeks, with the help of a tutor. He went on a news show in Iceland and was able to have a coherent conversation with the hosts, and it wasn't a bluff-- my mother, who's Icelandic, said he spoke flawlessly.

    You can also see a clip edited from the TV version of Brainman here:
    http://media.science.discovery.com/convergence/brainman/videogallery/videogallery.html [Broken]

    see also http://plus.maths.org/issue31/features/eastaway/index-gifd.html
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  14. Jun 18, 2005 #13


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    Interestingly, a paper by Roger Walsh in a recent edition of the Journal of Consciousness Studies (volume 12, no. 4, 2005) suggests that practicing meditation on a regular basis can actually cultivate one's ability to experience synaesthetically. Not every dedicated meditator will become a synaesthete, of course, but Walsh's surveys indicate that meditators are more likely to be synaesthetes than control populations, and also that the percentage of meditators who are synaesthetes might rise as a function of years of practice.
  15. Jun 21, 2005 #14


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    I heard about Synaesthesia on a radio program during the past couple of weeks. The narrator was talking about her grandmother, IIRC. Unfortunately, I didn't note the program. However, here are some interesting links.

    Factual information, individual anecdotes, and interactive activities which simulate synesthesia.

    Interviews, examples and information about research on Synaesthesia.

    Synesthesia: Phenomenology And Neuropsychology
    Richard E. Cytowic's keystone article in Psyche. A review of current knowledge on synesthesia.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  16. Jun 22, 2005 #15
    yeah, me too. exact same.

    if i see someone else's alphabet's colors, i'll get angry. :tongue:
  17. Jul 8, 2005 #16
    Richard Cytowic wrote a fascinating book called The Man Who Tasted Shapes primarily about a synesthete who had his sense of taste cross wired with his sence of touch. The taste of food would cause him to feel the sensation of touching various shapes, some pleasant some not, and textures.

    He was an enthusiastic cook, but his adjustment of recipes was done according to sense of touch rather than taste: he would add a little of this or a dash of that based on the illusory tactile sensations.

    Cytowic discovered the man was a synesthete by accident when he took a bite of chicken and blurted out something like "Oh, that chicken has too many points on it!" It had made his hands feel like they were touching something sharp and pointy.

    Another very unusual synesthete mentioned either by Cytowic or Oliver Sacks (I can't remember) had his sense of hearing cross wired with his sense of body position, his proprioception. The result was that the sound of certain words made him feel compelled to adopt a particular posture in response. A given word might make him cross his legs, turn his head to one side, and stick his left arm out in front of him. Each word demanded it's own particular posture.

    The conclusion may be that any two sences appear to be able to be cross wired like this. For some reason the sound/color vision combination is the most common.

    You have to wonder how it happened that evolution selected our physiological reaction to air vibrations to be in the form of "sound" in the first place. We might just as well have ended up processing air vibrations into something visual had everything gone differently, or into some completely different experience no one can imagine.

    I find this subject to be extremely fascinating.
  18. Jul 9, 2005 #17
    i remember reading somewhere that a guy had this and was also color blind. nowhere else in the world was there the color red until he looks at the number 3.
  19. Jul 9, 2005 #18


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    That leaves me wondering how he knew it was red if he had never before seen red for comparison. :confused: This is the part that puzzles me the most about synesthesia; if you always see colors with your numbers, how do you come to the awareness that the color isn't a normal thing that everyone else sees with that number? How do you learn it's a color and not a normal property of the number? And, do you still see the colors when you think of the abstract concept of the quantity the number represents, or only when looking at the number in print? Does it seem just as strange to them that other people don't see colors with their numbers as it seems to the rest of us that they do see them together?

    It's truly fascinating, and so hard to comprehend by someone who doesn't experience it.

    I'm wondering one other thing; if I type numbers in different colors, what does the synasthete see? Can you see both the color you normally associate with the number and the color I've written it in, or does it somehow make it confusing or hard to read the numbers if they are in color?
  20. Jul 9, 2005 #19
    I have never heard of the number-color connection before, but Cytowic discusses people who have a sound- color crossover quite a bit in his book. They see abstract shapes of distinct colors superimposed on their visual field in response to sounds. The colors and shapes come to match the types of sound. Listening to music is accompanied by a corresponding "light show". Many synesthetes have claimed Mozart gives the prettiest concomitant "light show" of all composers, for whatever that's worth.

    Most synesthetes have no idea that everyone else doesn't see the same way untill they try to discuss the colors with someone directly. Most of them, according to Cytowic, learn before they get out of grade school that they are alone in this, and have to hide the fact or be told they're crazy or lying. Some end up being taken to psychiatrists.

    He estimated there are about a million people with synesthesia in the US (that would be early 1990s). and that most of them were "underground"; not daring to tell even their closest friends and associates.
  21. Jul 10, 2005 #20


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    Thanks Zooby. I was just using the color/numbers example because it was mentioned a few times in this thread, not because it was important to my question that it be that specific example. I realize there are many ways the different senses can be combined all under the collective heading of synesthesia.

    Yes, I can understand the difficulty in admitting to experiencing synesthesia to someone who has never heard of it. It must be incredibly difficult for them, especially as children.

    Does it in any way hinder early childhood learning? I mean, we teach children things like numbers and colors by pointing and saying a name. If we point to something red and say "red," but then when they hear music and also see red, we say, "music," does that make it harder to learn their colors? Would an early sign of it be inappropriate responses to questions about colors or shapes? If you point to a rectangle and they say "red" every time, might it be time to have them evaluated?
  22. Jul 10, 2005 #21
    Cytowic's book, the only one I've read about this, gives the strong impression that it never constitutes a "disability" of any kind. The main problem it causes is interpersonal alienation. As far as I know the sort of problem you are speculating about never actually arises: the synesthete always realizes the difference between the rectangularity of a rectangle and whatever color might accompany it.

    The case of the color blind person who could see red synesthetically is very unusual and must have been quite tricky to sort out. I am also not sure how they could acertain he was actually seeng anything corresponding to what everyone else sees as red, but there may well be a way to do it.

    Edit: I've just been looking at the Cytowic paper Astronuc linked to and find the following:

    "10.8 Learning disabilities seem more common in synesthetes and their first-degree relatives. What is the actual incidence of autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit disorder (ADD) among synesthetes? Do synesthetes themselves so afflicted differ from other synesthetes?"

    (I think he is raising those questions as ones that need study, not as ones he is prepared to answer.) The point, though, is that it seems many synesthetes also have major learning disabilities. The synesthesia, itself, however, does not seem to cause undo learning difficulties.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2005
  23. Jul 15, 2005 #22


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    Apparently, although synaesthetes come to recognize that their synaesthetic experiences are idiosyncratic, they are still struck by the conviction that what they experience is in some sense the real or correct way to experience things. e.g.:

    "That's another part of the synesthetic experience that's hard to communicate in a compelling way -- the feeling that *my* colors are right and other people's are wrong. It's not self-righteousness; it's much less elaborated than that. The sensation, almost of outrage, comes out of me like a little yelp when Carol tells me she likes my name because the 'k' is green. Green?! No way! It's *lavender*!"


    I don't have a link handy, but I recall reading an account from at least one synaesthete who claims that he (?) can discern a printed number's 'actual' color, even if it's different from the color he tends to perceive synaesthetically. He compares it to watching a black and white movie-- even though we see the movie in greyscale, we still pick up on what the colors are 'supposed' to be.

    And the experience of seeing numbers and letters as being particular colors doesn't seem to be as straightforward or stable as e.g. seeing a red '3' would be for a non-synaesthete. For instance, in the above link, the author claims that she needs to focus her attention on a particular number or letter for its synaesthetic color to emerge more clearly. So perhaps the actual color of the number or letter appears outside of foveal focus, or perhaps it's easier to discern on a quick glance, etc.

    As for interference effects, this is explored briefly in the 'Brainman' program about Daniel Tammet. Tammet experiences particularly strong and varied synaesthetic phenomena. One aspect of his experience of numbers is that 9 appears very large to him, and (I believe) 0 appears small. So V.S. Ramachandran had him perform some tasks where he had to memorize a page of numbers to explore this claim of his. On the first trial, the printed sizes of the numbers agreed with Tammet's synaesthetic perceptions-- the 9s were printed very large, the 0s very small, etc. On the second trial, the situation was inverted-- the 9s were printed very small, the 0s very large. Sure enough, he performed excellently on the first trial, but was thrown for a bit of a loop on the second trial and performed significantly more poorly.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  24. Jul 15, 2005 #23
    Cytowic comments on this:

    "4.14 Synesthesia is emotional. The experience is accompanied by a sense of certitude (the "this is it" feeling) and a conviction that what the synesthetes percieve is real and valid."

    The lifelong matching of internally generated colors to external things is how color vision works in us all anyway, and it isn't really any wonder that a synesthete has this kind of certitude, because we all do. As long as their colors are consistant over time, which Cytowic says all synesthetc experiences always are, then the person can integrate them seemlessly with the other senses and they become of great practical use.
  25. Aug 16, 2006 #24


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    I don't know if it will be any good, but ABC's Primetime: Medical Mysteries tonight is supposed to include a bit about synesthesia if anyone is interested in seeing more about it. It's on at 10 pm EDT. Check your local TV listings (I know, it's short notice, I just found out the channel and time...someone else mentioned it to me today, but I didn't catch details of which show it was though I thought of this thread to share it with everyone).
  26. Aug 16, 2006 #25
    From interview with daughter (age 17 at time) that claims synesthesia ( was very surprised that everyone does not view things this way when I asked her about the topic): #0= white, #1 = black, #2 = orange, #3 = yellow, #4 =type of green, #5=type of green, #6= red, #7 = blue, #8 = brown, # 9 = purple. Thus using [roygbiv] we get number sequence related to wave frequency [6,2,3,4-5,7,9]. She claims these colors for shapes rectangle = green, heart = purple, small cloud = brown, vortex = black, square = red, triangle = yellow, circle = blue. Finally, she claims that all keys on the piano "produce a different color of light" as she plays. It has been suggested that folks with synesthesia effects have perception that bypass the limbic system and thus interacts directly with cortex unfiltered (e.g. area of consciousness). Since limbic system is where we filter perception, and thus where we give value, purpose, desire, etc. perhaps one can say that those with synesthesia are more "objective" in their view of reality than the rest of us--just a thought--interesting subject. Recall that limbic system is first evolved with the mammals, thus perhaps all priori species (birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, etc) all show synesthesia abilities--does anyone conduct such research--the synesthesia of animals ?
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