Tag Archive | Oliver Sacks

What Color is Your Eight? – On Synesthesia 1

The color of the number 8 is a purply violet-black but not a bright violet, more dull. It’s almost more of a vibration than a color. August is similar but darker, almost burnt and yet more radiant. The letters D and P are both green but D is pale sage while P is an intense forest green. Tuesday is a muted cerulean blue.

Regions thought to be cross-activated in graph...

Regions thought to be cross-activated in grapheme-color synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense evokes another, habitually and involuntarily. Some synesthetes sense different tastes with musical keys, feel “personalities” for different days of the week, or perceive months as having specific spatial locations (“November is two feet to the right”) but the most common form is color-grapheme synesthesia, where letters and numbers have immediate, unchanging color associations. This is the form of synesthesia I experience, as well as colors for months and days of the week that in some cases do, and in some don’t, relate to their letters or numbers.

In his bestselling Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks explores synesthesia, musical and otherwise. He describes psychologist Patrick Ehlen’s early experience of saying aloud to his first-grade class that he was “counting the colors until Friday,” to which the class burst out laughing.

One day in third grade, my class was talking about colors and feelings. The teacher asked everyone what color we thought anger was and everyone said “red.” Of course it was. Vowels and first letters set the tone for the word and A is a rich, deep red. Then she asked us what color sad was, and the rest of the class said “blue” as I started to say “red.” Sad has that deep red A and the S, a duller shade of red. Most people thought of being sad as “having the blues,” but for me it was as deep a red as melancholy. It was the first time I remember being conscious that others didn’t see these colors.

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This is an excerpt from “On Synesthesia,” a lyric essay I wrote about, you guessed it, synesthesia.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J

Next Up: Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

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