Shaped Sensations

[This was originally published in December of 2009, back when I kept up with a regular (and singular) blog. My posts on synesthesia are pretty much the only ones I’ve kept and decided to re-post elsewhere, because they are a nice documentation of my experience with the phenomenon.]

Ever since I started the synesthesia research and cataloging of my synesthetic experiences, I’ve begun paying closer attention to it all. What I’ve noticed is that, strangely, some things are not as I thought – and some things were present but I hadn’t even realized it.

A Quick Note on Changing Colors

Previously, I noted that my F was a light-ish blue and my K was yellow. Upon closer examination (namely, paying better attention to things), I’ve realized that my F is actually purple and my K is magenta/pink. I’m not sure why I had seen them otherwise previously, but I know that the purple and magenta are correct, and they have been my whole life. Strange.

Sensations As Colored Shapes

The other day I was talking with my friend about the band Nightwish. I was trying to explain to him why, for some reason, I don’t like the band’s music very much. On the surface, it seems like the music would be right up my alley. Orchestral, epic metal music with harmonic, operatic vocals. but for some reason it just gives me the heeby-jeebies. I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to the conclusion that its color/shape is just… wrong. The funny thing is that I reached this conclusion by noting the color/shape of a sensation I got from eating a certain food.

You know that spinach & artichoke dip with cream cheese and pine nuts and stuff in it? It’s tasty. But at the same time, it feels bad. This probably won’t make sense to nonsynesthetes, but basically when I eat that dip, it feels/tastes like a large white teardrop. This white teardrop is, for me, the epitome of uneasy. Anything at all that gives me the feeling of unease will undoubtedly resemble this white teardrop.

Nightwish? The music is usually a large white teardrop, only sitting on its side instead of upright like usual. It is outlined in a haze of pink, especially near the point. Pink is, for me, the epitome of pleasure. Anything that gives me a pleasurable sensation radiates in pink. So perhaps now you’re getting the picture. The epitome of unease tipped on its side, wrapped in a halo of pleasure. It’s just… uncomfortable. I NO LIKE!


What’s interesting is that even though I have been aware of synesthesia for a few years now, and have been actively cataloging my experiences, I still was not totally conscious of this part of it until yesterday. I’m going to start paying attention closer to the rest of my shapes!

An Explanation of my Spatial-Sequence Synesthesia

[This was originally published in January of 2009, back when I kept up with a regular (and singular) blog. My posts on synesthesia are pretty much the only ones I’ve kept and decided to re-post elsewhere, because they are a nice documentation of my experience with the phenomenon.]

In my spatial-sequence synesthesia, I see months of the year, days of the week, and hours of the day in circular sequences that occupy space.

Months of the Year

syn_ss_months1My year is a large circle around my head. The months run counter-clockwise, with January at the “top” slightly to the left of center. The months follow around the circle, until June and July are basically inside my head, then continuing around to the right until December meets January. Whenever I think of a month, I see it in its spot and its color. My calendar does not rotate. It is always the same no matter what month it currently is. If I think of a month, I can sort of move myself into it, but retain the dominance of the static calendar. I don’t know if this is making sense to anyone but me…

The idea of this circular spatial sequence is that the months are constantly flowing one into the other, in a constant, repetitive pattern. There is no break in the pattern, which is why my circle is so appropriate. Below I’ve drawn a couple of diagrams of my year, complete with each month’s color. The first one is as if you were standing behind me. The second is as if you were looking down at it from above my head.

Days of the Week

My week is similar to my hear in that it is circular and runs counter-clockwise. It is much smaller than my year, and sits in a space in front of me and slightly to the left. Sunday and Saturday and in the “back” of the circle, and the rest of the days are in the “front”. It also has less dimension/depth than the year does. Each day has a color as well. Just like my year, I can move myself into each day, but the week never changes its spatial sequence. Below I’ve drawn a diagram of the way I see my week, with each day in its color.


This is a very rough sketch of how I view the days of the week via my spatial-sequence synesthesia. It’s a circle, where Saturday and Sunday are farther away and Wednesday is closest to me. It’s really hard to depict this properly. The days are also colored based on how they are colored to me (via my grapheme-color synesthesia). This is not necessarily how the actual words look to me, just the DAYS.

Hours of the Day

syn_ss_clockThe hours in my day are slightly different from my year and week. My day is like an elongated oval, and sits vertically, as opposed to horizontally (like my year and week) in space. It is like a big oval that I could draw on the wall in front of me, and is about the same height as my body, but higher than me (it doesn’t start at my feet, but maybe my waist). It is also different in that it runs clockwise, but it is not exactly like a clock.

Midnight is at the top. 6:00 am is at the bottom. Noon is halfway through the left side. The chunks of time also have colors associated with them, but it’s mainly just the color of the sky during that time of day, so I don’t know that it counts in a synesthetic way.

An Explanation of My Grapheme-Color Synesthesia

[This was originally published in January of 2009, back when I kept up with a regular (and singular) blog. My posts on synesthesia are pretty much the only ones I’ve kept and decided to re-post elsewhere, because they are a nice documentation of my experience with the phenomenon.]

In my grapheme – color synesthesia, every letter has a specific color, although some are more distinct than others. When I look at words, I see every letter’s color, but they usually blend together and the word becomes the color of the combined letters, or the most prominent color of all the letters, or the color of the first letter in the word. Some words take on a color based on their meaning, while others’ colors can be different from their meanings.

The alphabet, as seen in my brain, with synesthetic colors and spatial placement.

The alphabet, as seen in my brain, with synesthetic colors and spatial placement.

For example, the word “yellow” is initially yellow. This might be because of its meaning, but also because three of its letters are yellow (Y and L), and O is a light orange. As the word’s initial color fades, however, I can see the underlying blues of the E and the W. The word “banana” however, is never yellow. It is always an orange-ish red, because B and N are orange, while A is red. Because of the repeating color sequence in this word (not to mention its fun alliterative quality), I really enjoy this word.

Whenever I hear audible speech, I see the words in my head. This is why it is essential for me to know how words are properly spelled (and pronounced), because it all is important to how I perceive them. I can’t know a word’s “true color” unless I know how it is properly spelled, and that frustrates me. (Similarly, I can’t know a word’s “true taste” unless I know how it is properly pronounced). When thinking of letters individually, they always have the same color, and I see them in their proper place along my alphabet line. Below I’ve made a little diagram of my letter sequence along with each letter’s color. (As an aside, all punctuation marks are black. That is not to say that they are colorless – they have a color: black.)

NOTE: Since this was originally written, my K has actually changed color from yellow to pinkish-magenta. Rare, but not unheard of for synesthetes.
The digits, in all their (my?) lovely colors.

The digits, in all their (my?) lovely colors.

Similarly, each number has a specific color. Each digit 0-9 has its own color, but when they are combined to form larger numbers, each digit retains its original color. So a string of digits, like 67521, does not have an overall color (like words do). I would still see the number as lightgreenorangebluemagentawhite. Because of this, some numbers are more beautiful to me than others. Since green is my favorite color, that may be why I have such an adoration of the number 3 and its multiples (even 6 is green, and 9 is a close neighbor – yellow). Numbers like 24, 56, and 99 are especially lovely to look at (although they don’t look nearly as pretty on the screen as they do in my brain). Perhaps that is also why I so enjoys patterns and palindromes in numbers. I also see my numbers along a sequence line. While not as complex and whirly as other synesthetes’ mine is still particular enough to count (I think).

Me and My Synesthesia

[This was originally published in January of 2009, back when I kept up with a regular (and singular) blog. My posts on synesthesia are pretty much the only ones I’ve kept and decided to re-post elsewhere, because they are a nice documentation of my experience with the phenomenon.]

Synesthesia (also spelled synæsthesia or synaesthesia, plural synesthesiae or synaesthesiae)—from the Ancient Greek σύν (syn), “together,” and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis), “sensation” — is a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been synesthetic, but I didn’t even know that what I had was unusual — or that it had a name — until a few years ago. Even in college when my eccentric Design teacher was telling us about synesthesia, it still didn’t register with me. I don’t even really remember anything she said about synesthesia; I just remember her trying to explain it and being very excited about it. Perhaps it was because she had a mystical idea of what it was — since she doesn’t have it. In any case… a few years after that, my dear friend Miss EC introduced me to what synesthesia really is, and I instantly related.

Grapheme → Color Synesthesia
In one of the most common forms of synesthesia, grapheme → color synesthesia, individual letters of the alphabet and numbers (collectively referred to as graphemes), are “shaded” or “tinged” with a color. While synesthetes do not, in general, report the same colors for all letters and numbers, studies of large numbers of synesthetes find that there are some commonalities across letters (e.g., A is likely to be red)

This has always been a part of me. I’ve never known letters or numbers without color. By extension, words are colored also. Days of the week also have a specific color and months of the year have a specific color (which may or may not correspond to the color of the actual word). I will go into more detail about this in my next blog post. For a good article about synesthesia, please go here: link.

Spatial-Sequence or Time-Space Synesthesia
One type of synesthesia studies is called spatial sequence synesthesia, in which synesthetes experience time units (such as weekdays or numberlines) in distinct spatial configurations.

Again, this has always been a part of me. I see the months of the year, days of the week, and hours in the day in a spatial, circular sequence in front of me. I see numbers along a specific line pattern, but it isn’t as complex as other synesthetes with number-lines. In addition, I also see letters of the alphabet along a specific sequence line that cascades in space. I will go into more detail about this in my next blog post. For an excellent article about spatial-sequence synesthesia, please go here: link.

Sound → Color Synesthesia
In sound → color synesthesia, individuals experience colors in response to tones or other aspects of sounds.

Music makes me see colors. Certain instruments are especially vibrant in my mind, and certain music more so than others. In addition, sounds and music often illicit specific touch sensations.

Lexical → Gustatory Synesthesia
In a rare form of synesthesia, lexical → gustatory synesthesia, individual words and phonemes of spoken language evoke the sensations of taste in the mouth.

I have this as well, but to a lesser extent. Not every word will illicit a specific flavor. But words do have a profound impact on my mouth. Some words taste and feel delicious in my mouth. Some words are too bitter to say. Some words are uncomfortable for my mouth to hold. Some works make me nauseous. It works whether I am speaking the word or hearing someone else speak it.

Referred itch (also known as Mitempfindung) is a phenomenon where scratching an itch on one part of the body produces an itching sensation on a different, apparently unrelated part of the body.

This is not a direct form of synesthesia, but some researchers feel that it may be related. It is not necessarily an itch, either, but just a touching of the stimulus creates a sensation of feeling in another part of the body. And yes, I have this, too. I didn’t even realize it was rare or unique until I was reading an article about it yesterday. I always just thought it was weird — but never ventured to ask anyone else if they experienced it too, because I didn’t want them to think I was crazy! Touching my fingers in a certain spot, for example, will induce a tickling sensation on my tongue, and it won’t stop until the stimulus is stopped. Similarly, it will also happen if you touch my arm or foot, I will feel it in a spot on my back.
For more information about mitempfindung, please go here: link.
For information about mitempfindung and how it relates to synesthesia, please go here: link.

I found an awesome battery of tests for syensthetes that was created by Dr. David Eagleman at Baylor. After taking these tests and answering questions about my synesthesia, it made me even more excited to research about it. It was really cool seeing all of my colors documented like that, and even more cool to get to actually visualize my spatial-sequence for the months of the year. If you’re a synesthete, you should check it out!

In an awesome twist of fate, I was able to hook up with Dr. Eagleman for some syensthesia research! :D

I’m Suspicious About Everything (Or How Appearances Impact Perception)


So basically, here’s the deal.

My cat has a weird, squishy lump on her leg that appeared last week (as far as I know). I decided I wanted to take her to the vet, at the very least to ease my mind about it. I didn’t want to go to the vet I’ve used in the past because she is expensive and always tries to talk me into a bunch of extra things.

I asked a co-worker (who had a pet-sitting business in my area for the past 5 years) what vets she would recommend. She gave me the name of a great one that was close to my home. So I made an appointment and took the cat in on Wednesday.

When the doctor came in the exam room, I was surprised to see that he was about my age (youngest vet I ever met) and didn’t appear especially “doctor-like”. He was dressed pretty casually (Chucks, t-shirt, etc.) under his white lab coat. Whatever, we got along well, he was nice, etc.

cat in a box

the cat in question

He felt the cat-lump and explained things like:

  • It’s near where a lumph node would be
  • But usually inflamed lymph nodes are hard, and this is squishy
  • Which means it seems more like just a “fatty benign tumor,” called a lypoma, and if that is the case,
  • It shouldn’t bother her unless it gets any larger
  • And if it does, we should remove it before it becomes a problem
  • Since it’s on my cat’s *only* back leg.

Cool. He said something like “Let’s stick a needle in there and draw some stuff out of it, and I’ll look at it under a microscope, just so we can be sure it’s just fat and there’s nothing else in there that could be dangerous.” Okay. (Yes, he spoke very casually, not all stiff and doctor-like.)

And here’s where things start to get… confusing…

A few minutes later he came back with the needle and an assistant and within moments, he was finished and (amazingly) the cat didn’t even flinch when the needle went in. He set his microscope slide on the exam table and squeezed the contents of the syringe onto the slide.

Then, I’m pretty sure he did it again, as if he didn’t get everything out of the syringe the first time. And I was looking at the slide and I just… didn’t see anything on it. I thought perhaps that the contents were just too small or transparent for me to see, or perhaps I was just standing too far away or my eyesight was failing me (which has been kind of a problem lately; I think I need new glasses). But still.

There was also a second slide, which I expected him to place on top of the first one to preserve the stuff on it or whatever, but he didn’t. And he proceeded to stand there for a moment or two more and talk about how he was going to look at it under the microscope, etc. before he finally left to go DO that stuff.

He and the assistant left the room, and we waited. A while later he came back and announced “It’s a lypoma!”

Then he thanked me, shook my hand, asked me how to pronounce my last name, and we parted ways.

OKAY, so…

Anyone else find the whole needle-and-slide thing a bit… odd? Or am I being suspicious for nothing?