Not long ago, I realized that not everyone sees letters and numbers in color, and that this phenomenon of seeing colors has a name: synesthesia (or synaesthesia). The term refers generally to a coupling of two or more senses, and supposedly it is a neurological condition that runs in families. I have the most common form, called grapheme, or color synesthesia.
Recently, my daughter and I were browsing in a book store, and I encountered a book for ~10-13 year olds about a girl with synesthesia. I was intrigued by this book until I read the plot synopsis, and then later read some online summaries and reviews of it. The synesthetic girl in the book (A Mango-Shaped Space/Wendy Mass) is ashamed that she has color synesthesia, and keeps it a secret after a humiliating episode at school. Apparently, math and foreign languages make no sense to her because of her synesthesia.
That makes no sense to me. Seeing letters and numbers in colors makes me have irrational likes and dislikes of particular words and numbers depending on how the colors of their various components look together, but if anything, it helps with language and some basic math skills by providing additional visual information. As a kid, spelling and vocabulary came easily to me, I think in part because I could see the letters/words in color. Each letter and number has its own distinct color, by the way. For example, to me, "s" is always a particular shade of green, and this helps me see/remember words no matter what the language. Perhaps this phenomenon also contributes to my fondness for writing, as it adds to the aesthetic effect.
Because I was annoyed that the book about the synesthetic girl treated synesthesia as an embarrassing disorder, we didn't get the book, even though I'm sure it has a happy ending. I have read that some synesthetics have the condition so intensely that the effects can be dizzying and confusing, and perhaps that is what the book is about. It seems a bit extreme, however, to compare synesthesia with obsessive-compulsive disorder (as one review did). Fortunately for me, color synthesthia makes many words and numbers beautiful (except when a "u" is next to an "a"..).
6 months ago