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"Sometimes described as a blending of perceptions, synesthesia occurs when one of the five senses is aroused, yet two respond."



How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds

By Patricia Lynne Duffy

Foreword by Dr. Peter Grossenbacher,
National Institute of Mental Health


Blue Cats Cover

"Nature, so endlessly creative, has managed things so that each of us, hosts of synesthesia or not, perceives a slightly different world... a world colored by our one-of-a-kind pattern of neurons and experiences" -- Patricia Lynne Duffy

Excerpt from the book   

I was sixteen when I found out.  The year was 1968.  My father and I were in the kitchen, he, in his usual talk-spot by the pantry door, my sixteen year-old self in a chair by the window.  The two of us were reminiscing about the time I was a little girl, learning to write the letters of the alphabet.  We remembered that, under his guidance, I'd learned to write all of the letters very quickly except for the letter 'R'.                                 

"Until one day," I said to my father, "I realized that to make an 'R' all  I had to do was first write a 'P' and then draw a line down from  its loop.  And I was so surprised that I could turn a yellow letter  into an orange letter just by adding a line."

"Yellow letter? Orange Letter?" my father said. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you know," I said. "'P' is a yellow letter, but 'R' is an orange letter. You know - the colors of the letters."

"The colors of the letters?" my father said.

It had never come up in any conversation before.  I had never thought to mention it to anyone.  For as long as I could remember, each letter of the alphabet had a different color.  Each word had a different color too (generally,  the same color as the first letter) and so did each number.  The colors of letters, words and numbers were as intrinsic a part of them as their shapes, and like the shapes, the colors never changed. They appeared automatically whenever I saw or thought about letters or words, and I couldn't alter them.

I had taken it for granted that the whole world shared these perceptions with me, so my father's perplexed reaction was totally unexpected. From my point of view, I felt as if I'd made a statement as ordinary as "apples  are red" and "leaves are green" and had elicited a thoroughly bewildered response.  I didn't know then that seeing such things as yellow P's and orange R's, or green B's, purple 5's, brown Mondays and turquoise  Thursdays was unique to the one in two thousand persons like myself who were hosts to a quirky neurological phenomenon called synesthesia.  Later in my life, I would read about neuroscientists at NIH and Yale University  working to understand the phenomenon... But that day in the kitchen, my father and I, never having heard of synesthesia, both felt bewildered.  For me, it was one of those coming-of-age moments when I glimpsed that the world might not really be as I had grown up perceiving it.  It was a moment when that most basic of questions that binds human beings socially, "do you see what I see?" seemed to hang in a vacuum, independent of any shared context.

I suddenly felt marooned on my own private island of navy blue C's, dark brown D's, sparkling green 7's, and wine-colored v's.  What else did I see differently from the rest of the world?  I wondered.  What did the rest of the world see that I didn't?  It occurred to me that maybe every person in the world had some little oddity of perception they weren't aware of that put them on a private island, mysteriously separated from others.  I suddenly had the dizzying feeling that there might be as many of these private islands as there were people in the world.  

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