Synthesthesia: Our Colors, Our Words
>A list of links to stories and studies of synesthesia.
"Synaesthesia, a strange condition in which people's senses somehow mingle, is as least 10 times more common than scientists thought. New surveys show that around one in every 2000 people hear words, letters and numbers as distinct colours. The results also show that the condition may be inherited." Current Work and Theory

"What is your earliest recollection of coloured hearing, and what was the experience like?
All 7 subjects reported that they had had synaesthesia for as long as they could remember, certainly as far back as 4 years. They all recalled the surprise of discovering that this was not the case for everyone. All subjects also reported that the colours evoked were automatic and unsuppressible, and said that they saw the colour vividly, 'inside' their head. This was also confirmed by the larger sample: all 212 gave this answer to this question." Coloured Speech Perception: Is Synaesthesia What Happens When Modularity Breaks Down?

""It's funny, its colour is just like its smell. It's like that green you sometimes see in the heart of a white rose. I had to see if it tasted like that..." - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge" Lawrence Gerstley's Home Page

"When touched in specific ways, I see colors. I always have. Often, the colors are seen bright and luminous: azures, greens, and blues against a black background as dark and rich as silk velvet.
The colors differ depending on what touches me. The bright piercing orange of the dentist's drill dissolves the black background and hurts my eyes.
The acupuncturist's needles cause colors along my legs, my arms: greens, reds, pinks and yellows. I can tell what points are connected to the other linked points by the colors." Carol Steen and her solo exhibition review

-- Andreas Liesche

"Synaesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts the centre of gravity of experience, so that we unlearn how to see, hear, and generally speaking, feel. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962)" International Synesthesia Association

"Scriabin composed a controversial and influential work, Prometheus in 1911, which calls for a clavier luminière (colour organ) in the score. It should be noted that he had experimented with synaesthetic markings in an earlier score for The Third Symphony in C major - "The Divine Poem", Op. 43. "Lumineux de plus en plus éclatant" (luminously and more and more flashing), is one of the markings at the end of the final movement.""Aleksandr Nikolayevich Scriabin

"syn-es-the-sia n. Physiol. Sensation produced at a point other than or remote from the point of stimulation, as of a color from hearing a certain sound (fr. Gk, syn = together + aisthesis = to perceive)."" The Synesthetic Experience

Is there a normal phase of synesthesia in development?

"When I see equations, I see the letters in colors -- I don't know why. As I'm talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde's book, with light-tan j's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students." Richard Feynman's synesthesia

The Synaesthesia Mailing List helps synesthetes worldwide discuss their experiences. To subscribe, send a message to Sean Day, the list administrator, at

"Since synaesthesia can be the crossing of two or more senses, there are a possible 31 different combinations of senses. Most synaesthetic combinations involve two senses only, however, leaving 10 different pairings. In addition, the connection is typically unidirectional, so that sound evokes colour, but colour does not evoke sound. Therefore, there are 20 potential forms of two sense synaesthesia possible. Bi-directional synaesthesia has been recorded, but is regarded as more rare than uni-directional." "Synaesthesia - A Unity of Senses

"Synesthetes, numbering perhaps 10 persons in a million, routinely taste shapes, see sounds or hear colors. The rest of us may filter out this part of our brain's attempt to reproduce reality. Cultural forums that promote synesthetic experiences may serve to quench an unconscious thirst for the unification of our normally fractured senses." Synesthesia Information Page"

"Tonecolor is a resource for those interested in the close connections between music and visual arts. Included are artist/musician listings and articles on tools and ideas regarding the audio/visual connection."" tonecolor- artists who are working on color music.

"Synesthetic Media about moving media synchronized with sound. It is multimedia, and through the ages is how humans have tried to communicate experience. We experience our broken senses as a unity, so synesthestic messages communicate best."' Synesthesia Media Connections

"This phenomena is particularly intriguing as it relates to current research on neurological networking/interaction as a critical tool in improving assessment, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for the brain damaged population. Efforts are progressing on how to build optimal environments in which dendrite regrowth/new networking is encouraged and enchanced. In this project we will utilize individual biosignals (heart, breathing, muscle movement, etc.) to create and drive a virtual reality environment of graphics, sound, etc. First, we acquire their heartbeat and then feed it back as a recognizable sound. Then, we switch signals (auditory to visual)." Synesthesia: Collaborative Biosignal Experience

"Visual Music Tone Painterª is a new art form which merges sound, light, and touch. This exciting program converts signals from synthesizers or other MIDI instruments into a visual display in real time - bringing music to life by allowing the user to paint with sound. Choosing from a palette of gorgeously colored geometric shapes ranging from simple circles, polygons, spirals and waves to more complex forms such as letter forms, three dimensional spinning cubes, epitrochoids, and lissajous curves, the player creates mandalas of light and sound."" Visual Music Tone Painter

The MIT Media Lab's synesthesia page which does not appear to be online at all times, whatever that means.

"The perceptual richness of words is for me not just pedantry. Each is unique, and saliently so. They all have different shapes and colors. And even though each letter of a word is colored differently, a word's color isn't simply made up of the colors of its component letters. The shades combine, bleed into each other, change slightly depending on their neighbors. A word's color is more influenced by the colors of its initial letters than the colors of its final letters. Speech researchers should not find this surprising: we have long known that the beginning of a word is more important than the end for storage and access."" This interactive demonstration simulates some aspects of synesthesia, specifically, colored letters. Nothing's quite the same as having it yourself, but the web and multimedia make close approximations possible.

"I came back from college on a semester break, and was sitting with my family around the dinner table, and -- I don't know why I said it -- but I said, "The number five is yellow." There was a pause, and my father said, "No, it's yellow-ochre." And my mother and my brother looked at us like, 'this is a new game, would you share the rules with us?'" Carol Steen talking about her synesthesia - text and optional sound files

"I was telling Carol that it's kind of like figuring out that you have a belly-button. You know, at some point you just notice, and start playing with it! [laughs] Then, for a while, you get *really* into it: "Wow, a belly-button! Ooh, this is cool!" And after a while you get bored with it, because, after all, it's still there, and then you realize everyone has one. Except that not everyone has synesthesia." Karen Chenuazky talking about her synesthesia - text and optional sound files

"Imagine a world of salty visions, purple odours, square tastes and green wavy symphonies. Although only ten people in a million experience the world in this manner - the result of a condition called synesthesia that has baffled scientists for over two centuries - neurologist Richard Cytowic demonstrates that by understanding the workings of this peculiar state we can gain surprising insights into how all human minds function."" Jocelyn's Page on "The Man Who Tasted Shapes"

"The name of the phenomenom is synesthesia or synaesthesia. It seems not to be a disease but a fusion of senses which occurs in about ten of every million people. All the sensations (sound, taste, shape) can be interested by this syndrome." CVNet - summary of responses on synesthesia

"A simple geometric shape (triangle, square, pentagon, etc.), called the Geometric Sound Mixer (GSM), is used to mix sounds. Timbre is represented as color within the GSM; the relative amount of each sound source is represented as a mix of colors, each one associated with a unique timber. A static representation of any dynamic sound mix (as it evolves over time) can be viewed on the Mix Time Line (see figure below), where relative moment-to-moment audio levels control the brightness as the sounds play in real time. Perceptually linear audio and color mixes are achieved using psychophysical functions. The result is an environment that allows for complex manipulations of sound in a highly simplified, structured environment." Kristinn R. Thorisson's Synthetic Synesthesia System

"Although medicine has known of synesthesia for three centuries, it keeps forgetting that it knows. After decades of neglect, a revival of inquiry is under way. Neuroscience is particularly curious because of what synesthesia might tell us about consciousness, the nature of reality, and the relationship between reason and emotion." Lists the kinds of synesthesia - idiopathic or acquired. Synesthesia

"Involuntary, but elicited. Synesthesia happens to people, and the stimulus that sets it off is easily identified. Projected--experienced not in the mind's eye but outside the body. The only common exception is in those in whom synesthesia consists only of colored letters and numbers. Durable--a given synesthete's associations remaining the same over a lifetime. Generic--radially symmetric, scintillating, or wavy shapes: agreeable or disagreeable tastes; elementary tactile sensations. Synesthesia is NEVER pictorial, elaborate, or a fully complete object. Memorable. While comments like, "she had a green name," are common, it is the sensation (green), and not the attached meaning (the name) that is vividly remembered for decades. Emotional and noetic--synesthetic experience is accompanied by a sense of certitude, or even a "eureka" feeling. They seem not just state of perception, but of knowledge." Diagnosis

"Some people say they "see red" when angry, or they talk about "sharp" cheese, "cool" jazz, or "loud" ties. But do you see pink triangles on hearing music, or feel yourself on a prickly bed of nails when eating cherry pie? Do ordinary words, names, and voices have specific colors, peculiar shapes--even distinctive flavors?" Synesthesia: Tasting Shapes, Hearing Colors [The Brain's Own Virtual Reality]