All posts tagged color

Carol Steen / American Synesthesia Association

Synesthesia of the Day – Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia

Temporo-Spatial Synesthesia, also known as Time-Space Synesthesia, mixes the senses of space and time. People with this form of synesthesia see time as having a visible form. When thinking about the year, they might see it as a circle wrapped around them. A week or a month might be a sequence of rectangles laid out in a consistent pattern. A day is often a circle. Whatever form it takes for them, it does so consistently. For some, in addition to the shape, different parts can have different colors.

Credit Dankonikolic – CC-BY-SA – tap for larger

For as long as I can remember my year has been egg-shaped, with the pointy end centered on the last week in December and the broad end comprising the summer, particularly July and August. I know that makes the oval asymmetrical, with the spring side being longer than the autumn side, but that’s my egg. Depending on where I am looking in the year, I might see the months stretching out ahead and curving to the right, or behind and curving to the left. The winter end is darker and the summer lighter. The spring side is greener and bluer, while autumn is yellower and redder. There are many more details that show themselves under closer looking, and everything looks different depending on where on the year I am. I did not know that this was a form of synesthesia. If I had thought about it, I would have assumed that it was the same for everyone. Neither of these images looks like my year.

My months are graduated segments of the track of my year. My weeks are straight pieces with humps for the weekends. They can be parts of a month, or they can be isolated. My days are two twelve hour circles, bright or dark depending on the time. It seems obvious that these shapes are the result of how time was depicted in the culture I grew up in. I’m glad I grew up with analog clocks.-)

Here are a couple of links. This one is by a woman who tells a story clearly and well. This one is for people who like and understand phrases like projector-associator distinction and visual salience.

Does your year have a shape?


Credit Jari Luomaner

Credit Jari Luomaner

Cloud of the Day – Diamond Dust

It is really hard to find good pictures of diamond dust, so I’m going to have to just describe it to you. Diamond dust is a colloquial name given to ice crystals when they are close enough to the ground that they can be seen individually. Ice crystals are also involved in other optical meteorological phenomena, such as halos and sun dogs, but there they are seen in aggregate.

Ice crystals - dave 3457 - Public Domain

Ice crystals – dave 3457 – Public Domain

In diamond dust you are right among them and you can see them separately. Follow the links for the detailed explanation, a picture and a video. As an illustration of being within the phenomenon, the photographer describes how he moved his arm and stirred the thing he was photographing. Now get ready for the mental pictures.

Imagine you are standing in the middle of a snowy field. It’s thirty below, perfectly calm and brilliantly sunny. You have your parka on but it’s partly open and the hood is thrown back. With no wind and the Sun shining, the walk out here has warmed you up. It’s good walking though; the snow has a good crust. Looking at it, you can see that it’s sparkling like mad.

Raising your eyes to the dark trees at the edge of the field, you become aware of glittering and twinkling in the air. Your eyes dart around, trying to catch the colorful flashes of light. You feel combined joy and disappointment, being there for such a magical display, but knowing it can’t be caught and held.

You hold out your arm and within seconds you catch your first flash of light on the dark fabric. Since the surface of your parka has cooled down enough, they don’t melt right away and they are able to accumulate. Soon you have a random scattering of sparkles that shift and change as you move your arm.

Now you look up and you can see that the sky above you is filled with points of light and color, brief flashes that make you hold your breath as you try to take it all in. You see why it’s called diamond dust, because it looks as if tiny diamonds are sifting down out of a clear blue sky. You just want to stand there all day, head thrown back, filling your eyes with this ephemeral beauty, while an occasional bit of glitter gets caught in your eyelashes.

Walking back home, the snow crunching under your boots, you know that this bright, beautiful clarity will become a cherished memory.


Credit Michael Maggs - CC-BY-SA

Credit Michael Maggs – CC-BY-SA

Synesthesia of the Day – Orgasm – Color

Since synesthesia (my first post on synesthesia) is a major element in the Green Comet series of novels, I thought it would be a good idea to write a series of posts about synesthesia. What better way to start than with orgasm – color synesthesia? Color because it is the best known and probably most common synesthetic effect, and orgasm because, well, orgasm.

Where to start was actually a problem, and not because there is a lack of choice. When I went looking for a definitive list of the types of synesthesia, I couldn’t find one. I found references with a few examples, and others with graphs and tables, but none with a straightforward, well organized list. Another problem was the lack of standardized naming. For instance, the first example of synesthesia that most people learn about is where the letters of the alphabet have their own distinctive colors. So, that would be letter – color synesthesia, right? Well, it turns out that numbers have their own colors, too. So now it’s grapheme – color. And combinations of letters or numbers have theirs. And words. And parts of words. And the sounds of parts of words. Once we begin finding them, we don’t seem to be able to stop. It reminds me of the fundamental particle problem, where every time theory predicted one, it was only a matter of time before experiment confirmed it. That was a burgeoning mess until the quark model simplified it by making all the particles just combinations of a few quarks. Synesthesia is at that point now. Every time we think of a new possible form of it, someone finds it. Synesthesia needs its quark model, to tame this mad proliferation. I won’t be presenting that theory. I’m not that smart. So for this series of blogs I’ll be picking from the large, and growing, list of types of synesthesia that I have been able to compile. Beginning with orgasm – color.

The descriptions of the colors experienced leading up to and during orgasm seem like a cliche. Like the scenes of bursting fireworks that the family-oriented movie will cut to at the crucial moment. It turns out that the euphemism probably has a basis in fact. “… colours of increasing intensity.” Walls bursting with, “ring-like structures … in bluish-violet tones.” So it seems that a lot of what we assumed were just metaphors for an indescribable experience are, in some cases at least, descriptions of real sensations.

More women than men experience synesthesia. The ratio persists for experiencing orgasm – color synesthesia.


An unknown percentage of women can see a hundred times as many colors as the rest of us. While normal humans have three types of cones in their eyes for perceiving the three primary colors — red, green and blue — some women have an extra cone that gives them four primary colors. Most of us can theoretically distinguish a million colors. These women can see a hundred million colors.

Tetrachromatic women have a strong relationship to color-blind men. How does a deficiency — color-blindness — relate to this increased color perception? It has to do with the X chromosome and the fact that the genes for color perception reside on the two sides of it. With only a Y chromosome, and missing one of the arms of the X chromosome, men have less chance for redundancy. If they have a mutation in a color gene it usually means some loss of color perception. Women related to these men will likely have the same mutation, but they will have redundant genes on the second arm of their X chromosome. So the men will be down to two functioning cones, but the women will still have all three, plus the mutated one, which might still provide some color.

More recent research indicates that we might all be tetrachromatic after all. It turns out that parts of our optical system absorb the shortest wavelengths of the light that passes through them. It was assumed that our vision cut off at about 400 nanometers — blue — but it’s been discovered that the higher blues and the ultraviolets are being absorbed by our corneas and lenses. People who have their lenses removed in cataract surgery often report a new sensitivity to very short wavelengths.

Recently the BBC made a tetrachromatic woman famous. Concetta Antico is an artist and she can see colors that most of us can’t even imagine.

Some women are born with hyper-sensitive eyes that can see the world in ways most of us cannot even imagine. What’s it like to live with this gift?

Source: BBC – Future – ‘I see colours you cannot perceive or imagine’

This led to an Internet spasm, of course, and tetrachromacy became all the rage. There were even websites set up that purported to test you for the condition. Soon thousands were reporting on their social networks that they were tetrachromats. Fortunately, Snopes came to the rescue and showed quite simply why they were wrong. Computer monitors only use three colors so they can’t possibly test you for four. The Snopes article refers to Newcastle University’s tetrachromacy research project and credits them in debunking the Internet fad. Newcastle University has a FAQ on their research.

When I look out the window and see all the shades of green and brown in my back lawn, it’s hard to imagine that I’m not seeing it all. Learning that some people can see a hundred times as many shades makes me think about how little of reality I’m really seeing.


Photo credit - gquiroga - cc-by-sa

Photo credit – gquiroga – cc-by-sa

Cloud of the Day – Irisation

A close relative of corona is irisation. Both are caused by interference among light waves diffracted by cloud particles. Since different wavelengths of light are scattered at different angles, they interfere with themselves at different distances from the light source. This causes the colors to be separated out, creating the beautiful iridescent irisation. The differential scattering of wavelengths, shorter being more easily scattered, also leads to blue skies, as much of the short wavelength blue in sunlight is scattered, and red sunsets, as more long wavelength red light makes it through.

Irisation is the name of the meteorological phenomenon, and it’s caused by iridescence. Both words have their root in the Greek word iris, or rainbow, derived from the Greek god(dess) of the rainbow: Iris. Iridescence can be found in soap bubbles, bird feathers and seashells. In the case of irisation, it’s found in the clouds.

Image credit - hermitage museum - public domain

Image credit – hermitage museum – public domain

Photo credit - Tagishsimon - cc-by-sa

Photo credit – Tagishsimon – cc-by-sa

Photo credit - Jörg Hempel - cc-by-sa

Photo credit – Jörg Hempel – cc-by-sa

Since it occurs so close to the Sun, irisation is often lost in the glare. You can improve your chances of seeing it by wearing sunglasses, or by physically blocking out the Sun. It occurs in many different types of clouds, generally in the middle and high etages. Any time you see bright white clouds close to the Sun, you have a good chance of seeing it.

Photo credit - Fir0002 - Flagstaffotos - cc-by-nc

Photo credit – Fir0002 – Flagstaffotos – cc-by-nc

And one from Petr Hykš, as kindly offered in the comments below.

Credit Petr Petr Hykš – cc-by-nc

Irisation is not reliably predictive of weather.

Note: All pictures link to their larger originals.