All posts tagged synesthesia

“Clock with one hand” by Rick Payette is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I don’t know about you, but when I was learning how to tell time, it didn’t help me to be told about the big hand and the little hand. I didn’t know what they meant. When they said the big hand was on the 10 and the little hand was on the 2, did they mean it was ten after ten, or ten to two? (Let’s not even talk about the fact that they weren’t really “on” those numbers anyway, merely close to them.) Was the big hand the long one or the wide one? Was the little hand the short one or the thin one? This wasn’t helped by the fact that, on the kitchen clock in our home, the total size of the hour hand and the minute hand appeared to be roughly the same. That is, the short, wide one and the long, narrow one appeared to cover the same area, making them the same size. Now I really didn’t know what to think.

I’m still glad I learned on an analog clock, though. The shape of it and the positions of the hands lent themselves to concrete visualizations of the time of day and where in the hour one was. I think it had a strong effect on the form taken by my temporo-spatial synesthesia, as I explain in that post. There may have been some confusion in the beginning, but it worked out in the end.

When I was teaching my son how to tell time, though, I made sure to refer to the hands as “long” and “short,” to save him the confusion.


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?



Synesthesia of the Day – Fran’s Synesthesia

All of the people in the Green Comet series have some degree of synesthesia. As a first approximation, effay, they are all strong synesthetes, with at least two types. I’ve already described Elgin’s synesthesia, the main part of it at least, and now I’ll talk about Fran’s synesthesia. Her most predominant one, anyway.

Humans (and other animals too, apparently) have some specialized brain cells called mirror neurons. Put simply, these neurons fire when a person does something, and when they watch someone doing the same thing. Their function is not yet definitively described, but it is hypothesized that they could be useful in learning tasks, and in the areas of learning about other people and their intentions. I mention this because Fran’s synesthesia can be broadly thought of as mirror synesthesia, and there is a known form called mirror-touch synesthesia. In this simple form, the synesthete who observes someone else being touched will feel as if they are being touched in the same way. As I conceive Fran’s synesthesia, it is much more pervasive and encompassing than simple touch. If someone else eats an iceberry, she can taste it. She feels what people are feeling. To an extent, she knows what they’re thinking. This empathy allows her to be a great leader, but it can also be overwhelming to feel everyone else’s pain. Everyone who knows her knows this, and it makes them love her even more.

Mirror-touch synesthesia is not adequate to describe Fran’s synesthesia. One could go through all the senses and add mirror-this and mirror-that, and it still wouldn’t be enough. It would leave out all the perceptions beyond the basic senses. So, to make sure I cover it all, I call Fran’s synesthesia mirror-everything synesthesia.


Credit Filipe-Simões

Credit Filipe-Simões

Synesthesia of the Day – Elgin’s Synesthesia

Elgin, like the other inhabitants of Green Comet, is a synesthete. I refer to that fact a few times during the novel, and in the sequel, Parasite Puppeteers. I don’t go into a lot of detail about the types of synesthesia the individual characters have, although I do imply that they each have at least two types. Given the rudimentary stage synesthesia research is at now, and even more so when I was writing it, I didn’t think it was wise to nail it down too precisely in the story. And given that the characters have multiple strong synesthesias, I doubt that the interactions and synergies among them would lend themselves to the tentative, simplistic classifications we’re developing now. However, given all that, I think I should offer my idea, the thing I’m thinking of when I imagine Elgin’s synesthetic perceptions.

Elgin’s most obvious synesthetic trait is the way he feels in his body when he sees an example of good engineering or construction. For instance, when Minder takes him out and he sees the new corridors and how well they’re made, he has the sensation of all his bones being properly aligned in his body. A very comforting sense of rightness. I haven’t found one type of synesthesia that fits this perfectly, but it is somewhere in the vision to touch, proprioception and kinetics area. He feels what he sees on many levels: simple touch, deeper orientation and subtle movement.

This goes beyond a simple integration of physical sensations. When he looks at an engineering paper and immediately knows if it’s right, the role of vision is taken by concepts and ideas. Inner visions. But the principle is the same. What he “sees” is experienced as “feeling.” The same applies to more general situations. As long as he has enough data, enough information, he can tell if something is right. Not in any moralistic sense of right or wrong, just whether it’s right. For instance, when Frances and Buzzard explain to him how Green Comet is in danger from the Visitor, he instantly knows that they’re right, because it feels right.

So, for lack of anything better, let’s call Elgin’s synesthesia Seeing-Feeling Synesthesia. This web page doesn’t address it perfectly, but it provides some good food for thought. And here’s a pretty good site for exploring the types of synesthesia.


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.