I just read this article in Smithsonian Magazine on synesthesia. This is a phenomenon of which I was not previously aware, wherein one experiences multiple sensory input to a single stimulus. For example, one lady mentioned in the article always sees the letter “T” as blue. It’s not blue on the printed page, but blue in her mind, and people whose names begin with a T are blue as well. Another lady sees blue when tasting salt.

I was able to find a couple of references on the web, but nothing major. Mostly just single papers. Does anyone out there happen to know any more about this? Anyone a synesthete themselves?

In short, my general question: tell me more about synesthesia.



We had a thread about synesthesia a while back–tiny cow was particularly helpful, but I haven’t seen her around in a while. There were also some interesting links in that thread.

Using the search feature on “synesthesia”, any date, all open forums will turn up several more threads in which it was discussed.


Check out The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard E. Cytowic (1998). Interesting and quite enjoyable book on the subject of synesthesia.

I’m one of those “fives are yellow” folks (except they’re not yellow, they’re blue). I read the thread Balance referred to with interest and wanted to reply, but I figured it was too old by that point.

My version of synesthesia is one of the most common–ever since I can remember, I’ve associated letters and numbers with particular colors, and when I see words in my head, those colors affect the way I perceive the word. Some letters, like most vowels (except A’s, which are bright red and tend to dominate words) are fairly low-key, but other letters and numbers are very strongly colored and will dominate the word. For instance, the word “Cecil” to me is mostly yellow, because C’s are bright yellow, while E’s are tan and I’s are kind of whitish, so they fade into the background. The L is a medium purple, but gets lost in the brightness of the yellow.

Strangely, I married a synthesthete and neither of us knew it until years later–he sees colors and patterns when he hears music, and can describe songs in terms of what the “look” like. He says if he was an artist he could paint a song.

Dammit, I ran the search engine. But I only searched for it in the thread title, which apparently made all the difference. And I was away from the internet for a about month around that time, which would be why I missed it in the flesh. Ah, well. Thanks for the link Balance.

eponymous, thanks for the book tip. Any chance you’re aware of any web resources? I’m a bit removed from a bookstore at the moment.

And, of course, winterhawk, I’ve got to ask. If it’s not imposing, what does “ellis” look like? (sorry if that’s not a general question mods). Also, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you find out that other’s don’t “see” the same things? It seems kind of like the debate about whether two people perceive what they both call “red” as the same thing.

thanks again


ellis, your name is dominated by browns and purples (“e” being tan and “l” being purple). Oddly, despite the fact that “s” is normally a very strong color in my mind (blue), it fades out in your name, probably because it’s last. That happens a lot.

As for finding out about others, I’ve asked a bunch of people about it (frankly, I thought everybody did it, and was surprised to find out they didn’t–I was also thrilled to find out my weirdness has a name!) and only a couple have understood what I meant by the question. I remember seeing in one of the links posted here that a scientist doing a study on synesthesia was looking for an assistant. He told a friend about it and she asked what synesthesia was. He told her it was “people who think fives are green.” She said, “no they’re not, they’re blue.” She got the job. It’s like that–I think people who have it know they have it when they are asked (even if they don’t know what to call it, they know what it’s like) while those who don’t have to have the concept explained to them first. I hope this helps and isn’t more confusing. :slight_smile:

Wow! I’d forgotten all about this. When I was a kid I had very definite ideas about what color letters and numbers were. I’d pester my mother with questions like, “what color is nine to you?” Names and words were less clear, but some had very distinct colors. Even now when I think about it 8 is very dark purple or black (perhgaps because of the eight-ball in pool), 1 is white, 7 is yellow… Maybe I’ll start thinking in those terma again.

Craziness (not in the prejoritive sense of the word of course; as in, “wow, I wish my brain did that”). Thanks, winterhawk. I’m off to read some links. I’ll post again if I accumulate more questions.


I have a mild form of this. I also have a very good visual memory for non-visual things–what some people like to refer to as photographic memory. I think that synesthesia is one of the reasons I can remember things so well. I can remember the actual colors/characteristics of each letter of the word I am trying to recall so I can just spell it out in my mind when I need to. Not as in depth as tiny cow but still rather useful.

Does anyone know if closing your eyes and seeing sounds in colors is normal or synesthesia?