February 18, 2004

Synesthesia: Letters as Colors, Shapes as Tastes-- Without the Acid

This is strictly brain candy, but fascinating. "In his earlier research, Cytowic documented a number of startling cases, including such well-known figures as Russian novelist Valdimir Nabokov, who as a child complained to his mother that the colors of the letters on his wooden alphabet blocks were all wrong. She knew, because she also saw letters as colors, and they clearly were not the same as those on the blocks. "The condition, which is genetically transmitted, seems especially prevalent among highly talented and gifted persons. The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, who saw sounds as colors, even composed a symphony in 1910 that featured a colored light exhibit that he, no doubt, could see even without the lights. Other synesthetes, as they call themselves, include the poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud, painters Kandinsky and Klee, and the noted physicist Richard Feynman. "No one knows just how many people have the condition. Estimates range from one person out of every 300, to one out of every few thousand. The number is vague for obvious reasons. Some people learned early on not to talk about it out of fear of being regarded as odd. And those who have it tend to like it, so they don't feel a need to seek out medical help."


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