I read a really interesting article on synaesthesia a couple of days ago. I knew of its existence but didn’t know what it was called. Anyway, one Holly Baxter came clean about her ability to to have responses to things above and beyond the ordinary.
For her, Thursdays are dark blue, Saturdays are yellow. Some words have textures. The names Kirsty and Audrey have a texture like folded curtains, fortitude comes with an iron texture, and enlightenment is like the filling of a magenta Aero bar.
As I say, I was aware of the condition. It’s found to some extent in about 1% of the population, and guess what? I’m one of them. Not to a huge degree, but it’s there.
For me the numeral 4 is always blue. I don’t know why, it just is. If I see it in, say, red, I feel a bit disorientated. It’s just wrong.
The word blue is a bit of an anomaly, too. I find it a relaxing colour, but the word itself is spiky, like a medieval morning star. On the other hand, the word round is a pleasing golden colour.
There are several theories about how the condition may come about. One is ‘disinhibited feedback.’ We’ve got so much information pouring in we make continuous assessments of what we getting, and filter out the bits that aren’t germane at the time. We’ve learned to concentrate on the important things, which is why when you finish a task you notice the clatter of banging of the pipework you’ve successfully been screening out. Synaesthesia may reflect a lower ability to screen.
Another theory is the one that led to the headline. We synaesthetes may have too many neural connections in the brain; we’re wired up a bit oddly. The areas in the brain that process colour and words are very close together, and links between the areas grow as the brain develops. Then the usual pruning of redundant developmental connections doesn’t happen. Hence, possibly, grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which apparently is the most common form. Common just about sums me up.
Now the good news. It seems that synaesthetes are often creative. That could mean, of course, that we’re bloody good at fibbing.
Oh and less usefully, we can spot alliteration in the written word. It pops straight out and hits us on the head.
Stephen King is probably a synaesthete; he hates alliteration.