Monday, December 20, 2010

Medical Mondays: Psychedelic Synesthesia

Hey guys! Today's post is thanks to The Golden Eagle who had asked earlier if the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome was related to synesthesia.

Short answer, no.


Long answer? Hold on to your seats!

Synesthesia ("syn"=together; "esthesia"=sensation) occurs with the one sensory or mental experience triggers another mental or sensory experience. It happens involuntarily and is immediate. These things aren't purposefully imagined.

Examples: A person may
  • Think of the letter R and see the color green.
  • Think of the number 10 and sense a personality
  • See a certain object and hear a sound in response
  • See the days of the week and feel it in 3-D
So here's my confession. That last example? It's mine. All my life, I have experienced the days of week as this 3-D elliptical band. Even if I think of today (Sunday, as I write this) I feel as if I'm in that loop and seeing M-F from right to left, curving out in front of me.

I do the same thing with the calendar months. December and January are in the back of the loop. The spring and fall months are very shortened and compressed compared to summer and winter months.

Apparently, about 1 in 23 people have some type of naturally occurring synesthesia.

Synesthesia can also happen after a stroke, during a temporal lobe seizure, or using psychedelic drugs.

Synthesesia in art and literature include:
  • Kandinsky (he was a true "synthesete")
  • Georgia O'Keefe, who occasionally used synthesthia as a subject of her paintings, though not a synthesete herself.
  • Nabokov's The Gift
  • Julia Glass's The Whole World Over
I don't know who'll fess up, (and of course, no pressure) but possibly two of the people who comment on this post will have some sort of synesthesia too.

Cool!

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice (see sidebar disclaimer).

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.
Also, don't forget to check out Mental Health Mondays at Laura's Blog!

45 comments:

KatieO said...

I've never heard of this - but now I feel compelled to fit it into a novel somehow!
Thanks for the cool info!
Happy Holidays!

Lynn said...

Another book on synethesia is A Rhinestone Button by Gail Anderson-Dagartz. The main character sees colours even when vacuuming! I've never heard of seeing the week in 3D. You're extra special Lydia!

Angela Felsted said...

I know a girl with autism who sees the days of the week in colors. I don't know if that is anything like what you're talking about. The 3-D thing sounds a lot more interesting and totally cool.

Misha said...

A friend of my family sees colors when she hears names.

Apparently, my name is a bluish-purple color.

I think it would be a great way to remember names. If she forgets a name, she just keeps thinking until she hits on the right color.

:-)

Carol Kilgore said...

Fascinating. I've heard of this before, but forgotten what it was called. It's cool how you see the weeks and months.

storyqueen said...

I do the months of the year thing, too!

Uh-oh.

Shelley

notesfromnadir said...

If I'm to go by your synesthesia chart, you show a marked preference for Saturday & Sunday as they take up a good portion of your band!

Munk Davis said...

Is synethesia associated with hearing music everywhere you go?

ciaraknight said...

I've never heard of Synethesia. I love both, you and Laura's Monday posts. I learn so much every week. Thanks for sharing this.
Happy Holidays!!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I didn't know anything about this, but I like the concept and it's interesting possibilities for story ideas.

Paul C said...

I smell freshly cut grass and I imagine a barn with a hay mow from my youth? Maybe this doesn't qualify but your explanation is so clear with specific examples. You make a wonderful teacher.

Meredith said...

I never knew about this before! I don't think I have any of the traits, but it's such an interesting concept. I love Georgia O'Keefe!

cleemckenzie said...

Synesthesia is fascinating. I don't have it, but it must be an exciting visual experience.

I just heard about another mental recall that is amazing. I can't remember the name (obviously my recall is limited) but people who have it can remember every date, event, details of their lives from perhaps 10 on. Scientists are studying them and have already found significant differences between what is usual in the human brain and what they're finding in those with such complete recollection.

M Pax said...

How very interesting. I need to jot this down for future story fodder, too.

Ed Pilolla said...

intriguing. i have to imagine that so many people, certainly including myself, are totally unaware of this condition within us. it's almost like a conditioned response.

Krispy said...

Your synesthesia is cool! I remember learning about this in my Drugs and the Brain class in college and thinking it was cool then. :) We read a passage from something by Nabokov, I think something that suggests his mother might've had synesthesia too - the colors associated with letters kind.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Interesting! I think this topic is going to rattle around in my head for a while.

Sarah said...

I just learned about this about a month ago and completely freaked out. I've always thought that the way I perceived letters, numbers, and various words as having personalities was just a bizarre quirk. I also didn't connect it with the way that I saw months and weekdays as having physical locations in space or why an inanimate object will have a strange hold over me or seem to possess a personality. I can't go driving anywhere without seeing faces in all the other cars and ascribing them with various characteristics and values.

Learning about synesthesia was a pretty insane experience. All these random perceptions can suddenly be attributed to something beyond my own oddity.

Sorry, I'm talking about myself a lot, but I guess I'm still in the "discovery and awe" stage.

Olga said...

I have to say that colors have their tunes. It is true.

Sweet Virginia Breeze said...

I never heard of this before. Very interesting!

Renae said...

I've never heard of this...I just love your medical Mondays!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Lydia...I had never heard of this. Sounds very interesting. Thanks for another great post packed with information.

Can you believe it, I look forward to the monday posts, to see what have you got in store for us?!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Oops.. forgot to tell you that I am petrified of reading about illness and disease, but I like to read it on your blog. Can't figure out why?

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, I'd never heard of this before. Cool stuff (I guess unless you have it).

Faith said...

Interesting how you see days of the week! I see them as calendar blocks, and when I have something happening during the day (an evening class, or a morning meeting, etc), part of the block gets colored in (blue, actually). The rest of the day stays white. Is that the same thing? I've often wondered how other people see days of the week...

I also decide what to eat depending on how the food tastes when I think about it. I sort-of 'taste it' in my mouth (like if I'm trying to decide between a pizza, or a sandwich) and whichever is more appealing at the moment, I'll eat. Sometimes the 'taste' is revolting at the time and I don't want to eat that particular item. But at the same time, I think it might be a taste memory I'm drawing on, rather than a real physical sensation on my tongue. I actually don't know... and I'm not sure if this is considered synesthesia since the two things are related (food & its taste).

Er... anyway, that's enough about me...

Karen Lange said...

This is interesting; I haven't heard of this. You always have such gems to share with us! You never know when this will come in handy for our writing...thanks so much.
Have a wonderful week,
Karen :)

Christine Danek said...

I've heard of this. It's very interesting. Thanks for this post. It could lead to an idea.
Have a wonderful holiday!

The Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for answering my question, Lydia! Ah, so it's not related to Alice in Wonderland Syndrome . . .

I think of days of the week like that as well, although they're actually color-coded in my mind. :)

lbdiamond said...

Haha, yup, I see the calendar year as a rectangle. We're at the bottom now. The good news, the only way is up!

Emy Shin said...

This post is so awesome! I think synesthesia is very interesting, and totally didn't know that seeing months certain way (I also see it as a loop, but incomplete) is a form of synesthesia. Cool!

Susan Fields said...

That is so interesting - I've never heard of that before.

Clara said...

Thats so interesting! I remember I was so intrigued by Alice in Wonderland syndrome, and now this! I mean, its not cool, but most certainly interesting. I think there was a show in discovery that showed people who could taste sounds, and see tastes for example...pretty cool stuff!

Jonene Ficklin said...

Wow, that is so interesting. Do you like having it?

Thanks for all the interesting blogs! I love coming here.

Grigore Roman said...

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Thank you for visiting my blog and for all your comments, H A P P Y H O L I D A Y S to you and your Families,
M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S to EVERYONE ! ! !

Grace said...

This topic reminds me of the movie 'the Village'. The main character was a blind girl who had a color for everyone she knew. Emotions were represented with color also...fear was red, safety was yellow.

foldingfields said...

I have the same thing with days of the week and the calendar except that there's a black gap between Sunday and Monday on the band to make it more linear and it's life-size...like I'm standing right next to it. With the calendar, I can actually stand on the squares representing each month and, again, a big black gap between December and January. Weird.

Danny said...

I watched a special on this last night and started freaking out because I have had this my whole life and never knew there was a name for it. My months, days of the week, and my number line, as well as my timeline (years) are all in patterns. My months are all in an oval, days of the week are in a circle, and my number line is crazy twisted. My alphabet is in a pattern as well, but no colors are associated with each letter. Very cool that I can put a name to this now!

Max950 said...

I am in shock. This EXACTLY how I see the week, too. I just learned yesterday that there is a name for this phenomenon, but I assumed that we each had a unique way of conceptualizing these abstract notions of time and numbers. When I hit Google images and "my" week popped up - something that had only existed as a thought up to now -, I literally reeled back in my chair. How fascinating.

fairTrader said...

I have several physical-form type synesthias, including, like the previous poster, pretty much exactly the same week as yours. My year (months) also goes in a circle; numbers have a complicated spacial line, and years have one of their own which is related in some way to the the number line but is not identical. The interesting thing about the years one, is that it is very strongly locational, ie I feel that I am ON the point of the line for this year, and look backward to the past and forward to the future.

Raymond Klimek said...

this is exactly how is see the days of the week but saturday on sunday are at the bottom, and its less circular more boxy..

Kate McGinley said...

I see my days exactly like this. My months appear in a synesthetic way as well, will a curve shape. January is at the top left and is bends all the way down to December being at the bottom right. I was fascinated in discovering this trait in a cognitive neuroscience class!

Unknown said...

I have the same synesthesia as in the graphic. Different with numbers and Months.

Thanks for writing about it and sharing.

Fiona said...

I can occasionally see colours when thinking of letters, think of the number 10 and sense a personality, easily associate people with colours and I also see the alphabet, numbers and days of the week and feel them in 3-D. I thought this was common.

Jayne Watmough said...

This is just how I see it but from about thursday if I'm not thinking of a particular day. Mine is more of a block shape and it's grey unless I think of a particular day, which will have it's own colour. The weekend days are longer like yours though!

Debashish Samaddar said...

I chanced upon your blog searching for images for a week to illustrate my point! Haha, glad to see that I am not alone in how I see a week. Although, I see two weeks joined together and the weekends are where the ribbon bends sharply.

 
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