Synesthesia and the Synesthetic Experience

** Synesthete Perspectives - Carol **

Carol is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She has experienced synesthesia for as long as she can remember, perceiving colors in numbers, letters and when hearing certain sounds. Selected forms of touch like acupressure and acupuncture also lead to the perception of both colors and shapes. Carol has incorporated elements of what she sees synesthetically in both her past work, painting, and current endeavor, sculpture. (Selected examples of each can be seen on this page; click on each image for larger photos).
[Carol's colored letters]
Carol's synesthetic alphabet

These excerpts come from a conversation she had with Karen, a fellow synesthete, in May 1996. For a full sense of the power of this phemomenon, listen to the recordings in Carol's own voice.

"I came back from college on semester break..."

Audio Recording (777kB 8 bit/11kHz .au file)

I came back from college on a semester break, and was sitting with my family around the dinner table, and -- I don't know why I said it -- but I said, "The number five is yellow." There was a pause, and my father said, "No, it's yellow-ochre." And my mother and my brother looked at us like, 'this is a new game, would you share the rules with us?'

And I was dumbfounded. So I thought, "Well." At that time in my life I was having trouble deciding whether the number two was green and the number six blue, or just the other way around. And I said to my father, "Is the number two green?" and he said, "Yes, definitely. It's green." And then he took a long look at my mother and my brother and became very quiet.

Thirty years after that, he came to my loft in Manhattan and he said, "you know, the number four *is* red, and the number zero is white. And," he said, "the number nine is green." I said, "Well, I agree with you about the four and the zero, but nine is definitely not green!"

"With acupuncture, I experience color in layers"

Audio Recording (537kB 8 bit/11kHz .au file)

I wish I could find a synesthete who would explore acupuncture, just to see whether there is anything there. My acupuncturist told me that when the different meridian points were originally discovered, they were found by color. And I know that when she puts the needles in me that I immediately see color if physically I'm able to. Like, sometimes if I have a bad cold my whole system is down and it's like everything is black. But if I'm basically in good shape and just going for maintenance, then if she hits a particular point, I will see color. And I also see the color in layers. Like if the needle goes in to a particular depth, it's not the same color all the way down.

"Orange is my default color for pain"

Audio Recording (850kB 8 bit/11kHz .au file)

One example of synesthesia being distinctly unpleasant: I was at the dentist, and he was drilling. And I don't like the sound of the drill -- but the color orange that completely flooded my vision, I couldn't shut my eyes, because they were already shut! [laughs]

Except that I'm able to use it diagnostically. I had to have a root canal done once (not my favorite game) but you know, sometimes when you have a tooth pain you're not quite sure which tooth it is? He said, "I can't really say that you need a root canal in this tooth." I said, "This tooth is orange; please do it." And he hesitated. I said, "Look. If I'm wrong, this tooth will *never* need a root canal." So he went ahead and he did it.

He said -- he poked around a little bit -- "This tooth needs a root canal." He said, "It hasn't really become 'ripe' yet, but the nerve is dying." And sure enough, when the nerve was out, and the anesthesia had worn off, there was no more orange. It's like orange is my default color for pain.

Perspectives: [ Carol ] [ Karen ]

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