Saturday, November 10, 2007

What's black and white and red all over?

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy By David Hockney 1970

Years ago Vogue magazine did a story on a subject that has since fasinated me. Synestheisa is an altered perception in which printed words and numbers burst with color, flavors take on shapes and the spoken language turns into a mental rainbow. Synesthesia means "joined sensation," whereby a voice, for example, is not only heard but also seen, felt, or tasted. The trait is involuntary, hereditary, and fairly common.

For some people with synesthesia, say researchers, a newspaper is never black and white; it's red, orange, blue, beige, pink and green all over.

Little is known about synesthesia because many people won't admit it. Others, however, are surprised to learn that they are unusual, saying they thought everyone experienced the colorful world that they saw. Remarkably enough researchers believe at least one in two hundred people have some form of Synesthesia.

It's believed that synesthesia occurs because some parts of the brain that perceive color are very close to parts that process speech, language and music

The artist David Hockney, composer Leonard Bernstein, and Duke Ellington all had forms of synesthesia. Frank Lloyd Wright and Jimi Hendrix some believe may have synesthetes also.

Sabriye Tenberken of Braille without Borders had multiple synesthesia. "Tenberken had impaired vision almost from birth, but was able to make out faces and landscapes until she was 12. As a child in Germany, she had a particular predilection for colours, and loved painting, and when she was no longer able to decipher shapes and forms she could still use colours to identify objects. Tenberken has, indeed an intense synaesthesia. "'As far back as I can remember,' she writes, 'numbers and words have instantly triggered colours in me ... number four, for example [is] gold. Five is light green. Nine is vermillion... Days of week, as well as months, have their colours, too.' Her synaesthesia has persisted and been intensified, it seems, by her blindness"

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