Sunday, August 24, 2014

Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is my friend. It's been walking my walk for fifty-odd years, and I am entirely delighted with the relationship.
 
Here's what I had to say on the subject when discussing intuition:
 
There's also synaesthesia, which I have - where two senses relate to each other (non-synaesthetes would say they get mixed up with each other). I believe these relate very closely to intuitive senses, possibly using the same areas of the cerebral cortex.

I have two forms of it. Firstly, when I taste acid tastes they taste "cold" (a temperature) all the time, even when piping-hot out of an oven or covered in chilli or both. And when I taste alkali tastes, they taste "warm" - creamy vanilla ice cream is just such an example. Also, this overlaps into smell: perfumes I would call "warm" are what perfumers call "base notes", perfumes I call "cold" are what perfumers call "top notes", and I'll bet that has to do with their pH levels again.

My other form of it relates not to all sounds but only to music, and not to all music but only to classical orchestral music (it doesn't work on classical piano music for example). I see colours and patterns and webs and grids that relate not to the individual notes of the music, but its tone, mood, emotional response. These are as real as seeing the musicians' bodies.

I was completely thrown once when I went on a school excursion as a very young thing who had been to a few orchestral concerts and thought that everyone experienced music the same way I did: as a part of the "learning", the orchestra played and some older kids threw coloured paints onto a canvas at the same time. The music was light, bright and airy, full of golds and yellows, but the kids kept using deep blues, reds and blacks. I couldn't understand it at all. I whispered to the kid next to me that they needed more yellow, and she mocked me to other kids later. It was only then, that I knew my experience of music was mine alone.
 
You know what? Being a synaesthete has its advantages. I can't even imagine how much less beautiful orchestral music would be if it didn't have a visual component, even though other forms of music don't have a visual component and can be exquisitely beautiful. And some composers have a fingerprint look to me, over all of their work - not all composers, just a minority. Two that I can think of now, are Papa Bach, with ornamental, finely detailed filigree goldwork and filigree copperwork, and Ralph Vaughn-Williams, with his forest greens and velvet textures. Other people, the Ravels, the Mozarts, the Leifs, the Brahmses, the Bartoks and the Schuberts, their work changes in its visual aspect with every change of mood and motif.
 
And the smell/taste thing is a blessing in my life, too. I have an inborn preference for "warm" tastes - but they tend to be calorie-rich foods that with my body-shape I need to be a little careful of. I still like and eat cold foods (hot or cold, they all taste cold) which tend to be leaner foods, but I am programmed to enjoy the heavier foods and the warmer scents.
 
The local bus company uses an "air freshener" in its air conditioning units. Most of the time it is unnoticeable, but when the units have recently been serviced, it's quite strong. And very acid, very cold. It probably has pretty, floral smells attached to it, but for me they are completely overwhelmed.
 
When you eat food, it descends into your stomach, where it is bathed in acid. If your digestive system is operating normally, it will gradually become more alkaline as it passes through the intestine. The smell of healthy human faeces, to me, is a warm smell. Unpleasant, yes, but warm. But when someone is ill and has diarrhoea, it doesn't hang around in the gut long enough to be alkalised, and it comes out still smelling cold, acidic. The basic components of that air freshener used in that company's air conditioners, is, sadly, exactly the same degree of coldness as diarrhoea, and so it reminds me of that every time, and I barely notice the other scents it's been combined with.
 
And I suppose even that is of some benefit to me: I can tell immediately when the air conditioning units in local buses have been serviced, which indicates to me that the company is probably taking care of other maintenance requirements! I would never, ever change how my senses of taste and smell operate as temperature indicators of pH levels. And I would never want orchestral music stripped of its visual component. Neither of these things give me practical, useful skills that I can turn to making money or passing exams, but they do add immeasurably to my quality of life, and I would never want that to change.

4 comments:

  1. I cam across your blog whilst perusing the blogosphere as you do :) I just wanted to say I experienced mild synaesthesia ( or what I believe it to be) after an operation on my back a few years ago. It slowly went away.
    I put it down to the anesthetic but the Dr's would have none of it. Anyway......I read your post with great interest, thanks.

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  2. I', pleased you responded to the post - what form did you have? Did you miss it when it faded?

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