Joye chose synasthaesia for this week’s word. Synaethesia literally means ‘coloured hearing’ and is used to describe the experience of using one sense where another is more normal – hearing sounds, tasting colours, and so on.
We are lucky enough to own a painting by the synaesthete painter Elizabeth Stewart-Jones – she did paintings in which she represented how various names ‘looked’ to her. Here is my husband’s name:
I always found synaesthesia very interesting but was pretty certain that I didn’t have any kind of synaesthetic wiring. Until, a few years ago, we went to a restaurant called Dans Le Noir. It’s a restaurant that is completely, pitch dark. And you don’t know what you’re going to be eating (you can tell them about allergies and general preferences). You’re led in (the waiters are all blind or partially sighted), placed at a table with lots of other folk and your food is brought to you.
It’s very strange. You realise how much your sense of taste is guided by being able to see what you’re eating. You find out about simple things you can’t do without being able to see: e.g. pouring a glass of wine. You need to hold the glass in one hand, and the bottle in the other – you can’t have the glass on the table or you won’t know where to put it. How do you know when to stop pouring? Ah, hook your finger over the glass. OK. Now you need to put the bottle down. Where does it go? You need a free hand to feel for a space but you haven’t got one. Someone has to take your wine while you put the bottle down.
When you get up to leave, you have to wait to be led out. Mr S&S and I were seated opposite each other, so I had to stand in the dark waiting while the waiter fetched him. I felt extremely vulnerable and it was hard to be so dependent.
Anyway – as we were seated among strangers, we all started to talk together. And after 20 minutes or so, the oddest thing started happening. As people spoke, I started to see flashes of colour coming from their places. One was flashing turquoise, one a soft, pulsing orange. At first I thought it was some odd light effect, until it became clear that nobody else could see it. And it carried on – after I’d been speaking to someone for a few minutes, I’d start to see the colour of their voice. So there you are – my one experience of synaesthesia.
Check out Joye’s blog to see the other sense experiments!