6 Ways You See the World Differently When You Can Hear Color
Cracked has previously talked about synesthesia, which is a neurological condition where the wires from your nerves to your brain get all crossed and you end up with senses, like sight and sound, getting linked together. Have you ever gotten so high you could hear the lava lamp? It's like that, but always. While it has unfortunately never gotten me laid, there are plenty of other aspects you should probably know about.
It's Nearly Impossible to Describe to People
I have lexical synesthesia, so letters, numbers, and days of the week have specific and distinct colors. I also have sound-to-sight synesthesia, meaning that I can "see" sounds. Those quotes are there because I'm what's known as an associator, rather than a projector, which means that I may not necessarily see those colors unless I close my eyes and focus really hard, I just know what color they are, as surely as you know that green means go. Projectors, on the other hand, may actually see those colors like they're living in an eternal Pink Floyd laser show, which probably isn't nearly as cool as it sounds, especially in traffic.
"New car, cavia- oh, shit. No more new car."
That sounds simple enough to me, and it might even seem simple to you on paper, but in practice, describing what I see is harder than it sounds. Try to explain the color red to someone who was born blind and you'll see why -- it's incredibly difficult to wrap your head around the concept of a sense you don't have. My associator status doesn't help, because anyone who's been to college knows about tasting purple, but it's a bit harder to explain why the letter A is red even if it's black. But I'm gonna try. It involves Gilbert Gottfried.
A man of many talents, none of which are "softly rocking his children to sleep."
Stay with me, here. After an unfortunate lifetime of Disney parrots and Aflac commercials, you can probably re-create Gottfried's voice in your head, right? Are you doing it right now? I'm sorry, I accept full responsibility for that. Associative lexical synesthesia is basically like that -- just because Gottfried isn't screeching in your ear right now doesn't mean you can't hear him. Sight-to-sound synesthesia is kind of like that scene in Fantasia where the soundtrack is shown as a straight line that changes color and shape as different instruments produce different sounds. That scene sucks, though, because those colors are all wrong. Oh, by the way ...
Everything in the Real World Is the Wrong Color
You know that the sky is blue. The sky has always been blue, and you've known your whole life that the sky is blue. But imagine that everyone around you keeps arbitrarily insisting that the sky is green. That would drive you crazy after a while, right? That's how I feel every time someone chooses the wrong color for something, and goddammit do they love to do it.
If you truly want those happy little clouds to be happy, you'll drop that turquoise right the fuck now.
This comes up a lot with my dad, who is a teacher, so a lot of his materials are color-coded. If he chooses the wrong color folder for materials for a certain day of the week or something, it will bother me until I snap: "YOU CAN'T MAKE WEDNESDAY GREEN, DAD, WEDNESDAY IS YELLOW," and he's like, "I just needed a Wednesday folder and I happen to have a green one -- what's the big deal?" But it's like making a stop sign blue -- you can't really articulate why it's wrong, it's just incredibly wrong.
Hawaii has got a lot of explaining to do.
This can actually create arguments between synesthetes. (Yes, we do hang out together in roving gangs, occasionally getting into dance fights with the projectors.) Amazingly, there's actually a large degree of agreement between synesthetes (and even non-synesthetes) when it comes to what color things should be. For example, most people agree with me that the letter A is red. In fact, there appears to be a universal color scheme that almost everyone agrees upon for about half of the alphabet, and no one's really sure why. However, associations can be unique to the individual synesthete. So, like, one of my friends perceives Mondays as blue and Tuesdays as red, but it's the opposite for me, and I will absolutely throw down with that bitch about it. (Not really, girl, you know I love you, but put that folder back. Put it back. Put it back before I cut you.)
Despite Robert Smith's bullshit claims, Tuesday and Wednesday have never, ever been gray.
Colors That Don't Exist Add Further Complications
One day, I was sitting in art class when I decided to try to mix the color Y, which is a very dark blue-black. No matter what ratio of blue and black I mixed, though, it just wouldn't come out right. That's because, as I later found out, it's one of the so-called "impossible colors" that Cracked recently discussed.
Basically, there's a blip in all our brains that gives us the ability to perceive colors that you can't actually re-create, and to put it scientifically, they fuck my shit up sideways. In addition to stupid Y, I'll never be able render the colors P and V (which are, respectively, shades between blue and yellow but not green and between purple and green).
Satan's favorite word.
If you think people must look at you funny for insisting that something is the wrong color, you can bet that they really start to lose their patience when you insist that it should be a color it can't possibly be. It also makes explaining things to people, especially those who think you're lying, even more difficult. For example, some people's voices are associated with impossible colors for me. If someone asks what color their voice is and it's a color between green and pink, it's easier to just say "green" than to spend 20 minutes explaining what an impossible color is and trying to describe the color you see. The next week, they might ask again, and this time you go with "pink," so they call bullshit. They can just piss off with their ugly-ass green-pink voice. Voice all looking like somebody puked on grandma's couch. Screw you with that voice. Hey, speaking of which ...
Some People's Voices Are Really Ugly
If you've ever been trapped in a cubicle next to a co-worker who seems to be morally opposed to showering, you understand the desire to be able to turn off your senses. I definitely wish I could turn off my sound-to-sight perceptions sometimes, because some sounds are associated with really offensive colors, and it's not necessarily correlated with how nice they sound.
I'm a big theater nerd, so I encounter this a lot when I'm working on a production, which is like swimming in a Crayola 64-pack left on a hot stove. Inevitably, some of the resulting colors are going to mingle in unholy and thoroughly unpleasant ways. The actor who played Javert on the production of Les Miserables I worked on had an audibly beautiful voice and a throng of swooning fangirls to prove it, but I couldn't stand listening to him. His voice was this unspeakably hideous dark puke yellow. It was like putting my head inside a urinal in the dive bar restroom that Clorox forgot.
Every solo was an open-mouth swirly just waiting to happen.
This happens when I'm just listening to Pandora or something, too: minding my own business when suddenly my ears are assaulted with Hostel-level disgusting visuals. I tend to take my work home with me, so it'll usually be musicals, and hopefully it's not the original London cast of Les Miserables, because the voice of the woman famous for her role as Fantine, Patti LuPone, has a voice that looks like dried, dusty dirt. You like that pretty lady from Blazing Saddles? She's not bad, right? Her voice is a bright fluorescent orangey-green, like two highlighters swiped over each other. Fortunately, it's not all bad -- most popular singers have pretty-looking voices. Christina Aguilera's voice is red, One Direction have varying shades of blue plus one green, and while autotune makes everything duller, Ke$ha's voice is purple. You had no idea you wanted to know that, and now you do. You're welcome.
Katy Perry sounds exactly how Katy Perry looks.
It Gives You Memory Superpowers
It's also not all bad in that there are specific advantages that synesthetes have, particularly when it comes to memory. An autistic man with synesthesia named Daniel Tammet has received a lot of attention from the scientific world for this reason. He associates letters and numbers with colors, shapes, and feelings so strongly that he can perform such amazing feats as reciting pi to 22,514 digits, because he has a solid context in which to remember the order of the numbers.
"I assign each one of my groupies a digit and everything just falls into place from there."
While no one will be writing books about my superhuman mental feats anytime soon, I'm not unfamiliar with this phenomenon in my own little ways. When I was in school, I had just a terrible time when it came to spelling, because the black text that felt like it should have been a rainbow was distracting. In that sense, it can feel like a disability. Eventually, I had an idea. I bought a pack of different-colored pens, and not just because I was a preteen girl. As soon as I started using them to write each letter in its "correct" color, it was suddenly a lot easier to remember the order of letters in words. My grades soared overnight.
Plus, it makes colorful language even more colorful.
Since my brain apparently decided I wasn't already having an interesting enough time, I also have dyscalculia, which is like dyslexia with numbers. I realize I'm not alone in being thoroughly unable to determine the proper tip at a restaurant without a calculator, but as long as the waitstaff doesn't mind me using the crayons normally reserved for restless toddlers, it's a lot easier to make sure they get their due.
"Allow me to help. The dollar sign is green, the number two is red, the five is blue, and all three zeroes are yellow."
I Have No Idea What You Experience, but It Sounds Dull as Hell
All of this might be hard to wrap your head around, but it's actually just as hard for me to imagine what you experience. For example, I have no idea why anybody doesn't listen to classical music, and not just for "kids these days" reasons. When I listen to classical pieces, I can close my eyes and watch the music, not in an imaginary abstract way, but as if it were a moving painting, something that never changes from listen to listen, inextricably woven with the sound.
Above: The spastic scribblings of a drunken toddler.
My favorite pieces are "The Firebird Suite" by Stravinsky and "Jupiter" from The Planets by Gustav Holst. "The Firebird Suite" is very flowing, going from soft, cool colors to a lot of yellows and bright blues and violets and then into rich greens and blues with some reds in there, too. "Jupiter," on the other hand, is like the most amazing fireworks display you've ever seen -- bright blues with sparks and shots of every color. You can almost see a story in it, like a city growing up from nothing. For people who can't see those things, it must be incredibly boring, like watching a movie without pictures.
Or watching baseball with pictures.
Watching people argue gets really heavy, too. For most people, Fox News is maddening at worst, but for me, it's like watching an epic battle play out in Technicolor, like if 300 were about hating immigrants. As people's words get stronger, so does the color in their voices. Just like the Fantasia scene from earlier, louder sounds manifest in bigger shapes, and when it gets especially heated and people start talking over each other, it looks as if the colors are trying to wipe each other out. My brain is actually wired to make Fox News interesting, so envy or pity me as you see fit.
Blowhards shout, I get happy, you can't explain that.
Manna has a warm, friendly orange voice and also a Twitter.
Have a story to share with Cracked? Got a whistle you're itching to blow? Message us here. Your anonymity is guaranteed.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Ridiculous Myths You Probably Believe About Schizophrenia and 5 Ways Life With Tourette's is Way Weirder Than in Movies.
Help spread some knowledge, click the Facebook 'share' button below.