Hearing the color green

Melissa Stagnaro

I vividly remember one of my high school friends telling me he had “heard” the color green. Now, I’ve seen red a time or two, accompanied by a sort of whooshing sound in my ears, but I could safely attribute that to strong emotion.

Hearing a color, primary or otherwise, was not something with which I could relate. And given my friend’s penchant for recreational drug use at that time in his life, I felt it safe to assume he’d been dabbling with hallucinogenics.

Now, nearly 15 years later, I have cause to reconsider my assumption. After reading an article on cnn.com, I realized I might have been wrong all those years ago. (Yes, folks. You might want to note the date, it doesn’t happen often.)

Apparently, there is actually a condition called synesthesia in which the senses overlap or mix in such a way that people link sounds with color or shapes, even attributing colors to particular letters or numbers.

Researchers in the UK are studying genetic causes of this phenomenon, according to the article, and one of the scientists heading up the project is synesthetic himself. He describes seeing the music of different musical instruments as flowing colors.

It actually sounded pretty cool, you know, as genetic conditions go.

Unlike color blindness, where your perception of the world is blander than that of the rest of the world, this one actually has you experiencing more. It’s almost like a super power. Where mere mortals simply hear music, you could see it as well. And no word search would ever stand a chance.

There is, no doubt, a secret government agency dedicated to exploring all the potential applications of synesthesia. Just think of the possibilities in terms of clandestine communications, code breaking and other spy stuff. Maybe that’s what they are doing at Area 51.

Synesthetic effect aren’t just linked to genetics, I learned as I delved deeper into the subject. They can be attributed to temporal lobe seizures, strokes, blindness and, yes, psychedelic drugs. So, my initial assessment may not have been off base after all.

It’s something of a relief, really. Now there is not need to reset my “number of days without being wrong” clock back to zero.