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On Synesthesia

On synesthete.org, there is a test you can take to prove that you have synesthesia, scientifically. For all the marbles. No more can anyone can doubt you, like they often do. It is an empirical test that can quantify if you are making up your “ability” or if you really do have the rare, neurological condition. The test is simple. Pick what kinds of synesthesia you have, and then choose what color is associated with whatever character/attribute appears on the screen. Below is a letter I wrote to the admin of this site, after attempting to take the Synesthesia Battery.

Subject: I don’t see how this test is helpful.

If I am told to pick a color for a number, how can I possibly answer without any context? You can’t expect that the number 5 is just a static color. 5 AM is a light yellow, whereas 5 PM is a sickly, phlegmy yellow. 5 in an age is a sunshiney polka dot and five is altogether another set of shapes, colors, and ideas. You give us a slider of ALL THE COLORS in the world and you have to pick from that slider what that number or letter means.

Really.
Really? Really.

And THEN months later, you should retake the test, and if you don’t pick within a certain margin of error: you’re lying. This is the “scientific” test, somehow. But that is just not realistic. I see a thousand different colors at any given point when I close my eyes, and they move like a complicated pointillist lava lamp, each point being another color, with a different shade of opacity. And really, that’s the number 5. But it’s also yellow.

And it also looks like brush strokes of a watercolor painting, curling and beautiful and blended, depending on how you are asking, or when.

But just as I can tell the shape of a tree and no two trees will ever grow alike, so will the number 5 as black and white text on a page not blossom with singular identity. I can recognize that an oak’s an oak – but how dissimilar and similar are they from each other? The answer is infinitely alike and disalike.

Are you asking me to close my eyes and describe it, or explain what I just know, or what my association with the number is? This is a critical distinction. My answer will also depend on if I’m happy, what time of day it is, how much coffee I’ve had, or if I’m really tired. It seems a bit unjust to relegate this terrifying extra sense into something so static, when it simply isn’t that way at all.

The fear I have is that I am not only synesthetic, but that I also “see energy” (whatever that means),  that I am also secreting a higher level of certain neurotransmitters and/or DMT, that I am also capable of modulating my brain frequencies (through meditation and practice) and that I also have cymatic tendencies, insofar as a human can see sound waves, literally. Not figuratively or subjectively, like with synesthesia.

Or maybe I have scintillating scotoma. Or maybe I have closed-eye hallucinations. So, what I consider as synesthesia is really many different and unusual senses, some that are more widely accepted than others. And if I thought I was alone before, well, welcome to reality, Cassandra. I have to be lying, or making it up, or ranting online into the void that is an admin email account from a site that’s just trying its best.

Scintillating Scotoma Interpretation
Scintillating Scotoma Interpretation

At any rate, what should I do about how it affects me in my day to day life? I can’t understand anyone with a thick accent because I’m used to voices looking like painted lines or guitar strings and now the accent obscures the words, like giant strobe squares blocking my ability to see their voice at every other turn. Has it crossed into the realm of learning disability yet? How about when someone’s voice is so ugly that the only way to cope is to fall asleep? Namely: all of my college lectures that I slept through since there’s no way to turn it off.

What about muscle tension from the extra input on the way to work in my hour long commute? On the way home? The jaw clenching, the stress, the constant neck and eye pain from strain? At what point does the unsolvable nature of this mystery cause me to actually go insane? There is no point to this sense, but it is just as present as you seeing or smelling or knowing where your finger is when your eyes are closed. Awareness. I think it must have some extra meaning. Surely, there is a reason for this chaos. But probably not.

I’m not upset – I’m just afraid that this mystery will never be solved, and that the tools that exist currently have no functional use to actually making a working lexicon to describe these sensations. How can one move from fully subjective to something “scientific” when what we seek to describe is sensory experience? It seems an impossible task. I cannot complete this test. I simply do not understand the questions.


UPDATE! I received an email from the admin@synesthete.org! Below is a screenshot, for your enjoyment.

The True Void


Photo Credit: Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky


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Interested in many things, but nothing captivates more than technology, entrepreneurship, futurism, and humanity's quest to problem-solve.

  • Blake

    As fitting as that response is, I’d just like to point out that the Donate button on that site works…looks like you can donate to the Baylor College of Medicine to support research in that area…

    • Cassandra

      Blake, I went to Baylor. What a wonderful, ironic coincidence. Haha, life is absurd.