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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday June 29 2014

Every once in a while I hear or read about someone who sees sound, as colour, different sorts of sounds as different colours.  (As you can tell from the links at the bottom of this, I just did this again, on purpose.) What the hell are these people talking about?  You don’t see sound, you hear it.

But, I have learned enough of the contrasting natures and nervous systems of different people to know that claims of this sort are probably true, in the sense that this is indeed what it feels like to those making such claims, even if the claims made no sense whatever to me.  (Here is another piece by me, about how different people differ, this time with respect to the notion that you (i.e. they) can decide what you (they) believe.  To me, what you believe is what you actually do believe, and you can no more change it with a mere decision than you can decide to grow another foot.  But other people clearly can change what they believe, in just this cavalier fashion.  What they actually, deep down, think is true doesn’t seem to matter to them.  To me: bewildering and bizarre.  To them: obvious and commonplace.)

So anyway, back to those bizarre and bewildering people who see sounds, different sounds as different colours.

I now understand these people much better.

Because, yesterday morning, for a fleeting instant, it happened to me.

Immediately after it happened, I hastily bashed some notes into a computer file describing what I had just experienced, and that is the file that I am now typing further and more considered thoughts into now.

What happened was that I awoke, to the sound of my alarm clock.  This alarm clock makes a high pitched beeping noise: beep, pause, beep, pause, beep, pause ...

And, I experienced this sound as ... white.

That is correct.  I saw the sound.  And the sound was just as white as the background colour of the file into which I am now typing, or the background colour of this blog posting as you are now looking at it. 

I never experience sounds a colours when fully conscious.  But it makes perfect sense to me that experiences I may only have during the weird moment when I am neither entirely awake nor entirely asleep, but am moving from the latter state to the former state, might be experiences that others may have much more frequently, even when fully awake.  Or, fully awake by their standards.

Yesterday morning, for that fleeting, bleeping instant, some sort of weird connection was being made between my ears and the bit of brain where colours get processed and reflected upon, a place where all incoming messages are interpreted as colours no matter what they were originally, a connection that doesn’t normally occur, or perhaps which continues to occur when I am fully awake, but so weakly compared to the connections made between my ears and and the sound processing part of my brain as to be undetectable.

All I have to believe, about those strange people who see sounds as colours all the time, is that they experience what I very briefly experienced yesterday morning, but much more strongly than I did and do.  This is not now hard for me to imagine, not hard at all.

A very quick skim-read of this wikipedia article about chromesthesia (which is the particular sort of synesthesia that turns sound into colour, as opposed to just something into something else) did to tell me that chromosthesia can happen particularly when you are waking up, but that could be wrong.

However, I did spot (at the other end of the chromesthesia link above) this:

However, all studies to date have reported that synesthetes and non-synesthetes alike match high pitched sounds to lighter or brighter colors and low pitched sounds to darker tones, indicating that there may be some common mechanism that underlies the associations present in normal adult brains.

So, I am not alone in associating a high pitched bleep with a very light colour, in my case the lightest colour of the lot.