Left: a rough approximation of colors I associate with certain numbers, which is limited by the 32-color palette on MS-Paint
As long as I can remember I have experienced a blending of sensory information. I associate certain sounds with particular colors and hues, while individual letters, numbers, and words possess a wide variety of brighter and darker colors and degrees of luminance. The technical term for this phenomenon is synesthesia, and it has been the subject of scientific inquiry for a few hundred years.
Here are just a few examples that come to mind as I scan the number line and the alphabet:
-- The numbers 1,2,5, and 8 are brighter colors, while 3,4,6,7 and 9 are darker. 6 and 7 are in the darker end of the blue-violet range, 1 is kind of bright yellow, 3 is sort of a forest green, and 5 has an orange tint.
-- The letters a, c, i, l, s, and y have the brightest luminance, while f, g, m, n, and t are the darkest. The letter o is a rather cool and icy blue, h is a dull yellow, f is a darker red-violet, and c is a brighter green color, almost a fiery brilliance.
I associate certain colors with individual notes, and I also connect particular emotions with notes and chords. This is more than a simple "major chord = happy" and "minor chord = sad" structure, though; if I hear a particular piece of instrumental music - especially single instrument recordings - definite colors and emotions appear, an effect that intensifies if I close my eyes and block out "normal" visual stimuli.
I never really thought much about the odd way I experience the world, and when I tried to explain my sensations to others, I assumed that their uncomprehending responses just meant that I possessed some sort of an artistic bent. I remember when I first bought a chorus pedal for my electric guitar, and my friend Jim Butler asked me what the device did to the sound.
Lacking a technical explanation, and drawing upon my sensory experience, all I could manage to say was this: "It adds... color."
I'm not sure if my friend understood, or if he thought I was hallucinating, but it was the best I could do for an elucidation.
In today's news I came across an article indicating that there might be a genetic link to synesthesia. What I found amusing was that the article's author described synesthesia as "a neurological condition," as if this unusual way of perceiving the world was somehow a disability.
Look: I know that I am not exactly the most "normal" person you might come across, and there are days when I might apply any one of a dozen DMS-IV diagnoses to myself, but I hardly think that synesthesia qualifies as "a neurological condition," at least not in the sense of some debilitating disorder. I also resist the desire to even label such a phenomenon as synesthesia. Should I now walk around with a defiant T-shirt that reads: "Synesthestics of the World - Mix it Up!"
If anything, I think people with synesthesia have a gift: the ability to experience sensory inputs on a multiplicity of levels. So back off with your diagnoses and white laboratory coats, you Aristotelian, category-obsessed technicians, and allow me to enjoy my colorful sounds and luminant numerals. I don't need a label, a diagnosis, or a cure, and I am content with my blended sensory weirdness.