Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Why Avi's blue, Bibi's pink, and Tzipi's in the buff

According to a paper given by a psychologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a reference to synaesthesia ('synesthesia' if you're American) is in Exodus 20:18, where the Israelites' experience of receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai is described thus: "And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking." 

I learned this from an article in the London Jewish Chronicle (22 June 2007) by a reporter who is herself a synaesthete.  Synaesthesia is a quirky but (to me at any rate) enjoyable condition in which a stimulus to one sense triggers another.  The most common form - which I have - is grapheme-colour  synaesthesia, where letters and numbers are perceived in colour.  Other forms include "tasting" words, "seeing" sounds, and "feeling" colours.  In the Jewish Chronicle report, for example, a man "tastes" ice cream whenever he says the Shema.  The reporter's mother perceives a particular singer's voice as "a clear, piercing blue" whereas the reporter herself perceives that same voice as "purplish red".

Estimates of numbers of synaesthetes range from one in 23 through one in 200 to one in 2000 to one in 25,000 depending on whose research you look at.  Studying the condition is still in its infancy, but it has been linked to creative people especially.  The artist David Hockney, the composer Oliver Messiaen, and the writer Vladimir Nabokov are examples. 

Many if not most synaesthetes are unaware that the "condition" exists.  Until I read an article in a Sunday newspaper about a decade ago, which described the novelist Shena Mackay as a synaesthete, explaining that (exactly like me) she "sees" letters in colour, and words in colour depending on what colour she perceives the letter they begin with to be, I thought everybody saw Daphne as green and Anson as blue, Saturday as yellow, Monday as pinky-red, Britain as pink and Israel as icy-grey.

Synaesthesia has been linked to high intelligence as well as to creativity.  It's not, of course, that every highly intelligent person has synaesthesia.  It's that synaesthetes tend to be highly intelligent.  Glad to hear it!  Still, there's a downside.  The kind I have, at least, has been linked to poor numerical and navigational skills.  Hmmm. That figures.  It explains why I struggled with maths at school and rebelled against piano lessons - much to the bewilderment of my dad, who was a mathematically-inclined musician. 

And here I wish to make a plea, on behalf of child synaesthetes everywhere.  It's only comparatively recently that educators have come to realise that some children written off at school as under-achievers because they were slow at reading were in fact afflicted by dyslexia - the British actress Susan Hampshire being a case in point.  Is it not possible, by the same token, that children who are slow at maths might in fact have synaesthesia?


  1. This must get terribly recursive; for example, the world 'colour' if you see it as 'blue' then you see the word 'blue' as 'red' etc. etc. or does it not work like that?

    reading or listening must be like a constant psychadelic 'trip' - can you switch it off, or is it a reflex?

    Is it the sound of the word or the spelling? So do words that sound the same but are spelled differently have the same colour or different?

    What about words in different languages? even those you don't understand?

  2. OK. Here's how mine works:
    A=peacock blue; B=pink;C=yellow ochre-ish; D=grass green; E=fawn; F=the exact colour of deep-fried batter; G=warm yellow/hint of orange; H=bright green; I=icy white/grey; J=deep orange; K=grey; L=citron yellow; M=pinkish red; N=greyish brown; O=icy white/grey; P=mid-true-blue; Q=verdigris; R=emeraldish green; S=sunny yellow; T=fawn/buff; U=light greyish-brown; V=deeper verdigris than Q; W=buttercup yellow;X=greyish light brown; Y=gunmetal grey; Z=icy mid-grey.

    These are always constant. I see Ray as green because R is green; colour is yellow-ochre-ish because C is that colour;
    William Shakespeare is two shades of yellow; Friday, appropriately, is fried batter colour because that is F's colour;
    Saturday and Sunday are yellow, the latter intenser because I think the "sun" element influences it.
    Like all words, words that sound the same but are spelled differently all follow the colour of the first letter.

    Aleph, Beit, etc correspond to the colours of the English words - the sounds appear to influence me, but Tsiporah/Tziporah is more like a T colour and Zipporah is the Z colour.
    In Russian, which I can read a little, the colouring is similarly influenced by the pronunciation of the first letter (the cyrillic script does not present as colourful for me independently). Thus Vladimir will be the colour of the English V even though the cyrillic for V looks like B.

    I can't turn it off. But when I look at this typecript I just see type colour. It only works when I hear words or think of a word in my mind.

    To complicate matters, I "see" words in my minds I when someone speaks to me or I hear them on TV/radio.

    Why my mind chose those particular colours I have no idea - all I know is I was born that way! I didn't know about syneasthesia until I read the article about Shena Mackay - I thought everyone saw letters and words in colour as I do!

    (Well, you did ask ... LOL)

    I once read that although we synaesthetes don't all perceive each letter in the same way (for instance, where I see A as blue someone else will see it as red, and the next person as orange, so on) we all perceive I and O in the same way - what I call icy white/grey.

  3. I meant "my mind's eye" - obviously I had letters on the brain when I wrote "my mind's I"!

  4. Ok so it's phonemochromovisualisation

  5. If you say so, Ray! That word's not in my big fat dictionary (which weighs a ton!)


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