Why do I find this so fascinating? I think it’s the way it opens up new creative possiblities via artificial synaesthesia.
According to the scientists, ‘true’ synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which one sense is involuntarily translated into another – e.g. colours are experienced as sounds or vice versa. It is popularly associated with psychedelic drugs, but can also result from a stroke, blindness or deafness. I encountered synaesthesia in my work as a hypnotherapist, as it’s a fairly common occurrence in trance subjects.
Synaesthesia and Creativity
Less extreme versions of synaesthesia, sometimes called ‘pseudo-synaesthesia’, are reported by many people as part of their normal thinking processes. This kind of everyday synaesthesia seems to be particularly common among artists and other creative types. Like a lot of poets, I experience a kind of grapheme-colour synaesthesia, whereby words (and numbers) are associated with particular colours. Louis MacNeice describes the phenomenon in his poem ‘When we were children’:
When we were children words were coloured
(Harlot and murder were dark purple)
And language was a prism, the light
A coloured inlay on the grass,
Another of my favourite examples of synaesthesia is the artist and writer Mervyn Peake. A brilliant draughtsman and illustrator, while writing his novel Titus Groan Peake made sketches of characters in the margin:
As I went along I made drawings from time to time which helped me to visualise the characters and to imagine what sort of things they would say. The drawings were never exactly as I imagined the people, but were near enough for me to know when their voices lost touch with their heads.
(Mervyn Peake, ‘How a Romantic Novel was Evolved’)