Synesthesia: hearing colour, seeing sound

Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where one sensory experience is automatically accompanied by another. The most common is colour synesthesia and chromesthesia.

Colour synesthesia

is where for example letters, numbers or weekdays gets a colour automatically “attached”. Tuesdays might be purple, the number 9 red or things like that. It is automatic, involuntarily. People with colour synesthesia can remember phone numbers by colour, solve equations with the help of these colours appearing in the mind. Only rarely does this go both ways. Even if 7 is green, the colour green does not have the number 7 attached to it. Writer and synesthete Patricia Lynne Duffy: ‘One day,’ I said to my father, ‘I realised that to make an ‘R’ all I had to do was first write a ‘P’ and then draw a line down from its loop. And I was so surprised that I could turn a yellow letter into an orange letter just by adding a line.’


People with this ability hear colours. Or maybe more accurate, sounds generates a colour in the mind. They might hear a D major as bright green, but again, as with the colour synesthesia, bright green does not automatically create the sound of a D major. Liszt would confuse his orchestras, enthusiastically correcting them; “No, Gentlemen! Bluer! Bluer!” The neuroscientist Julian Asher was taken to concerts as a child, and he always assumed that the lights dimmed so that people could better see the colours coming from the orchestra.

Synesthetes have no problem differentiating between colours occurring around them and the colour generated in their minds by the numbers or sounds. It is a merging of two senses, and many feels enriched by this phenomena; they know they have two sensory systems sharing the same space. In a way, one sensory input sparks two and create a sixth sense. There are other forms of synesthesia, where colour, names, sounds or letters have taste, where numbers or letters “appear” hovering around in 3D space, or where colour has smell. The key is the combination of two or more senses, based on one sensory input.

I sometimes hear colours, and sometimes sounds gets in the way of seeing. That sounds a little mad, but it seems I am in good company.


9 thoughts on “Synesthesia: hearing colour, seeing sound”

    • Hi there ĽAdelaide, nice of you to pop by. Wow, that is pretty cool! Do you think that it makes your life richer? That you get two senses out of – what to other people would be – one? And what is the taste of blue? I would be curious to know what colour have what taste :)

  • Hi~ you know, frankly i never think about it, it’s innate, i’ve always been this way so don’t know what it would be like to be differently wired. Cooking IS easier because I can also, weirdly, taste smells so I know when to pull the pan off or out or whatever.
    There are so many shades of blue but it happens to be my favorite color. But it gets tricky if it starts to bleed over to green, as in certain shades of turquoise. I cannot “stomach” green or brown. Very hard for me to work with either of them unless they are tweaked with something that lightens up that drab army greenish, poopy color-pardon but couldn’t think of another word… words do mix up sometimes when i’m talking and it’s so convoluted i couldn’t begin to explain how the hell that happens!! Now that’s more than you wanted to know i bet. ;)

    • No! That was not more than I wanted to know! That is very interesting indeed. So what happens when your nose is blocked? Do you forget the pan on the stove? :D And your smell on its own, is it extremely well developed? I am guessing it does not have to be, as it is wire-crossing, not necessarily heightened sensitivity in one sensory organ.

      There are certain colours that hurts my eyes, and I cannot really explain it with the usual colour-language. Intensity does not seem to be a factor…

      It is interesting that you sometimes gets some of this mixed up i speech. I can easily see how that would happen.

      As to being wired a little differently, you might like this post, about doodles and cognitive noise.

      And as to the colour blue….The colour blue, the devil, the virgin and the red dyers bribes

      • I really don’t notice it is anything ‘enhanced’ because it has always been like that for me if that makes sense?! But when I think of not having it, then I feel that other people must live a very dull life! I only realised it was out of the ordinary about 5 years ago when I was discussing with my family the different colour combinations of the different A levels I was choosing between! x

        • Haha – brilliant! Yes, it makes utter sense that you rarely think about it, but in a way, from your perspective, the rest of us lack a sensory organ, almost. It is apparently said that people who loose one sensory organ/ability: it is particularly those who loose smell – anosmic – that have the hardest time. We do not really understand how much smell is part of all the other sensory experiences.

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