MIT Press Author, Cretien van Campen has written a response to the Salon.com article The Letter E is Purple, written by Alison Buckholtz. To hear more about Cretien van Campen's book, a free podcast is available.
Alison Buckholtz has written a beautiful and moving account of growing up with synesthesia on Salon.com. She remembers her perceptual ability to see letters, numbers, and persons in color. Initially this gave her pleasure as a young child (“I enjoyed my synesthesia, playing with it as a kitten would bat around a ball of yarn.”), was quite confused as an teenager when she realized she was different and faced the dangers of social alienation (“I decided I was a total freak.”), and finally discovered as an adult that synesthesia can be a practical tool in daily life. (“the gift of synesthesia”).
Her story has many parallels with the stories of synesthetes who I interviewed for my book The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science. Most synesthetes discover their extra perceptual abilities during early childhood. For some it was stressing (like in sensory overload), but many persons developed it as a practical tool like in mental calculating with color or planning your diary in colors by heart. Synesthetic musicians report they use synesthesia in composing and scientists tell they use it to analyze complex formula.
In the media, synesthesia is well-known as a neurological phenomenon, but is has many social sides too, which have been neglected thus far by researchers. Synesthesia is not only something that happens in your brain, but is also something that affects your personal life. This week I posted a statement on “The Social Sides of Synesthesia” at the European discussion forum Yasmin, asking synesthetes what does synesthesia mean for them. Would they miss it? What would happen to their daily and social functioning if they suddenly lost their synesthetic abilities?
Cretien van Campen