What Color is Your Eight? – On Synesthesia 1

The color of the number 8 is a purply violet-black but not a bright violet, more dull. It’s almost more of a vibration than a color. August is similar but darker, almost burnt and yet more radiant. The letters D and P are both green but D is pale sage while P is an intense forest green. Tuesday is a muted cerulean blue.

Regions thought to be cross-activated in graph...

Regions thought to be cross-activated in grapheme-color synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition in which one sense evokes another, habitually and involuntarily. Some synesthetes sense different tastes with musical keys, feel “personalities” for different days of the week, or perceive months as having specific spatial locations (“November is two feet to the right”) but the most common form is color-grapheme synesthesia, where letters and numbers have immediate, unchanging color associations. This is the form of synesthesia I experience, as well as colors for months and days of the week that in some cases do, and in some don’t, relate to their letters or numbers.

In his bestselling Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Oliver Sacks explores synesthesia, musical and otherwise. He describes psychologist Patrick Ehlen’s early experience of saying aloud to his first-grade class that he was “counting the colors until Friday,” to which the class burst out laughing.

One day in third grade, my class was talking about colors and feelings. The teacher asked everyone what color we thought anger was and everyone said “red.” Of course it was. Vowels and first letters set the tone for the word and A is a rich, deep red. Then she asked us what color sad was, and the rest of the class said “blue” as I started to say “red.” Sad has that deep red A and the S, a duller shade of red. Most people thought of being sad as “having the blues,” but for me it was as deep a red as melancholy. It was the first time I remember being conscious that others didn’t see these colors.


This is an excerpt from “On Synesthesia,” a lyric essay I wrote about, you guessed it, synesthesia.

You can check out other Friday Samples here. And don’t forget you can always check out Published and Older Works for more samples.

~Emilia J

Next Up: Legends, Fakers and Painterly Writers – On Synesthesia 2

12 thoughts on “What Color is Your Eight? – On Synesthesia 1

  1. I guess you’ve heard Hendrix’s “Bold as Love”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFMzJCBKja4

    I don’t have synesthesia, but I do tend to associate verbal information like words with visual characteristics (where the printed words themselves somehow “look like” what they denote when I think of them), and imagine past history timelines laid out spatially. I suspect the use of the visual or spatial areas of the brain to organize verbal information is associated with _NT_ personality types on the Myers-Briggs typology.

    • Oooh, that’s an interesting thought. It’s funny, I only remember the first three letters of my Meyers-Briggs, INT, hmmm. For me, it happens even if I see the word or number or whatever, or even think of it. I know I’m reading black print on a white screen, and see it that way, but I’m also still seeing the colors for all the words and letters, etc.

      It might not be the exact same kind of synesthesia, but you definitely have something interesting going on!

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  4. Again, fantastic blog!

    I’m curious what colors you see musical notes as?
    My simplified list is:
    E is a deep red
    F is sort of a mottled grey-brown
    G is green
    A is a bright orange
    B is a tough one. I really have no color for it
    C is a light blueish green
    and D is a deep blue

    Thanks, Emilia!

    • Hi Kelly,

      Your comment is really fascinating. Do you see the letters this way too, or just the musical notes? Do flats and sharps affect the colors you perceive? Do you see these colors with the notes when you look at sheet music? Are you a musician?

      I don’t see colors with notes in sheet music. And the only colors that come to mind are the ones associated with the actual letters. But maybe that’s because I’m a writer and not terribly musically inclined (much as I’ve wished otherwise).

      E is blue but not a terribly distinct blue. Like the crayola crayon that just says blue, not sky or midnight or cerulean or azure, just blue.
      F is one of those that’s very hard to describe, more vibration than color, sorta off-colored, dull plum-y.
      G is beige, also more vibration than color, a little dull.
      A is a rich, deep red.
      B is a blunted orange.
      C is yellow. Sunshine yellow.
      D is green than can vary in shade a bit with context.

      Thanks for sharing. Very cool.


      • Good Morning, Emelia!

        Thank you for your response! It is always fascinating to hear from another synesthetic, isn’t it? I can very easily understand your particular color/note associations. Somehow, your colors make sense. Whereas, I can always tell if someone is “faking it”. The colors and notes make little sense. Your selections make perfect sense! Especially cool is that you can see vibrations with some notes. If you were to somehow draw the vibration, like in a waveform, I wonder how close it would be to the actual hertz that the note produces? Weird stuff, indeed!

        In the case of sharps and flats, it does seem to make a difference. The colors seem more “smudged” and conflicting, for lack of a better word. I wish I did have more clear colors for the half steps. Yep, I am a musician. A bass player. I used to do a lot of “call” gigs. “Our bass player is sick,…can you come out”? It does come in very handy to be able to hear a note, get visual clues with the colors, and quickly determine the key to the song. Half the time, someone announces the song “this is a blues number…in A”, and it’s wrong. Just because it starts in A, doesn’t necessarily  mean that’s the key. It’s usually E major or something. LOL! Like you, I don’t see notes on a chart as colors. It would be very cool if I did!

        I really do wish that I saw letters this way. Words are mostly familiar “blocks”…I probably see them they way most of us do. I agree that you being a writer, and a very good one I might add, helps you to do this. I only write when I have too…! I’m headed over to your blog to read up on the latest Breaking Bad comments!

        Take good care,

        Kelly Tuttle



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