Author: Maureen Seaberg

Publisher: Career Press, Inc.

ISBN: 978-1-6013159-6

Click Here To Purchase Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies

Strange Visions: The World of the Synesthete

Does the following make sense to you?

“‘What color is your A?’ Carol asked me one night in Chelsea.

Yellow,’ I replied.

My dear, A is definitely pink. Perhaps there are vitamins you could take.’”

If it does, there is a strong possibility that you may be a synesthete. This quote from Tasting the Universe highlights the way people who have synesthesia perceive the world. They may see particular letters or words in color, they may strongly visualize a color upon hearing a specific musical note, or they may even taste the words that other people speak. These are indeed, “strange visions,” to use the words of British scientist Sir Francis Galton. Tasting the Universe is a cross between journalism and biography in which author, who predictably enough is a synesthete, tells the story of discovering and living with what she calls her precious secret. Readers are next introduced to celebrities who are also synesthetes. Norman Mailer believed that Marilyn Monroe exhibited characteristics based upon her preferences of colored vegetables when cooking. Violinist Itzhak Perlman describes his relationship to musical notes and color.

Sir Robert Cailliau speaks about coming up with the three w’s for the world wide web (for him the w appeared green and so imagining people typing three green w’s in a row was a wonderful thought). Structurally, Seaberg positions the experiencing of phenomena alongside scientific research but she seems a bit hesitant about wanting to fully understand her synesthesia, as do a couple of her interviewees. The suspicion is that too much knowledge might potentially destroy the ineffable gift. Perhaps this is justified. While it seems most people are born with synesthesia and carry it for life, Seaberg discovers one woman who outgrew her ability. A relationship also seems to exist between synesthesia and Asperger’s syndrome. We meet Daniel Tammet, famously known for being able to memorize Pi to 22,500 places and who once learned Icelandic in a single week when challenged to be interviewed in the language. He describes his explorations between his

Asperger’s, ability to memorize, and the relationship to synesthesia. For readers questioning whether they are synesthetes, Seaberg prints a list of criteria created by Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, who is widely credited with bringing synesthesia back into mainstream discourse. Included in the list: that the experiences are be automatic, involuntary, and consistent. In my mind these criteria clearly distinguish those who have synesthesia from those who simply make associations or feel a color when hearing music. Seaberg also presents synesthesia as a continuum rather than an on/off switch. The experiences of individuals may differ widely, from seeing soft colors when viewing particular letters to color relationships that intervene in all aspects of their life. Imagine, as the author does, viewing all the text of this review in color. Seaberg finally explores connections between synesthesia, the spiritual, and religions, and she says that synesthesia may initiated by deep meditation.

I tend to side with those who view synesthesia as having a neural basis. One question the book did not answer was the reason why those who see colors describe them with common color terms such as red, blue, green, and pink, instead of yellowish-gray, or other desaturated, complex colors. Perhaps it relates to the way color language enters a society (v. Basic Color Terms by Berlin & Kay) or perhaps it merely demonstrates the lack of a widely known complex language with which to describe complex colors or maybe it relates to the physiology of the human eye/brain system. There’s a hint for further research. Tasting the Universe is a wonderful foray into the amazing world of the synesthete. The book promotes the personal story over scientific jargon as a means of inviting reading by the general public. Those who recognize themselves or who have an ongoing interest in synesthesia will find an extensive list of resources that demonstrates the author’s commitment to sharing and creating community.

Click Here To Purchase Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies