For Real

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.

A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”

I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”

My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.

So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”

Long pause.

Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”

Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”

Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”

At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”

God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”

I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.

Or not. Who knows?

green and purple

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

A Unique Point of View

I met a delightful young lady the other day who sees the world quite differently than most of us do. All the letters and numbers she sees have colors. Even more fascinating: for her, letters have personalities. She doesn’t like to put certain letters side by side because “they don’t get along.” But she has no choice, because words are spelled the way they are spelled. She has two forms of synesthesia.


This, of course, sent me rushing off to Wikipedia to learn more about synesthesia. Here’s what I learned.

It is estimated that 1 in every 23 people has some type of synesthesia. This phenomenon can take many forms. The most common is grapheme-color synesthesia, which is associating letters and/or numbers with color. But others might associate sounds with colors, or numbers as points in space, or sounds as sensations in the body, or words as tastes, or days of the week as colors, or letters as personalities, or colors as smells. There are dozens of possible combinations.

Synesthesia should not be considered a disability. It’s more like having an additional sense. “Seeing” extra doesn’t block one’s ability to see the way we do. For instance, synesthetes know that the letters you are reading right now are in black print. But “somewhere” else they might be seeing them in color. So it’s not like the imagery would hinder their ability to drive.

I think synesthetes are very lucky. I personally would love to see a changing palate of color while listening to music, for example. (But I must admit I probably wouldn’t always welcome uninvited smells or tastes. But then, I could say that without having synesthesia, couldn’t I?)

What I find fascinating is that most synesthetes, for a certain portion of their lives, do not even know how unique they are. They assume everyone perceives the world the same way that they do. That makes sense. We all tend to think everyone around us is experiencing things in the same way, don’t we? That is, until we discover differently.

Next time I run across my new friend, I want to ask her a few questions. Are upper case letters the same color as their lower case counterparts for her? Are multiple digit numbers multicolored, or do their colors mix together? What colors and personalities does my name evoke?

I suddenly like the world a whole lot more just by knowing that there are people out there who really can taste the rainbow!

If you are as fascinated by this subject as I am, check out the documentary Red Mondays and Gemstone Jalapeños.

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Color Me Surprised

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia that I recently picked up from God knows where: The English language didn’t have a word for the color orange until the 1540’s. That’s about the time when the fruit started becoming available to Europeans. That fascinates me. And it also answers a question that I’ve had for decades. Why are redheads called redheads when their hair is so obviously orange? It must be because the hair color predates the word.

This also reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who used to live in Japan. Apparently they see blue and green differently than we do. They describe the traffic light that indicates “go” as blue.

And I’ve often noticed a gender distinction in color perception. Guys invariably describe my hair as black when it’s clear to every female I speak to that it’s brown. I can even stand beside an Asian with black hair, and guys still can’t seem to see the difference. (Soon it won’t be an issue, as I’m rapidly going grey.)

I’ve bumped into this problem with men in all areas of the color spectrum, frankly. I used to think this was pure laziness or disinterest, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a genuine difference in color concepts or perception.

All these thoughts sent me scurrying off to what I like to call the font of all human knowledge: Wikipedia. In an article entitled “Distinction of blue and green in various languages” I learned a lot of interesting things. For example, many languages have one word for both blue and green, and you just have to sort it out by context. These include Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tswana and Mayan languages. In Pashto it’s one word, and they’ll then ask, “Green like the sky or green like plants?”

Some cultures don’t distinguish between blue and black. In various cultures, dark skinned people are described as green, blue, black or dusky. In Serbo-Croatian, blonde hair is called blue.

Some languages consider various shades, hues and intensities to be distinct colors, while others consider them a variation on one color. Some simply have suffixes or prefixes to add to color words to make them “light blue” or “dark red”. Interestingly, quite a few cultures distinguish turquoise and teal from other blues.

I like how the color problem is solved in Swahili. It seems they don’t have color words. When they want to describe a color, they do just that. “That shirt is the color of grass.” “Your eyes are the color of the sky.” Every conversation must sound like poetry.

Another interesting Wikipedia article was about the book Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. The authors seem to distinguish the level of a culture by the number of basic color terms it possesses. All cultures distinguish between black and white. Then, as they become more sophisticated, they apparently follow the same order the world over. They’ll add red, then either green or yellow, then both green and yellow, then blue, then brown, then purple, pink, orange or grey. English is supposedly the most sophisticated, with eleven basic color terms.

Points to ponder:

  • If we as a species can’t even agree on the way to look at or describe color, is there any hope for universal understanding?
  • How can any book, let alone the Bible, be taken literally when it’s been filtered through so many languages and cultures that see the world in fundamentally different ways?
  • How can we ever know if the blue I see is the same as the blue you see?

Fractal Collage--Braid water

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