Synesthesia and Memory

If you’ve spent any time wandering around my rambling home page, you might know that I have colored-letter synesthesia. For years I’ve been looking for ways to convey to other people what the experience is really like. This is not a simple task, because the colors are kind of dynamic: they change depending on a number of factors.

One of those factors is memory, and another one is attention. If I glance at a word once in passing and try to remember it later, chances are I’ll remember only some basic information about it: the length of the word, and the dominant color (which is usually, but not always, determined by the first letter.) Remembering the whole word will mean trying to remember the specific colors of all the letters, which then, sometimes, allows me to remember the letters themselves.

To help illustrate what this feels like, I built a little Flash applet. As you type words into it, they appear with each letter in its proper color. But as time passes and memory fades, the letters are replaced by blocks of color that approximate what little I might remember. To refresh your memory, you can pay attention to the words by moving your mouse towards them.

I actually wrote this almost two years ago, but somehow forgot to put it up online. (Another case of memory fading as time passes.) I think I had some notion about making it better, or adding punctuation or something. But a random email reminded me of it, and I realized nobody cares about punctuation these days anyway. So here it is. Enjoy!

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