Colour Your WORD - A Peek into the Synesthetic Brain

by: Emma Roorda

Most worship music enthusiasts will recall the title Synesthesia from an instrumental 2015 Bethel album, but I would venture to guess that not many know the beautiful weight that the word “synesthesia” actually carries. Neither did third-year student Johanna Wolfert — that is until she curiously researched its definition and realized that her unique mind has rare synesthetic colour graphing capabilities.

Synesthesia literally means a mixing of the senses. Some might mistakenly call it a sixth sense, but in actuality, it's an added dimension to the abilities of a certain human sense. Colour Synesthesia involves the brain having the power to associate music, letters, numbers, or words with certain shades of colour. Estimates show that around 1 in every 2000 humans share the  synesthetic condition.

“I realized I had Synesthesia when I was reading a book about a character who had it,” Wolfert quotes. “The character kept saying that 3 was yellow, and I thought, ‘3 is NOT yellow, 3 is definitely green!’” This caused Wolfert to dive into further research on the subject, and she soon discovered that she is among the population of brilliant people who possess a synesthetic mind.

Wolfert’s type of Synesthesia, colour-graphing, means that every letter of the alphabet, every numeric digit, some days of the week, and a few months of the year have an involuntary psychological association with a specific colour. She has no trouble explaining that “the letter __ is white, the number 2 is red, 3 is green, and 4 is blue.”

Wolfert went on to explain some everyday implications of her condition: “Sometimes, I’ll be struck by a number and think, wow, that's a really ugly number! I hate the colour five. Or sometimes, I’ll meet someone and say, ‘You have a very red name!’”

Every numeric and alphabetic colour is intrinsically stored in Johanna’s amazing mind. Her self-created synesthetic colour scheme comes so naturally to her that, prior to discovering what it meant to have Synesthesia, she simply assumed that every human being also matched their letters and numbers with colours. Upon realizing the rarity of her psychological tendencies, she created an alphabet showing the hues which she automatically associates with each letter.

Johanna doesn't equate her Synesthesia to her success in academia, yet she admits that her association of colours sometimes causes her to better remember facts and information.

In terms of minor drawbacks to having Synesthesia, Wolfert admits that she often finds it annoying to play card games. In her head, most of the cards in the deck are displayed as the wrong colour. Wolfert comments, “Dutch Blitz is the worst!”

Wolfert’s intricate mind reads with an intense sunset of interlocking colours. Although her painted world is invisible to those around her, each colour carries meaning, codes, and symbols that shape the way she views life around her. Johanna’s Synesthesia holds vibrant intellectual and emotional beauty. It is a sea of shades that is too strangely colourful for the majority of mortal humanity to even comprehend. Maybe Bethel Music was onto something.

Did you know the following celebrities also have/had various forms of Synesthesia? Lorde (musician, vocalist), Billy Joel (musician, vocalist), Marilyn Monroe (actress), Kanye West (musician, vocalist), Pharrell (musician, vocalist, dancer) Mary J Blige (musician, vocalist), Dev Hynes (musician, vocalist), Jimi Hendrix (musician, vocalist), Stevie Wonder (musician), Vincent Van Gogh (post-impressionist painter), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (classical composer), Eddie Van Halen (musician), Tori Amos (musician), Geoffrey Rush (actor), Arthur Rimbaud (poet), and Franz Liszt (compose, pianist).