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Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds Hardcover – November 7, 2001
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What's a "synesthete"? It's a person in whom more than one sense responds when a single sense is stimulated. Research suggests that one in 2,000 people experience synesthesia; for Duffy, letters (and the words they combine to produce) have color (hence, Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens ). It took technology like PET scans to confirm the unusual brain patterns of synesthesia, but some artists of the past--Liszt, Rimbaud, and Nabokov, for example--seem to have experienced it. Duffy describes her own experience and that of several contemporary artists in examining this phenomenon as a special case of the "personal coding" scientists now recognize as a vital aspect of brain development. Mary Carroll
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"...a thought-provoking glimpse at how much is lurking in other people's minds--and how little we know about it." -- Detroit Free Press
"[A] fun and worthwhile read....you'll shake your head and marvel." -- Salon.com
Top customer reviews
This book, written by a woman with (grapheme => color synesthesia) details her own life, including when she first realized she perceived things differently from the rest of the world, as well as information about it. Included are several photos, the most interesting of which is a colored alphabet which shows how she perceives each letter.
Anyone interested in synesthesia or psychology or even the brain in general should read at this book for the information offered.
In Ms. Duffy's young childhood, her father discovered that synesthesia existed as a documented neurological condition after he went searching for an answer as to why his daughter saw each of the letters of the alphabet in a specific color. Ms. Duffy's book moves from these intimate and extremely touching early synesthetic recollections into the broad and fascinating subject of synesthesia in the world at large. The book is a feast for the mind. We learn that the French symbolist poets Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Gautier were synesthetes. As is world-renowned painter David Hockney who uses the colors he sees in his syesthetic perceptions in his paintings. As does artist, Carol Steen. But even non-synesthetic artists such as Paul Klee and Georgia O'Keefe employed "techniques of transforming" that belong to the "blended" or "combined" sensory perceptions of the synesthetic experience.
In exploring her subject, Patricia Duffy has given us a rich compilation of information that touches on almost every discipline: the arts, science, the brain, health, philosophy, religion. But most fascinating to this reader is the fundamental question that the book raises about the very nature of perception itself. As Dr. Peter Grossenbacher from the National Institute of Mental Health points out at the beginning of his foreword to the book, "William James, the father of American experimental psychology, observed that each mind has its own way of perceiving the world." How are we to regard this uniqueness of individual perception when as Ms. Duffy points out, "In life so much depends on the question, do you see what I see? that most basic of queries that binds human beings socially." And even among synesthetes, each person has their own individual synesthetic perception, the color of one synesthete's letter A, for example being different from another's. Perhaps the most intriguing idea of all that Ms. Duffy's book puts forth is in her wonderful chapter entitled, Everything Fights For Its Survival-Even A Perception: "Like every other living thing on this earth, a personal perception of reality, too, will fight for its survival. And, as with every other living thing on this earth, the only way to ensure survival is by learning to coexist with others vastly different."
I as a synasthete really loved reading her personal stories and reflections and some of the research that she's found along the way. And especially loved listening to people talk about their colored letters and how they differed from mine and the shapes people saw and how they were a brigher reflection of the shapes I dimly see listening to music.
The reason that this book got only four stars is because of the fact that she acts like there isn't really that much information on synesthesia so she starts repeating the things she's said before.
If you're willing to step into the world of synesthesia and seeing for yourself the things that we see then this is a good book to start from.