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Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies Paperback – March 1, 2011
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"Tasting the Universe is not only the brilliant writing of a top, professional journalist looking in on a strange but romantic phenomena, but it is the writing of a person who could embrace the feelings of those she interviews, because author Seaberg herself possesses this remarkable gift of synesthesia. I predict when you pick up this book, you will be unable to put it down, as it will open up for you a whole new world in our universe."
--The Amazing Kreskin
"As Maureen Seaberg beautifully tells us, the conscious minds of synesthetes reach deeper levels of reality, beneath the veil, beyond the cave, to purer realms of meaning."
--Dr. Stuart Hameroff, director, Center for Consciousness Studies, The University of Arizona, Tucson
"Maureen Seaberg explores a dimension of synesthesia long encountered in reports of synesthetes: its relation to mystical and artistic vision. In Tasting the Universe, Ms. Seaberg, a synesthete herself, has collected some fascinating accounts by some very prominent and inspiring people."
--Patricia Lynne Duffy, author of Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens
About the Author
Maureen Seaberg has lectured on synesthesia and spirituality at the Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference at the University of Arizona-Tucson. She herself has higher and lower synesthesia, both concepts and forms appear to her in color (her k's are teal and her 8's are aubergine). A journalist for 20 years, Maureen has had articles featured in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, Irish America, ESPN the Magazine, and other publications. She has also covered breaking news for MSNBC and appeared on NBC, CNN, and PBS. Maureen earned a BA in journalism with a minor in Spanish from Penn State University, and a certificate of superior-level Spanish from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
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"`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. -- Christopher Willard is a reviewer for BookPleasures.
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