Welcome to Kala’s Quick Five, where I chat with fascinating authors, artists, teachers, and researchers and ask them five questions about their work. My guest today is Maureen Seaberg, author of Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies. Maureen is a NYC based journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, Irish America, ESPN magazine and on MSNBC, PSB, and NBC.
Kala: Maureen, your book is a spiritual and scientific exploration of Synesthesia, which is described as a “cross-wiring, or lack of chemical inhibition, between brain neurons.” What does the world look and sound like when one has Synesthesia?
Maureen: Hi Kala. Thanks for having me on Kala’s Quick Five. The world is as non-synesthetes know it, but with an overlay of color and impressions that enhance it. It is an add-on, not a deficit, and one of the coolest brain traits to have!
Kala: During your research, you discovered that both Marilyn Monroe and Billy Joel have synesthesia. How was it determined that they possess the trait?
Maureen: I won a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Colony and my professor there, Dr. John Michael Lennon, found Mailer’s writings on Monroe (he wrote a controversial biography of her) that seemed to suggest she had this brain trait. I later confirmed it with a surviving niece of hers in North Carolina.
Joel was a neighbor of a friend of mine who is a synesthete, the wonderful artist Marcia Smilack and she always thought he “got” her. When I spoke with him I realized not only is he a synesthete, but his musical inspirations appear to him, waking and sleeping, in a synesthetic vision — all in color.
Kala: You mention that one of the inventors of the internet, Sir Robert Cailliau, is a synesthete, who sees the letter “w” as a dark green color, which is one of his favorite colors. What prompted him to use the www. as the beginning url for all websites on the internet?
Maureen: Sir Robert was working at CERN with his colleague Sir Tim Berners-Lee of Great Britain on the supercollider. One day after work, over a beer, Sir Tim suggested they call it “World Wide Web.” This seemed cumbersome at first to Sir Robert but he loved the dark green he perceived around all those “w’s” so he went with it. At the first World Wide Web conference they gave out green enamel www pins in honor of that synesthetic association.
Kala: I see auras and colors around people. I’m not sure that this is the same as synesthesia, but I also see colors with music and in elements, such as color around the wind when it blows. You see numbers, letters, days of the week, music and sound in colors. How many types of Synesthesia are there and how do they differ?
Maureen: Wow, Kala, welcome to the tribe! Seeing auras is now believed to be a form of synesthesia (I see them too in the right light) and there are over 50 forms known now with more being found all the time.
Kala: What would you say are the drawback and the benefits to having this trait?
Maureen: The only drawback is the lack of understanding that still lingers around it. The benefits are that the synesthesia usually acts as a mnemonic, giving you a great ability to remember things. (Phone numbers that might slip a “normal” person’s mind are backed up by the memory of the associated colors.) It also is eight times more likely in creative people. I’d feel color blind without it.
Kala: Maureen, thank you for your time, appreciate you joining me here on Kala’s Quick Five.
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More about Kala Ambrose: Kala Ambrose is an award winning author, wisdom teacher, business intuitive, inspirational speaker and host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show. Her thought-provoking interviews entice listeners to tune in around the globe! Described by her guests and listeners as discerning, empowering and inspiring, she speaks with world renowned authors, artists, teachers and researchers delving into empowering and lifestyle enhancing topics. More info at ExploreYourSpirit.com