I have known for a while that Neva thinks in colors. Every time she stuns me by reciting a paragraph from a book we read months ago or a TV show she only saw once last year, I know what is stored in her memory aren’s the actual words but color combinations, which she then interprets back to words to make them understandable for me or whoever else she is talking to. She can easily remember very long sequences of numbers (like many digits of pi) and musical melodies the same way. It’s like she is compiling any other input (words, phonemes, letters, numbers, musical tunes) into the machine code her central processing unit can execute: color.
I have also known that color is the key to her talent to read people’s minds. She says that once I have a surprise for her or try to keep something secret, the color of my voice changes and it’s a very unnerving feeling (that’s why she hates surprises).
What I didn’t know until this week is that she also uses her incredible sense of color to compose music. Her feel for which hues go well together and which don’t is very delicate. Once she finds a musical note that has a satisfying color she first thinks of which tints go well in combination with that color. The notes she synesthetically associates with that color combination always go well together, too, she explained to me lying in bed the other night. She says she herself doesn’t know why this always works, why if the colors match, their corresponding sound frequencies match as well.
“This is why learning to read sheet music during piano lessons was so confusing to me”, she said. “Because to me every note has a specific color, but they just call the notes using letters such as A or G, and to me those letters also have specific colors!”
The way schooling and standardized training works, it practically demanded her to disregard the way her brain functions best and hobble along within the constraints of the system, feeling unfit and handicapped. Once she ditched the standard approach, she discovered she is a composer and can write pretty awesome game music.
Whether you’re a synesthete like Neva or not, there is some sort of machine code your brain executes best and it most probably isn’t the “strategies” school teaches you to solve a select set of problems they force-feed you. For most synesthetes, pressing them into learning strategies other than their synesthesia is like asking that a computer runs in English instead of binary, painfully ignorant at best.
Discovering what your elemental language is and harnessing it is essentially what self-directed learning entails. As parents we can only facilitate that process for our kids, we can’t compose or orchestrate it.
Neva has a very cool idea for the next game she is going to build together with Simon and Abhay and has already started experimenting with the music themes. She is also learning Unity, below is a small project she made fantasizing about the new game. Check out those color combinations: