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Language and the Memory of Color

November 03, 2005 - Back to Journal

When I look at this image, I hear a vibrato. How? From the shape of the bridge. The colors influence the sound I hear because they are responsible for the instruments that might produce the sound of the vibrato -- browns typically produce a lower register sound like cello -- but what would happen if I took away the colors? What would I hear then?

I would still recognize a vibrato because that shape can have no other meaning; but without the colors, the image would become a symbol that means vibrato but does not automatically sound like one. That is, I might not hear it, but I would still know it. Does that make sense?

In other words, I could put the image on sheet music and use it as a musical notation for vibrato, but would I still hear what I hear now? Or, since I saw the image originally with color, would I still hear it the same way, just from the memory of the color?

That's what happened when I experimented and made the image black-and-white. I saw the shape, knew it was vibrato, and then added the sound from memory of the color which was the extra step necessary to convert the symbol back into the original experience it represents.

Could this explain what happens to people who are deaf but were once able to hear? Is this how colors work for synesthetes who see letters with color, do they supply the colors from memory?

Whatever the answer is, it points to the importance of Memory in the Synesthetic experience, and it also underlines what I already figured out: that pictures travel faster than words.