The Color Blind who Feels Colors — Synaesthesia

I am colorblind and don’t have a very broad color spectrum. Because of that it is even harder for me to believe, that there are some people who not only can see colors with their eyes but in a way feel colors or see them with an extra inner eye. Every thing, even abstract terms, letters, numbers, just everything is associated to a color or several colors.

Colblindor Synaesthesia

As a word it would be a mixed pink-yellow-white color.

Ying, a women who is gifted with this very special ability, contacted me a few weeks ago and I could learn from here explanations a lot about grapheme (color synaesthesia): An individuals perception which is involuntary, consistent, and memorable associated with the experience of colors.

Basically I never really thought about this, but most things (real, abstract, imagined) has a color to me since I was a small child. The assignment of colors seems to have no reason or any rule at all, yet remain consistent. i.e. The days in a week: Monday is silver white, Tuesday is grayish blue, Wednesday is deep pink, Thursday is green, Friday is mustard yellow, Saturday is red, and Sunday is pale yellow. All the numbers have a color, too, as well as things like directions, months, abstract things like gravity (do you know gravity is steel gray to me?)…etc. I didn’t think it’s weird until my friends said it’s weird and they don’t think like that. I can speak three languages and the colors of things don’t always match in different languages. i.e. the word “wife” in English is a gray color, it’s equivalent word in Chinese is a dark red color. I can’t really explain them. Like I can’t explain why bananas are yellow, well because they are yellow as a fact.

I added a few more questions to this first introducing statement so I could learn more about synaesthesia. Here are a some more of those very interesting facts about it.

Colblindor: What about some specific words. Do they always have a specific color? Is angry really red, calm green and hot red, cold blue?
Ying: Ok about the colors of words: yes those words definitely have consistent colors to me. I have to mention that words have no colors until you understand them, and I didn’t start English until my late teens. My sense of colors might be off from authentic English speakers who learned them as little kids. :) Anyway, hot is orange to me, almost burnt (dark) orange, cold is steel gray, angry is a whitish blue, same color as “air”, calm is a watery dark blue. The thing is, many words don’t have a solid color, they frequently have 2 or 3 colors and have a swirly or mottled look. Only very simple things like simple digit numbers or the alphabet have a single color.

Colblindor: Do you in some way “see” this colors or more like “feel” them?
Ying: I’m a very visual person, so I would say I rather “see” them then “feel” them.

Coblindor: Do you think it is a gift, a handicap, or something you would prefer not to carry around with you?
Ying: It doesn’t affect my daily life much at all. I’ve only ever brought it up a few times with some very close friends and was surprised that they don’t have it. It might help me remember things and names better. I’m not sure if it has any other use.

Colblindor: Do you know other members in your family who are feeling the same?
Ying: I never talked to my parents or siblings about this so I don’t know if they have that or not.

Now there is no obvious relation between color vision deficiency and grapheme. What if you combine both of them? — You wouldn’t be really able to see all colors with your eyes but feel and automatically associate colors to everything. Could you “feel” more colors than you perceive?

Fact is that Yings both sons claim to have also an inner eye which relates colors to things; and one of her sons is colorblind.

If you want to learn more about synaesthesia read this excellent description from Cassidy Curtis at otherthings.com. There is also an interesting site from the University of Sussex about their ongoing synaesthesia research.

The Cure of Color-Blind Monkeys

If you believe it or not, but a team around Jay Neitz could cure monkeys suffering from red-green color blindness by injecting the missing red pigment genes into their eyes.—How does this work and could is also get true for you and me?

Cured Monkey Dalton completing his
Color Blindness Test

How can you cure color blindness?

First of all the team of researchers needed some test persons—in this case some adult male squirrel-monkeys which are colorblind from birth.

This monkeys are missing long wavelength cones and therefore their vision is comparable to protanopia, a specific form of red-green color blindness.

The chosen monkeys were trained on some form of color blindness test: Whenever they touch the screen where the colored area is shown, they get a drop of grape juice. Watch the video to see how the test works.

After some time two of the monkeys—Sam and Dalton—received an injection behind their eyes retinas. The injection inserted viruses carrying a gene that makes L-opsin, one of three proteins released when color-detecting cone cells are hit by different wavelengths of light.

And after the treatment nothing happened…

Only about five months later Sam and Dalton started to get better on their test. The video above shows Dalton on a perfect run, something he could never achieve before the treatment.

What has changed in the color perception of the monkeys?

Jay and Maureen Neitz explain it on their website as follows: Before the treatment the monkeys had only two perception patterns which could differentiate hues, S supported by M and M supported by S. The insertion of the third opsin gene gave rise to new color perception stimuli: M supported by L+S and L supported by M+S.

After a while the brain started to react on this new information. Gaining this new dimension of color vision becomes a simple matter of splitting the preexisting blue-yellow pathway into two systems, one for blue-yellow and a second for red-green color vision; which sounds almost to simple to be true.

When will we be able to cure color vision deficiency?

Nobody knows the answer on that question. But people like Jay Neitz think that this could get true in the near future. You shouldn’t be to optimistic yet as it still needs a lot of testing. First of all the proposed gene therapy also has to be save for humans, which will take quite a while to accomplish and to show to be true.

After that it is not sure what the internal perception of this new colors look like and if there are any psychological side effects—Sam and Dalton didn’t show any, but they can’t tell us what they feel like. The Neitz Lab team lists the following risks:

  • Gene therapy for red-green color blindness may not work in humans as well as it does in the monkeys.
  • Side effects of subretinal injections can include irritation or infection, in addition to the risks of permanent retinal detachment and blindness at the injection site.
  • There could be adverse psychological effects associated with suddenly being able to see new colors and learning how to categorize them.

And on the other side of course the benefit, that you my colorblind fellow could start to see the world much more colorful and experience a supposedly overwhelming colorized life.

Keep your eyes on the latest outcomes of this new gene therapy for color blindness. But please don’t be frustrated if this never comes true in the time you hope for it. If you master your colorblind life with ease you won’t get disappointed if it doesn’t get true but maybe positively surprised!

Thanks to Bob, Martin, and Mac for pointing me so quickly to this new exciting results!

We are colorblind.com

Tom van Beveren from the Netherlands put together a very comprehensive site on all sorts of stuff people should know, if they want to build/design a website which doesn’t exclude colorblind visitors. Because almost 5% of all people are suffering from some form of color vision deficiency, this is something every web publisher should care about.

we are colorblind

wearecolorblind.com

The site We are colorblind.com includes a lot of very interesting topics related to color blindness on the web. It is structured as follows:

Patterns for the Color Blind: A list of very useful patterns you can follow while you’re designing your web content. If you follow those patterns, colorblind people will definitely find their way around on your page.

Quick Tips: This section provides supportive information for all the patterns from the above mentioned list. If you dig into the quick tips you’ll learn more on how color blind people see the world and how you can use this information.

Color vision and web Tools: Hopefully this is an ever growing list of great tools to help you while you are building your web site or just on your way through the web.

Good and bad online Examples: The examples section gives a good overview of good solutions, which help people with color vision deficiency. The list also includes bad examples; web sites unusable by color blind visitors.

If you think about building a new web page, redesign your site or get your online content ready for colorblind visitors, make sure you visit wearecolorblind.com and follow the tips and patterns provided by Tom.

Tom: Really great work! Thanks.

Free Lecture: Colour Assessment & Diagnosis Test

color-assessment-diagnosis-test-lectureThe Royal Aeronautical Society will be holding a Lecture in London on 28 September relating to Use of New Technologies and Therapies in Aviation Medicine.

One of the speakers is Dr Robert Hunter, Head of Aeromedical Section, CAA. He will be talking about the new Colour Assessment & Diagnosis Test.

The Colour Assessment and Diagnosis (CAD) test is a newly developed test for colour vision deficiency in pilots. The CAD test is completely sensitive and specific for the identification of normal colour vision and the test is able to accurately and repeatably quantify the degree of colour vision loss in individuals with colour vision deficiency.

The pass/fail criteria are based on the point at which the degree of deficiency degrades performance in critical piloting tasks, the most critical task being the interpretation of the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) lights. Using the pass/fail criteria that have been established, 35% of colour deficient pilots will be granted unrestricted class 1 medical certification.

The presentation describes the background to the work including current tests for colour vision deficiency, an analysis of colour critical piloting tasks, and the CAD test.

If you are around go and join this free lecture. You can find further information about this talk at the Royal Aeronautical Society Conferences homepage.