This is a wonderful book. Seeing the colors of the letters of the alphabet; feeling the shapes of the tastes of different foods-these are examples of synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that produces a "blending" or "combining" of sensory responses. Author, Patricia Lynne Duffy, a synesthete herself, uses her own experiences as the point of departure to take the reader on a journey that deftly illustrates the pervasiveness of this way of perceiving in the world and raises many deeply philosophical and sociological questions.
In Ms. Duffy's young childhood, her father discovered that synesthesia existed as a documented neurological condition after he went searching for an answer as to why his daughter saw each of the letters of the alphabet in a specific color. Ms. Duffy's book moves from these intimate and extremely touching early synesthetic recollections into the broad and fascinating subject of synesthesia in the world at large. The book is a feast for the mind. We learn that the French symbolist poets Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Gautier were synesthetes. As is world-renowned painter David Hockney who uses the colors he sees in his syesthetic perceptions in his paintings. As does artist, Carol Steen. But even non-synesthetic artists such as Paul Klee and Georgia O'Keefe employed "techniques of transforming" that belong to the "blended" or "combined" sensory perceptions of the synesthetic experience.
In exploring her subject, Patricia Duffy has given us a rich compilation of information that touches on almost every discipline: the arts, science, the brain, health, philosophy, religion. But most fascinating to this reader is the fundamental question that the book raises about the very nature of perception itself. As Dr. Peter Grossenbacher from the National Institute of Mental Health points out at the beginning of his foreword to the book, "William James, the father of American experimental psychology, observed that each mind has its own way of perceiving the world." How are we to regard this uniqueness of individual perception when as Ms. Duffy points out, "In life so much depends on the question, do you see what I see? that most basic of queries that binds human beings socially." And even among synesthetes, each person has their own individual synesthetic perception, the color of one synesthete's letter A, for example being different from another's. Perhaps the most intriguing idea of all that Ms. Duffy's book puts forth is in her wonderful chapter entitled, Everything Fights For Its Survival-Even A Perception: "Like every other living thing on this earth, a personal perception of reality, too, will fight for its survival. And, as with every other living thing on this earth, the only way to ensure survival is by learning to coexist with others vastly different."