What is Reality? Do you see the world differently?

See Through A Different Set of Eyes

Meet Devon Westland, an artist, a synesthete, an interesting man.

I recall a conversation with a friend who is colorblind in which he described to me the pain of feeling stupid as a child because he didn’t understand why he couldn’t see things the way that others apparently did.  Unfortunately, his teachers and parents decided he was learning deficient, when in reality, he was simply seeing things differently.  

Recently I met another man who sees things differently.  That man is Devon Westland, and meeting him has given me a new outlook on the perception of reality.

 Tucked away in the corner of my temporary office (Starbucks in the Mashpee Commons) were several paintings on the wall.  Over the course of a few days, I had noticed several people pause and comment on the paintings.   They sucked you in.  They were captivating.  They were… different… 

One day as I was working away at my computer, a man and woman came in and took the paintings down off the wall.  I only noticed them as they were leaving.  I asked if one of them was the artist, and the man, Devon, said that he was.  I told him I thought his paintings were fascinating and that I’d seen many people admiring them and commenting on their uniqueness over the course of a few days.  

“You see?” said the woman that was with him?  He looked unsure of himself, almost as though he felt like he shouldn’t be there.

 Later in the day as I was walking down the street toward my car, I ran into the artist again.  He was walking alone on the sidewalk, and I was compelled to strike up a conversation.  I wanted to know more about him and why his art was so different.  What I learned was not only what made his art different, but what made him appear unsure of himself.  

As with the start of most of my days, I listen to podcasts to distract my mind from the anxiety of getting out of the house and started with the day.  That morning, I was listening to Professor Blastoff and one of the topics that was discussed was a condition that had fascinated me since 7th grade science class.  I remember vividly reading a short blurb in a magazine in which a man described hearing shapes and tasting colors.  I have thought about that article many times through the years, recalling that it had something to do with a crossing of neural pathways in the hippocampus of the brain.

When I asked Devon about his art, he told me of his difficulties interacting with the world in ways that most people would perceive as “normal.”  He told me of being diagnosed with synesthesia, the same condition that was being discussed on Professor Blastoff, the same that I had read about in 7th grade.  Devon spends his life seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and experiencing the world completely differently than most people.  

Immediately I thought of my friend and how difficult it was for him through childhood, dealing with his color-blindness.  I thought of my own past, and how I’d always been termed “different.”   For the next few days, a sinking feeling developed inside of me.  Everyone’s reality is different.  I know I’ve always known this, but now I had a concrete example staring me in the face.

I’ve always questioned my own grasp on reality, and lately even more fiercely.  One thing that Devon said that seems to have seared itself into my brain is, “I have to catch my body and bring it back into me.”  What does this say about where we exist and what our realities are?  Are we merely an expression of our minds and their perceptions?  Are we all one chemical reaction or neural pathway development from genius or dunce, sane or insane, success or failure?

Why on that particular day did a 7th grade fascination come back with such force as to be reintroduced by a podcast and immediately reinforced by meeting a synesthete?  Perhaps it means something.  Perhaps that’s just my perception of reality.