Sensational Gift

The following story is fiction. It is an excerpt from my novel Tides Ebb as Islands Dream. If you enjoy it, please consider buying the novel! (Featured photo: “Binz on Rugen” by Wassily Kandinski. (Photo: WikimediaCommons Public Domain))

Inside the store, Gerri’s oldest daughter turned on the radio and started switching the stations.  She stopped when the dial landed on “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”  The younger daughter stood on a chair, imaginary microphone in hand singing away.  “She likes this song very much.  It was the favorite song of her cousin.  Her cousin used to play this song on a CD and sing it with my daughter.”  Although Gerri smiled as her daughter played pop star, it was obvious that a deep sadness had come over her.    

     “What’s wrong, Gerri.”

     “Like I say before, sometimes people have a different feeling sense about something.  For my daughter, this one is a happy song and she dance when she hear it.  But my feeling is different because my experience different.  This was Carmelita’s favorite song but now Carmelita is gone so it make me sad.  My daughter not understand that Carmelita is gone.  She’s too young to understand still.”

     “What happened to Carmelita?”

     “Carmelita was the niece of my husband.  She lived with her family on Olango.  She was a very beautiful and special girl.  When she was born, God gave her a special gift.  It was the same gift of the aunt of my husband and also of some other relatives.  You see, Sean, when Carmelita hear the music she also see beautiful colors.  You and me, we can only hear the sound, but for Carmelita, she could see the sound.  She was always so happy and she would tell us about the sounds and colors she see.  This song she love so much because when she hear it she always see lots of gold and blue—the colors of love she would say…and pink and purple the colors of passion.  For Carmelita, colors were like a person’s emotion.  Different sounds were different colors.  Each bird’s call was a different color and the waves crashing on the beach showed her many colors because their sound always change depending on the tide and the wind.  The world of Carmelita was very different from the world of you or the world of me.  Have you ever heard of such a thing Sean?”

     “Maybe I have.  I remember reading something similar in a psychology book when I was at university.  It was something about how the brain mixes senses for some people.  Like they taste shapes or feel sounds.  I think there is a name for that.”

     “Yes, there is.  A doctor told us the name.  A psychiatrist from Cebu Doctors Hospital heard of Carmelita and he go to Olango to meet her.  After that, he wanted to study her.  It was okay until he took her to the city.  There was so much noise she almost went crazy with all the colors that explode in her head.  She cry for two days in Cebu so the doctor, he just come to Olango to visit with her.  He gave her family a CD player and he gave Carmelita many different kinds of music.  She was so happy.  That song about the jet plane was one of the songs on a CD he give her.  She learn so much about music.  She learn the guitar.  Her dream was to be a music teacher.  One time she tell me she hope someday to listen to her students play a concert and she can see all the beautiful colors and maybe she could paint a picture of that.  It was a beautiful dream that she had. 

     “But not all the sounds were beautiful colors for her.  Some sounds showed her colors that scared her or made her want to cover her ears.  Rain was nice for her, but the wind and rain together sent her hiding in the closet.  She have to close her eyes and cover her ears.  During a typhoon, she cry for days and would not eat.  She would talk like a crazy person about what she saw.  Sometimes she would scare the other people with what the sound show her.  Many people think she was crazy.  But her family understand and we know she have a gift.”

     “Synesthesia!”  Sean’s exclamation startled Gerri, “Oh, sorry.  I mean the name for her condition…ah, her gift.  The name for her gift is synesthesia.  I just remembered.  Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.” 

     “Yes, maybe that is what the doctor say.  Synanetisia?”

     “Synesthesia.  But please continue.  What happened to Carmelita?”

     “There was one sound that scare Carmelita too much.  She say the sound show her colors that are more ugly than thunder.  The dynamite fishing.  Every time there is blast, Carmelita run in her house and pull her sleeping mat over her head.  She tell me that when there a blast, it is not just the color that scare her but she say the color grab at her and try to choke her like an evil demon.  She say the color she see was not black, but it was just darkness.  Cold darkness….like a death.  Carmelita say that the color of thunder and of the typhoon was scary but not ugly.  That colors still nature…still part of life.  The colors of the dynamite blast is like all colors dying…like no color at all.  Carmelita say that colors are life, the colors are a gift.  But the sound of the dynamite kill the gift of color.       

     “There was a while, maybe five years ago when the fishermen were making lot of dynamite for the fishing near Olango where her family live.  Carmelita was maybe fifteen years old.  She could not go to school, she only stay in her house and cry.  Nobody know what to do.  The father of her try to stop the fishermen, but they only argue and say they need to feed their families.  The father of Carmelita beg them and tell that the noise is killing his daughter.  The fishermen only laugh and say that Carmelita is just a crazy girl.  My husband then try to help the husband of his sister, and talk to the fishermen he know.  Even they don’t listen to my husband. 

     “After one month, the bombs stop.  The reef on that side of the island gone and all the fish too gone.  The fishermen go to another place.  Maybe Palawan to do muro ami fishing with the sticks and net.  The relatives of my husband not care where the fishermen go.  Everybody just happy there is no noise of blast fishing for a long time.  Especially Carmelita.

     “A few months after, some more dynamite fishermen come again.  One day Carmelita is riding her bicycle on the path and she hear the blast noise and see the cold ugly darkness.  She screamed and have accident on her bicycle.  Her head smash on a rock and she is like sleeping for a long time.  Her family take her to the hospital on Mactan.  The doctor from Cebu, he go to Mactan also.  For two days she sleep and then when she wake up her gift was gone.  Not gone, just different.  Before she see colors when she hear sounds.  When she wake up she hear sounds when she see colors.”

     Sean was fascinated as he listened to Gerri’s account of what happened to Carmelita.  Had he not heard of synesthesia, he may have thought the whole story was fabricated.  Gerri paused as she poured another cup of goat-dirt tea.  She looked at Sean’s empty cup of coffee, poured him some hot water and gave him a packet of instant coffee.  After a few sips of her goat-dirt tea she continued, “Everybody laugh at first because Carmelita’s gift change.  Her parents happy because they think that the blast fishing noise not hurt her again.  But then Carmelita start to cry.  She say her dream can never come true.  If she always hear different music when she see color then she can never be a music teacher and she can never see the music her students play.  Her whole life dream is gone and she cry a lot.”

     Gerri paused for a minute and looked at her two daughters playing inside the store.  Sean mumbled to himself, “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”


     “Oh, nothing.  What you said about Carmelita’s lifelong dream being gone…well, it reminded me of words to a song that my mother used to sing when she was feeling melancholy.  Something about, ‘Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.’  And then a line about life being unkind.”

     “Maybe I hear that song before.  Maybe it is like what happened to Carmelita.  Life was unkind to take her gift and to take her dream away.  At her home, she have many troubles because of sounds in her head.  When the sun too bright she hear a very high noise and when the sky too cloudy she hear deep thumping noise.  They have to make the inside of her house black so she not hear so many noises or she start to go crazy.  When she talk to people, she could not look at the clothes they wear.  When the clothes of the people have many colors Carmelita hear many different sounds.  She say it like hearing too many radio station at the same time.  She say polka dots are terrible noise for her.  I see her once when she see polka dots.  She have to close her eyes and cover her ears.  She say it like someone put a pin inside her ear.  Her next birthday we have a small party, but nobody can wear polka dots.  And no bright colors.  Just plain clothes like black or dark blue or grey. 

     “Before the change, Carmelita like to swim with goggles in the sea and look at the coral and the fish.  After the change she cannot do that because there too many beautiful colors.  But for Carmelita the colors make too many noises and she not happy any more.  The beautiful flowers on the island fill her head with too many sound.  After the change, nothing can be beautiful for her.  The doctor from Cebu try to help, but he don’t know how to help.  He take Carmelita to Cebu and do something in the hospital.  He try to give her medicine but she only sleep from the medicine.  Nothing help her and she become sad and more sad.

     “Her dream gone forever and her life is every day too many noises.  Even she a young and beautiful girl she never smile…she never happy.  The noise from the colors make her more crazy and more sad.  Her life become very bad until one day she decide she not want to live more.  She wait for one night with no moon.  A dark night when she could see no color and when that night come, she walk out into the water. 

     “I think she find peace that night.  When they find her body the next day, she had a smile on her beautiful face.”

     Sean was speechless.  He looked around at all the beautiful colors of the tropical morning.  It was impossible to imagine life the way Carmelita had experienced it.  Her reality was beyond what Sean could imagine.  He immediately recalled what his college mentor had once told him, “Everybody has their own reality.”

Hanami in Hodogaya Park

We enjoyed our annual Hanami or “flower viewing” picnic recently. This year we went to Hodogaya Park, up the hill from where we live. The weather was perfect for the event. Here are some photos:

Jasmen picked the perfect spot!

春風に (haru kaze ni)

吹き出し笑う (fukidashi warau)

花もがな (hana mo ga na)

A Spring breeze

Blowing laughter

Flowers, too

Matsuo Basho, Spring, 1668

Father and Son




Samazama no 

koto omoidasu 

sakura kana

How many, many things

They call to mind

These cherry-blossoms!

Matsuo Basho/translated by R. H. Blyth

Landmark Tower in the Distance

The Dangers of Lazy Logic

Desire to Know vs. Desire to Understand

It is our basic nature to be satisfied with just knowing certain facts. More often than not, our belief that we “know” a fact supersedes the desire to understand the complex details of the fact. Life is too busy to take the time to understand and analyze the over 50 GB of data our brains process every day. Knowing the train schedule is enough. I don’t need to understand the logic behind how the schedule was made. Knowing it will rain is enough to convince me I need an umbrella. I don’t need to understand or analyze the movement of high and low pressure systems.

For most of the information our brains process, just knowing is enough. However, being satisfied with “just knowing” can lead to gullible assumptions, acceptance of inaccurate information and lazy logic.  Abraham Maslow theorized that the desires to know, to understand and to analyze have a hierarchical order. The strength of these desires is dependent on our immediate motivational needs. For example, if I am hungry and I want to eat something that is reasonable healthy, I can choose something at a convenience store. Say I grab a microwaveable soy burger. I know this is food. I read the label and I don’t find anything particularly bad on the label. It says “healthy choice” and “no MSG” on the packaging. I am content that it is not harmful and will satisfy my hunger. I have no burning desire to understand exactly how it was made or how it will make my hunger vanish. Looks good, smells good, tastes good…hunger gone, I’m happy.

It is doubtful the microwaveable soy burger will have any long-term detrimental effects on my body, but I have gone out on a limb by trusting the words, “healthy choice”. My trust is based on a gullible assumption that I am not receiving inaccurate information. Marketing companies know this and use our satisfaction with “knowing” as a tactic to sell us all sorts of products. Politicians and their campaign managers use similar tactics in election campaigns.

What happens when what we think we “know” is actually wrong?

If what I think I know about the train schedule is wrong, I will probably miss the train. However, if what a person thinks they know about a political, environmental or social issue is wrong, it will probably lead to poor choices for mitigation of the negative consequences related to the issue. Fake news (a.k.a. “propaganda”), advertising, puffery, smear campaigning and hype are all tactics to spread information that is less than accurate. The problem is that although complex issues should trigger the desires to understand, systematize, organize and analyze information, human nature predisposes most of us to be intellectually lazy. We are easily satisfied if information (whether accurate or not) fits our mindset, our lifestyle and our belief systems. In the absence of cognitive dissonance, the desire to deeply analyze information is diminished. If our peer community accepts the same information as truth, our beliefs are further reinforced.

Lazy Logic

The Car Radio Example

Lazy logic is making an assumption that a correlation exists on the basis that two events occur within close temporal proximity. For example, years ago my neighbor used to give me a ride to work on occasion. Oddly enough, every time I rode in his car, the radio would stop working. Lazy logic tells us that I, in some way, interfered with the car radio signal. That assumption could lead to many other assumptions, such as I am an alien or I am radioactive. Both false.

So why did the radio stop working? Well, I left out one small bit of information. The only days my neighbor drove me to work were days that it rained and I didn’t want to ride my bicycle. Now, can you guess why the radio didn’t work? Well, his car was old and it had some wiring issues. Evidently, when it rained, something got wet and messed up the radio connection. The fact that I was in the car each time this happened is just a confounding variable and irrelevant to the real cause-and-effect relationship.

Listen to the Science

Listen to the science.” This is seemingly good advice. It sounds intelligent. It appears to be more than “just knowing”. If a fact is based on science, then believing it appears to show that the individual has done some higher level analysis—or at least is accepting for fact the conclusions of others who have conducted higher level analysis. For some scientific concepts, like gravity, “listening to the science” is easy because understanding gravity is relatively intuitive and constant. Not all science is constant. Science, by definition is an ever-changing process. Science evolves. As new knowledge is revealed, “facts” change. For example, carbon dating, which at best is a good theory, has evolved since the 1940s and calibration methods have changed. Those changes have led to re-considerations about the probable dates for the Dead Sea Scrolls, theories relating to deforestation on Easter Island and the probable dates of the first human settlements on Easter Island.

The Worst Type of Lazy Logic

The argument “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem” is one of the worst types of lazy logic because it is contingent on a long list of assumptions that need to be true. This argument is often used to persuade individuals to join in the collective mindset and belief system of a particular group. Here is a list of assumptions that need to be true to accept the conditional cause-and-effect claim, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”:

  • The problem needs to exist.
  • A solution needs to exist.
  • The assumed solution needs to be the only solution. It is conceivable that being part of a different solution may actually be a better choice for mitigation of negative effects. For example, if a climate activist believes voting for a “green” candidate and “green” legislation is the solution to climate change and uses this argument to garner support for political initiatives, the argument is faulty. An Amish individual who does not vote would be considered part of the climate change problem when in reality that individual leads a life that is more representative of positive climate action than most of the general population.
  • The proposed solution cannot result in additional negative impacts. Otherwise, it would be part of the problem.
  • The proposed solution needs to work.
  • The proposed solution cannot negate any other possible solutions.
  • The proposed solution needs to be fair.
A better way to phrase it!