What Color is Tuesday?
A Process Theology of Synesthesia
by Jay McDaniel
What color is Tuesday?
To Whiteheadians this question makes such good sense. We believe that every moment of experience, consciously or unconsciously, is a gathering of all the data coming from our senses into complex unity, coupling them into contrasts.
Sometimes these contrasts are complementary and sometimes contradictory. Blue Tuesday will be felt as contradictory or complementary relative to a person's prior experience of Tuesdays and Blue.
For my part I've experienced some Blue Tuesdays but also some Green Ones. Every once in a while they are Grey, too. One time I experienced a Pink Tuesday.
In any case the many items of our past experience are forever being gathered into the unity of a single experience. We ourselves are the gathering.
The many items that are gathered together include words, images, smells, feelings, movements, ideas, events, and experiences. Once the coupling occurs, it becomes a new entity in the ongoing history of our past actual world, affecting the way we experience what comes later. As Whitehead puts it in Process and Reality, moment by moment "the many become one and are increased by one."
Every Moment at Gathering
We process thinkers speak of this gathering process as concrescence or, to use another of Whitehead's phrases, "the production of novel togetherness." We might also call it creative synesthesia.
Etymology synesthesia come from the Greek: σύν (syn) means "together," and αἴσθησις (aisthēsis) means "sensation." Thus synesthesia literally means the togetherness of diverse sensations.
Whitehead adds that, in this togetherness, the past actual world comes together, too. The things that are paired are not simply private sense-data isolated from the world; they are feelings, ideas, events and experiences from the past actual world, which has a reality of its own and which is part of the ongoing history of the universe.
In every synesthetic process, says Whitehead, the universe itself comes together and something is added. The point of this is to say that, in a Whiteheadian context, synesthesia is both psychological and ontological, both experiential and cosmological. Subjective experience is not cut off from the outer world. It is the place where the many of the world become one. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin, we are the very place where the world becomes concrete. Every human being, every plant, every animal, every quantum event, is a concrescence of the universe.
Creativity Beneath the Surface
How does this happen? Our brain does much of the coupling even without our being consciously aware of it. Along with Freud, Jung, and most cognitive scientists today, Whitehead believes that we are consciously aware of only a small part of our actual experience, much of which occurs in sleep. Whitehead puts it this way in Process and Reality: "The principle I am adopting is that consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness."
One expression of our synesthetic capacities is metaphor-making, or the relating of seemingly unrelated things.
It is not surprising that artists are very good at metaphor-making. We rightly admire them for their creativity. But the very fact that we can understand metaphors, even without being the ones who created them, is symptomatic of the artist within each of us. The history of human experience is an ongoing history of metaphor reception, to which new metaphors are added in light of new experiences.
It almost seems as if there is a calling, deep within us, to create metaphors and live by them, until they become unable to carry us into uncertain futures, in light of which we must seek new metaphors.
Soul of the Universe
Where does this calling come from? We Whiteheadians believe that it comes from the divine metaphor-maker. We believe that the Soul of the universe is the one in whom the many truly become one in a synesthetic and loving way.
Moment by moment, this Soul receives all that happens in the universe and then weaves those happenings into whatever contrasts or harmonies are possible.
Toward what end? In Whitehead's philosophy one of the reasons the Soul of the universe gathers the many into one is for the sake of pleasure. She enjoys a harmony of contrasts, a togetherness of multiplicity. She might even enjoy the pleasure of a really good contradiction, in which tensions make the whole richer. The Soul of the universe -- thank the Lord -- is not a sycophant for logic at the expense of humor.
But another reason is to help us live our lives in satisfying ways. The beckoning of the divine One is to invite us into deeper forms of synesthesia, colored by love and a sense of beauty. It is to see the world in its connectedness and make connections where none seem apparent.
I say seem because, in truth, the universe in which we live is already connected. At one level it may seem as if there is no connection between Blue and Tuesday. But in truth everything is connected.
This is what God already knows. God knows that Tuesdays are Blue for some people, Green for others, and Dark Brown for still others. It is God's nature to share in the perspectives of the world.
We are made in God's image and our task is to grow into God's likeness. We do this by feeling the connections and responding in love, color by color, sound by sound, voice by voice.
Legends of Salvation
Legend has it that, at various times in human history, the Lord has sent saviors to help us feel the connections and live truthfully. To live them truthfully is to share in the rhapsodies of life, whatever their colors. The truth of this way is an adverb. It is not simply what we do but how we do what we do. It is a way that excludes no ways, a space that includes all spaces.
All our lives we struggle to find this way. We confront evil and pretend that we can isolate it from our own hearts; we discover goodness and pretend that it is only in us but not in others. And yet always we are invited to welcome the colors, the sounds, the voices in a spirit of love.
This invitation is not simply imposed upon us from afar. It wells up within us as our own dream for life's fulness. Jews speak of it as the dream of Shalom.
Isn't it rich? Isn't it queer? It is almost as if She has made a covenant with us. It is almost as if she appears to us, revealing herself again and again, in the tears and laughter of ordinary experience, both broken and healed.
They say that the Soul of the universe is a dream weaver, too. They say that she harbors within her own primordial heart a hope that our dreams may join hers in splendor, that our lives and hers may be synesthetically complete. They say that She never gives up on us. She's always dreaming. Always weaving. Some of it conscious and some of it unconscious.
All ways and always.
Is it indeed in her image that we are made?
Is it her song that we, too, are singing?