Illustration by Arthur E. Giron
When Peggy Orenstein, a best-selling author, was told that she had breast cancer, she remarked with odd detachment how curious it was that the colors all drained out of her world. She noticed “how the colors in my home office . . . went flat. Isn’t that odd, I thought, looking down at my newly alien torso. My red shirt has turned gray. My red shirt has turned gray, and I might die.”
In emergencies, under extreme stress, it is common for sensory perceptions to change. How we perceive the world—and what good those perceptions do us—are partly a matter of our emotional state. A few years ago I talked to a woman named Jana who had been on vacation in Mexico with her husband, sister, and brother-in-law. One night they all went skinny-dipping in the bay behind the resort. A bit tipsy, they splashed and cavorted and laughed. Then an eight-foot crocodile surfaced behind Jana, and her senses immediately went into a new and unfamiliar mode.