Septimus Dodkin

Donald Shephard

Septimus Dodkin had a kind of synesthesia which allowed him to see patterns everywhere. This strength enriched his life immeasurably and caused his untimely death. He discovered at an early age that nature was full of repetitions. He noticed that leaves were repeated in a specific arrangement on plants according to the species, genus and family. As a high school student, Septimus observed the pattern of cells within leaves.

His instructors taught him that electrons, protons and neutrons rotate about each other in ordered ways to form each of the atoms in the periodic table of elements. They also told him that atoms combine to form molecules. He learned that molecules formed amino acids in a regular manner and these are the building blocks for proteins; that DNA had chains of several proteins which spiraled into genes in set ways; that genes linked up as chromosomes; and, that chromosomes ordered the form and function of the body. The world, according to Septimus Dodkin, was in perfect order.

Each pattern Septimus sensed had these seven characteristics; gender, age, color, sound, taste, feel and motion or, as he told his mother, each pattern had its own personality. These pattern-personalities allowed him to see the associations between seemingly disconnected things. For example the limbs and roots of a tree; the tributaries of a river and its delta channels; and the system of blood vessels from capillary to artery to vein and back to capillary; all had the same type of structure. He called this pattern “branch purple”. He did not sense the branches, rivers, or blood vessels as that color. He only visualized their composition as a purple arrangement.

“Branch purple” was a favorite because he had found it at an early age when the feminine influence is strong in our lives. She was therefore a female pattern. He thought of “branch purple” as having enormous age like his grandmother. As the complexity of his knowledge expanded, he saw that this pattern-personality was in fact prehistoric. She whispered to Septimus who tasted the flavor of bananas when he thought about the prehistoric female and he had the sensation of his fingers fondling a polished piece of ebony. The motion he associated with these other sensations was of short, sharp pulses of viscous liquids.

You and I can recognize the branching arrangement in trees but Septimus Dodkin also had an image in his brain of a prehistoric, purple, ebony-smooth, whispering, banana-scented female in pulsating motion. He sensed this image in many areas. He found it in mathematics, music, biological sciences, linguistics, astronomy, and in more abstract places too. Septimus discerned “branch purple” in certain novels, such as Steinbeck’s The Pearl, and in the epic poem Beowulf.

In university, he realized that there are an enormous number of pattern-personalities and needed to organize them. He made a matrix such that all the female pattern-personalities were cross referenced against the young ones which in turn were linked to all the blue ones and so on. He thought of them as arrays in their seven dimensions. For Septimus this mother of all patterns was an evanescent white. Everything in the universe was arranged in order of an intricate pattern woven from a series of other patterns. If you asked him to connect a weasel with the Horse Nebula he would tell you they are both in the chartreuse group of jitterbugging, fennel-flavored patterns. On the face of it, this information is useless gibberish to you, but, it allowed Septimus to sense the universe of all interactions both concrete and abstract.

Although he was destined for a career in the sciences, Septimus was an accomplished artist. His landscapes had an otherworldly, ethereal quality where light played as large a role as color. His understanding of the relationship of objects and their three shadows was beyond realism yet his arty friends compared his work to Matisse and Cezanne. His portraits uncannily captured the essence of the sitter as if their aura illuminated the picture. Septimus was able to pay his way through college and medical school by selling his paintings.

As a research fellow, Dr. Septimus Dodkin tackled the so-called "binding problem." No one knows how we bind all of our perceptions together into one complete whole. For example, when we hold a canary, we see the yellow color, we hear its song, we smell its scent, and we feel its shape and texture in our palms. Scientists know how each datum is stored in the cortex of our brain on a branch-like dendrite of a nerve cell called an axon. Our brain manages to bind all of these perceptions together into one concept of a canary but nobody knows how this is accomplished. Septimus, the quintessential synesthete, more than anyone else, could discern patterns in the world and felt confident he could solve the “binding problem”.

Synesthetes rarely announce their presence. They are too often dismissed as crazy and learn as children to keep their talent hidden. As a result, it is a difficult field of research. Septimus saw the solution to the “binding problem” but lacked a guinea pig to demonstrate his proof. All he wanted was for someone to volunteer for brain surgery. Perhaps because they are not crazy, no synesthete came forward leaving Dr. Dodkin no choice but to volunteer himself. The neurosurgeon, a friend and colleague, secreted Septimus into the operating room. His comment while going under anesthesia was, “At last! I can see the blinding white light pattern.” Regrettably Septimus Dodkin never recovered.

Since all his knowledge was contained in his head and a series of esoteric notebooks and cryptically coded computer files, all his medical research is lost. Only his art lives on.

Vita brevis ars longa.

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