Saturday, December 15, 2007

Follow-up to Synesthesia Post

More than a year ago, I wrote a little post (click here to read it) about spatial synesthesia. I had seen a show on TV about it, and was so excited because I recognized myself in some of the descriptions. So I looked around a little more and shared what I found. Little did I know that that post would result in more comments from people I've never met than anything else I've posted! Truly, it was astounding. Not only that, but as of yesterday I am still receiving comments and emails about it! This is just people doing searches and finding my post. Amazing.

What I love is all the different things people have shared about their own versions of synesthesia, so I am finally going to share some of that here. I had to cut some stuff out, just so this post wouldn't be too terribly long, so if I left some of your info out please forgive! And I've never even shared exactly how I see some things myself, so I'll do that as well.

I have always assigned gender to numbers. And for the longest time, I suppose because I didn't share it much when I was younger, I thought that everyone did this. My number/gender thing goes as follows:

1 is male, 2 is female, 3 is female, 4 is male, 5 is male, 6 is male, 7 is female, 8 is a little ambiguous, but it leans more toward being male, and 9 is male. You couldn't change my mind on this. It always has been and always will be this way in my mind.

I also see the calendar year in 3-D, but from every email and comment I read, no one else sees it the way I do...I was a little bummed at that, but oh well. Anyway, I see it as linear, but I am in the middle of it. The months that are to come are directly in front of me, and the ones that have passed are behind me. There is an ending point at December, and as we near the end of the calendar year, the next year's months are starting to show up way back behind me. Days of the week are just a smaller version within the bigger picture. I have no idea if this makes sense. I find it very hard to explain as it is. Maybe someday I'll draw it.

This is how my sister Kerry sees numbers:

...I don't have the same numbers matching the genders you have. It has nothing to do with curves or's just been in my mind since I was little. 1 is a young male, 2 - young female, 3 is a non-athletic boy, 4 is an adolescent female to me, 5 is an adolescent male, 7 is a grown male, 8 is grown and maybe pregnant female and nine and six are unsure of themselves but I sometimes considered them to be a grandmother(9) and a grandfather(6). I guess I'm just bright...what can I say.

Joy said:

Mine is in an incomplete circle...almost a u-shape with the summer months at the bottom. My days of the week are in the shape of a D. I have always seen them this way, and think of them constantly in this form. I mean, today being Friday, I'm sure I have pictured it at least a dozen times.

I also see numbers in a way that is somewhat like a zig-zag timeline...and when I think of centuries, decades, etc...they follow this same spatial sequence. Since 2000 though, they don't have a very logical sequence...I just realized that!

Unknown said this:

I have also assigned gender to numbers and letters since I can remember. I remember being different when watching Sesame Street and their character letters were different from the ones in my head. I told my sister and she just ignored me. I never said anything about it again until now.

Karen shared:

I totally attribute gender to numbers and I see the calendar in my mind in a huge slightly squished oval (not 3 D though.) Summer is at the top. Days of the week are in a squished oval the other way, sat, sun are at the top....

Rachel said:

I see the months of the year in 3D in a circular form. Kind of like a clock, but one whose face is parallel to the ground. December is at the 12 o'clock position, January at the 1 o'clock position and so on. It has always helped me remember when certain life events have occurred and since I am at a crossroads right now, I wonder if knowing more about synesthesia will help me figure out what occupations I would be good at. I don't know.

Dean emailed this:

I wish I could draw it out for you here. Months move in a counter-clock rotation, with January at about 12 o'clock and August at 5, each represented by a rectangular block. Days of the week, however move in a clockwise rotation (but neither are round - months are more like a flat oval dinner plate and days of the week are linear, monday thru friday left to right, then saturday and sunday dropping down right to left completing the cycle). Time on the other hand (hours of the day) falls up and down like a sound wave, with 5AM at the top, 10PM at the bottom, and the middle hours on the up to complete the spectrum. Years past are behind and below me, as if looking through a stretched out slinky. Interesting, huh? I can remember with clarity all the way back to three years old.

Jordan posted this comment:

I picture the months of the year, days of the week, days within each month, hours of the day, digits from 0-1,000 and then increasing by increments of 1,000, years of history. I place dates, appointments, and historical dates on my mental timeline and recall them easily. My calendar is shaped like a horse shoe with January on one end, December on the other, and the summer months along the bottom curve. Where I visualize it from changes as I go through the year so I'm looking at it from the month I'm currently in. I picture the days of the week like two parallel lines with a top and bottom. Sat. & Sun. both fit at the top and bottom. I ride along the week as it goes on one line and the parallel line is both next week and last week. I'm able to keep it straight when I picture it. My hours of the day are like the hours listed up and down with the morning hours at my feet and the evening hours up above.

I also visualize the order of the alphabet and have always just known the gender of letters, numbers, colors, days of the week, and months of the year. Like another, I remember being discouraged in kindergarten when the gender of the "Letter People" didn't match what I perceived. I've always had more trouble recalling combinations of numbers and letters together (such as A6) because I don't have a visual that combines letters and numbers. No wonder I can't get the Autobauns figured out here in Germany! I probably depend so much on being able to mentally place ordered objects on my own visual that when I can't, I don't have another developed way of remembering numbers and letters. I also visualize on a flat plane for the www and visualize spots where different websites are located on the www. It's like my navigation is a physical thing rather than what it really is. Is that possibly related or just a quirk? Does anyone else do this?

A comment from nineteen84:

I always thought that the way I viewed months/days/years/hours was normal.

Anyway, for me, the months of the year surround me like a circle. January and February are straight ahead, August and July are behind me, and the other months are on either of the sides. Although right now since it is April, I consider myself in April so diagonally across from me is September (if that makes any sense). Days of the week appear to me on two separate lines. The first line is Mon-Fri and below on the second line is Saturday and Sunday which take up bigger areas. I see the hours in the day as two vertical lines. 12 midnight is at the very top of both, then the left hand side goes down until it reaches 8am, then it goes back up the other side until it reaches midnight.

Your writing about this, and the comments it has received has been very insightful and helpful. It seems like there is not a lot of information on spatial-sequence compared to some of the other types.

Jenne says:

I have a very similar sort of synaesthesia, and was convinced that I was the only one to view dates and numbers in 3D! It's good to hear that other people do too. I see the days of the week in a line stretching away from me forwards (for a specific distance for each day), and the days of the year each have a specific place around me. Numbers are in a line, from left to right, stretching from my left shoulder out diagonally away from me. That looks really weird when I write it, but it's true! I use the synaesthesia to do maths, I'm not sure how non-synaesthetes do it!

From Joshua:

I've assigned gender to numbers ever since I was a young kid, like age four or five. Like you, the genders for numbers from one to nine are very clear cut. Each number has a slightly different personality, but those are harder to explain. Some, but not all numbers above nine also have consistent personified genders, but they are fewer and farther between as the numbers increase.

I've wondered if synaesthesia relates to the seemingly arbitrary concept of grammatical gender in foreign languages, whereby nouns are assigned genders. Some languages have classes, or more than two genders. I know that synaesthesia is individual, and different people with the trait assign different personalities to things. However, it shows that it's not an odd thing for a culture to relate to, nor is it much of a stretch of plausibility.

Susan talked about something different:

What about assigning colors to smells? For example, puppy breath is brown, garlic is yellow, hot asphalt is blue, vanilla is gold and wet cat is beige. Also, in music, middle C is yellow, D is red, E is beige, F is blue G is green, A is black and B is pink.

Sandy posted this:

I will say that everything is 3-dimensional in space and my point of view is from the current place in time. I discovered viewing the Primetime episode that what I have always assumed as too normal to even mention to anyone(like breathing or eating) is not shared by everyone. I mean, how do people know what day of the week it is if they don't have a visual? They must have to carry a calendar with them everywhere. I can't imagine being able to organize my life without having some sort of visual concept of time and space. It's the same to me as trying to imagine what it would be like to have been born without sight or hearing. It is as necessary to understanding the concept of time and space as hearing is to experiencing music.

Unknown wrote:

I see the year as a squashed oval running counterclockwise parallel to the ground, with July as the furthest point and January sorta running through me. But I can scroll through it at will to sequence events. Time of day is like a vertical oval with 6 at the bottom. Days of the week are like a sideways D at a 45 degree angle. And years in history are on a straight line with a vanishing point - past years in front of me and the future behind me, and I can scroll through so I'm viewing it parallel...decades and centuries are divided by bold lines and different historical eras have different colors - like before 3000 BC is green and it slowly fades to yellow from 3000 to AD 1. The number line is mostly straight until 20, then the numbers are vertically stacked...first thing I remember is being 1 1/2 and asking my dad what he saw when he closed his eyes - because I saw kaleidescope-like static and wondered if everyone did. I do the www thing too - it's like a mental map. Not sure why, though. You wouldn't think the two are connected.

Thanks to all who posted and emailed! I didn't put absolutely everything in, like I said, but I wanted to show you how interesting all of these were and how we really are more alike than we know.


pshaw said...

This was a remarkable posting of all of the different abstract associations such as color or gender that people place on letters or numbers. I don't do this myself, but I can accept that other people might. The brain is an incredibly complex tool, capable of conceptualizing physical things as well as abstract ideas at will. I suppose these associations were formed at a very early age in development to assist with memorizing letters or numbers. These associations might be mnemonic devices retained by the brain years after they served their purpose.

Arly said...

Tracey, this is really interesting to know. My months have always been in a paper clip laying flat. January is big and at June it starts to curve, August is straight (and bigger than the curved June/July), September it curves again and October-December are straight (and bigger than the September). I can see them physically bigger like the names of the month are: AUGUST (only a huge type), september (only itty bitty type) I'm not in the middle, it's more like a rolodex for me... Only...electronic. Picture the new iPhone and how you can switch from picture to picture...that's what it's like.
My days of the week are in a straight line that slightly curves at the end, and it's on it's side... I start and end with Sunday...
I dont do this with weeks.

As for assigning gender to numbers, I randomly do that, meaning not all the numbers have genders, but all colors have genders.

This is really interesting. I may have to look this up and research it more.

tracey said...

I wonder if I'll have to do a follow-up post to the follow-up post? =)

Okay, Arly, your synesthesia is even more different from others that I've read about! And when you mentioned the iPhone thing, I was wondering if how our synesthesia is affected is based on when we were born. For example, you would have grown up more with computer-type things than I did. Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

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