Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm a Synesthete

After watching a documentary on one of my geek channels, I learned that I have synesthesia. I am a synesthete.

“What is synesthesia?” I hear you say. Okay, I’m so glad you asked.

Synesthesia is “a neurologically-based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”

In other words, one sensory pathway in the brain gets crossed with another. For example, when I think of the number 2, it has a color. 4 has a different color.

All my letters of the alphabet have colors as well.

Apparently, I’m a triple-synesthete, because not only do my numbers and letters have colors, but they have a gender as well. I also have spaces assigned to them, too.

I’ve thought of letters and number like this ever since I learned my numbers and the alphabet.

When I studied Russian, the Cyrillic letters automatically and instantly had specific colors.

Here is how I think of the numbers, one through ten:

1 white neuter
2 black feminine
3 yellow neuter
4 grayish red feminine
5 blue-black male
6 dark yellow neuter
7 gray-blue male
8 light yellow neuter
9 dark gray feminine
10 black male

Here are some letters:

A dark red feminine
B navy blue male
C light yellow neuter
D dark gray male
E white neuter
F deep orange feminine
G dark gray male

Subsequently, every area code is either male, female or neuter and has a color depending on the dominant colors of the three digits.

312 is Chicago and it’s definitely yellow because 3 and C are light yellow and neuter
412 is Pittsburgh and it’s dark red because 4 is grayish red, 2 is black and P is red.

Also, my numbers are in certain spaces and they’re not linear. My alphabet is, though.

Now, it gets even weirder. . .

When I hear an F on a piano or hear a song in the key of F, I see orange because F is orange. It’s also feminine. B-flat is dark, gray-blue.

Once, when I was a freshman in college and taking music theory, the instructor played a scale on the piano (we couldn’t see his hands) and he wanted to know if the scale was major or minor.

He played a scale and I blurted out, “It’s F minor.”

I saw orange-red. Orange because of the F and red because of the A-flat which made it F minor instead of F-major. (If it had been F-major, it simply would have been orange, naturally).

This synesthesia thing makes it really easy for me to memorize numbers, mainly because of the spatial thing. When I think of a telephone number, I think of the relationship of the spaces on the telephone keypad along with the colors of the numbers.

Miss Healthypant’s cell phone number is dark, navy blue and it’s masculine even though she’s a definitely girly-girl. Iwanski’s number is light yellow and neuter even though Iwanski is definitely a guy.

Do any of you assign colors to numbers and letters? Or genders?

Or am I just a freak.

Tell me about it.


At 2:40 PM , Blogger Lorraine said...

Well, it's obviously not just you because a) there is a name for it and 2) I know Miss Healthypants does the same thing.

I don't do that, though, and I totally feel ripped off.

At 8:48 PM , Blogger Speck said...

Nope, you're not weird at all. You just get to experience the world in a richer way than the rest of us.

Two of my cousins are synesthetes. Their letters and numbers have specific colors, but not the same colors as the other has. One sees all 4's as blue, the other sees all 4's as red.

My letters are all just black-n-white, but I do assign genders to the colors in my crayon box. I don't think that counts though.

At 7:47 PM , Blogger Pam said...

That would have to be one of the most fascinating things I've read.I had no idea!

At 7:35 AM , Blogger Citymouse said...

wow... my daughter does this!!!!
yes, your weird, but so is my daughter

At 11:59 AM , Blogger Buck said...

Lorraine: Don't feel ripped off. No one can come close to beating you at Speed Scrabble.

Speck: I should talk to your cousins. We could compare colors.

Mouse: I'm glad to be in the same league as your daughter.

At 4:26 PM , Blogger Kimberly Ann said...

This is fascinating, truly. I've never heard of it but it sounds like a groovy way to remember things.

At 12:18 AM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

Well, you know that Iwanski and I are weirdos--AKA synesthetes--also. :)

At 12:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am fascinated by that. I have read some of Oliver Sacks' works and he talks about synesthesia.

Have you ever talked about it with a neurologist?

Do you know anyone else who is a synesthete?

At 2:05 PM , Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hi there! I'm doing a documentary for Chicago Public Radio, and was wondering if my team and I could interview you for the piece. Please let me know if you're available sometime in the next week or so, we'd love to talk to you! My email is: Thanks so much!


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