Have you heard of synesthesia? Wikipedia has.
My sister was home for the weekend. She’s in the middle of a psychology degree, and I always like to chat with her about interesting things we’ve learnt. She was particularly interested in some of my books, like “Did You Spot The Gorilla?” by Richard Wiseman, amongst others.
This time, we got talking about synesthesia. I’d read briefly about this before – where people ascribe personalities to numbers of letters, or associate certain colours with letters, for example. I think I learnt about it from a documentary about a guy with Asperger’s Syndrome1 – yeah, the one who wrote “Born On A Blue Day“. He’s called Daniel Tammet, and he’s an exceptional guy.
Anyway – I thought that that was all there was to synesthesia – that it was just something strange for crazy people to do. That, I found out, is not the case.
“Wilf,” said my sister, “can you see the days of the week?”
I can, in fact, see the days of the week. I see the week in the rough shape of the letter D, with Saturday and Sunday taking up the bottom and top half of the vertical line, respectively, with the rest of the days placed around the curve. This is spatial-sequence synesthesia, says Wikipedia.
Yay! Look at me! I have a label! Synesthete. I’m a synesthete!
Days Of The Week
Here a diagram of how I mentally see the days of the week. It’s not exactly like this: I don’t actually see the words “Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”, for example. Instead, I know that certain areas on my “D”-like shape are particular days – Friday the bottom left, Saturday and Sunday on the side, and so on.
I also constantly keep track of where we are in the week. Right now, for example, it is a Tuesday, and so on my mental image of the week is a non-descript marker of where we are – currently at about the 2 o’clock position of my “D”. This pointer does slowly move throughout the day.
With this marker, I can see how far it is to another day; from that, I can see when homework is due and how long I have for it, and how far away the weekend is, for example.
I can also attach certain regular things to my map. When I look at “Sunday”, I might often see Family Guy, as it is broadcast on that day. Alternatively, on Wednesday, I see a bit of a gap, representing my free afternoon. On Monday night I ‘see’ swimming.
It’s useful when seeing how far away a certain days is – for example I can quickly visualise what “three Monday’s time” is: I count forward to the next Monday, and then loop round twice more. It also makes counting down to a particular day quite easy. How many days til next Thursday? Well, it’s Tuesday right now (2 o’clock), it’s two days til Thursday (at about 4 o’clock), and then I loop round (7 days) to get to next Tuesday. 9 days.
A limitation with this system is that I have no way to incorporate dates. I rarely know what the actual date is, unless there is some specific reason for me to know it – perhaps for an appointment or an exam. As much as I love numbers, there is just no place for it in this system. This usually means that I have to loop back or forwards to a particular day which I know the date of, and which I will have visualised previously, and then work out the current date by adding or subtracting that date’s time difference.
It’s not as complex as it sounds. Really.
I have a rather strange way of seeing the months. Perhaps the pattern came from a calendar which I saw when I was much younger – I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve used this system for as long as I can remember.
The year number is not always there, but if it is then that is where it goes. Unlike the days of the week, I can actually see this image with just the names of the months. However, it is a lot more common for me to be zoomed in to a particular area on the map. For the last couple of months, since the New Year, I’ve been mostly focused on the first 2 or 3 months when I look at my month-map. More often than not, instead of the name of the month, I see the individual numbers of the dates, 1 ~ 30 – sometimes with important dates highlighted.
The summer months are slightly different. They’re at angles and their days do not always flow in the same way as the other months – they may be curved, and usually they’re not horizontal. When I think of how long it is to summer, I imagine myself zipping horizontally through the last bit of March, then April, then (like a typewriter moving to start a new line) going horizontally through May, before plummeting through June, and then levelling off into July. It’s all rather crazy stuff.
I see years side by side – mostly ones that I’ve lived in. I’ve never looked beyond my 2010 “calendar” yet, but when I look at my current calendar, my 2009 one, adjacent to it on the left is 2008’s, with 2010 to the right. All calendars have the same shape, however they all have particular memories and things attached throughout their months.
I could go a lot deeper than what I have explained, however a lot of it I don’t conciously know, and is actually just a subconcious process that I’m not aware of.
Years & Numbers
I also see the numbers and the years in particular ways – my numbers are a bit like a numberline, but very different and zig-zagged. My years generally group into lines of centuries, with newer centuries added to the bottom of the pile. However, from 2000, things have been different, and we’re on our way up again.
Unfortunately, I can’t be bothered to explain all of this stuff to you in detail.
Well, I hope you’ve found that a bit interesting. Go and read the Wikipedia articles on Synesthesia and Number form if you have the time, and let me know if you’re a synesthete. I’m not boasting about how I visualise and see things in a particular way, but I thought you might want to know.
- Ass-burgers [↩]