Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Or, It's Just the Fridge Magnets After All

While we're wondering if people should ever listen to their auditory hallucinations, did you ever wonder if grapheme–color synesthetes see the same colors? Because if they all saw the letter "w" as chartreuse, wouldn't that mean that the letter "w" IS CHARTREUSE, on some level?

No, never mind, they don't. And chromesthetes don't agree either, so we're that much safer from them forming trippy Nabokovian gangs and taking over the planet.

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Okay, I don't synesthesia all things, but 4s are definitely a dark blue and As are red.


@insouciantlover You're wrong. The number four is banana yellow. Eight is the color of eggplant, and eleven is tan.

@Mingus_Thurber Nope. 4 is periwinkle. 8 is pine green, and eleven is white.


@S. Elizabeth I love talking about my synesthesia because I am a synesthetic attention whore but listening to other people's color associations makes me borderline angry? Is anyone else that way? The wrongness just gets to me.
ps. A is pink and 4 is deep purple!
pps. Most synesthetes have red As.

fondue with cheddar

@S. Elizabeth I do agree that 11 is white, but 4 is dark blue and 7 is yellow! 9 is eggplant, but 8 is sort of a chameleon for me.

@Mooah It's funny that A is red for most synesthetes (myself included). I wonder why that is.
Until I learned of synesthesia, I always thought it was the fridge magnets.

Okay, question for you all: Do the colors of numbers change for you when paired with other numbers? Or do combinations of numbers have a different color than the numbers themselves?

Cat named Virtute

@jen325 My synesthesia isn't as strong for numbers as it is for letters, but days of the week have combinations colours that are partly but not totally related to the letters in them. For example. T is pink, u is pale greeny yellow, e is orange, and s is dark blue, but Tuesday is sort of a watery pale yellow and pale blue combination, while Wednesday is definitely blotchy orange because W is decidedly orange. Interestingly, weekends have much weaker colours than weekends.


really amazing. :)@j


I have Number Form Synesthesia! I only learned what this was a couple years back and I was blown away that it was a "thing" that was Official and other people had.
Mine is pretty minor though, it's mostly calendar stuff. My words and numbers don't get personalities, which I'm actually a little sad about.
But a week is "L" shaped, just roated 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Monday is far left, and the weekend makes the short part of the L.
A year is a not-so-perfect circle of which I'm in the middle, and my perspective/position shifts to the seasons.

Anna Jayne@twitter

@NeverOddOrEven a girl who auditioned for a play I wrote had this too! She also had a circular year of which she was the middle. I wanted to cast her just to ask her more about it.


@NeverOddOrEven I didn't know this was a thing, but I totally have it. My calender this year starts the week with Monday and it has been very frustrating to me because it looks terribly wrong.


@Anna Jayne@twitter
My husband once interviewed a guy for a job forever just because he had been on a submarine in the military and had a ton of questions. Wasn't going to hire him though.

I guess I'm more typical of a Number Form than I thought - When I think of the past the years go descend in a straight line, with just the more recent decades expanded a bit. The ones I have memories of.
I wonder if it has anything to do with history and dates not being my thing. If you get past the 1600s or so it's too abstract. I can't see that far!


@EternalFootwoman I'll swap! All my calendars this year start with Sunday, including the one on my phone, which USED to start with Monday. It drives me fucking insane, it looks so wrong.


Oliver Sachs has a great discussion on the overlap between people who have perfect pitch and those with chromoesthesia in his book Musicophilia, and he goes into various other related subjects, e.g., earworms. Really recommend it.

Anna Jayne@twitter

@Melusina seconded. I love that man.


@Melusina One of my college friends had chromesthesia/perfect pitch. I thought it was amazing, and I sort of wish I had it.


@meetapossum I don't have it, but I know that if you're a musician it can cause all sorts of frustrating problems if you have to transpose, or play a transposing instrument, or use Baroque pitch or anything. I know that...and yet I still also wish I had it.


@oboe-d-amore Yeah. She's actually a great violinist and is now a music teacher, so I'm sure it's probably frustrating.


@oboe-d-amore Totally. I know it makes sitting through amateur musical performances pure agony, but....perfect pitch.

fondue with cheddar

@Melusina I don't have perfect pitch, but I have a good memory of pitch. I can perfectly recall the pitch of the notes in a familiar song and sing it, but I don't know the names of the notes. I've got a record player whose belt has tightened with age, such that every song that plays is slightly faster (and thus higher-pitched) than it's supposed to be, which drives me crazy. I also hear pitches that elicit the memory of something else that's the same pitch, be it a song, a particular car horn, an alarm, etc. I feel like I might have perfect pitch if only I learned the names of the notes that correspond to the sounds.

@Melusina @Anna Jayne@twitter Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite humans ever.


I don't have synaesthesia, but if anyone else wants to form a trippy Nabokovian gang, I'm IN.


@dabbyfanny Do we call ourselves the ZEMBLANS!?!?!?!


There was a thread on here a while back (several months ago, I believe) where a bunch of 'pinners were sharing their synesthesia stories, and I was just completely enraptured reading it. I do not have it, so I cannot fathom what it's like, but it is so fascinating to me. Can I ask, does it cause any semi-debilitating life problems? Or maybe some harmless but very irritating issues? Or is it entirely an innocuous, if incredibly unusual, condition? Please forgive my total ignorance.


@olivebee My bestie has it and it doesn't seem to cause any major issues for her. I did read an article a number of years ago (in Vogue, of all places) about synesthesia. The author, who saw letters and numbers as colored, got hopelessly lost in a city whose subway lines were the A and B, each of which was also called the Green and Yellow, which were the opposite of the colors in her head (so, the A line was the Yellow line, but to her, A was green). She would ask directions, be told which color line to take, and take the letter that color was to her.


@olivebee I have number form synaesthesia! And it tends to make me really terrible at keeping track of time. The number line, hours of the day, week, and year all make these different-but-related curly shapes, a bit like a roller coaster, and you can't see all the parts of the thing from in the thing. Until I started using Gcal, I was really bad at planning my time and/or actually remembering anything I was supposed to do, far beyond the normal level. (It's still a bit of a problem unless I'm looking directly at it.) What can I say? Some hours are bigger than others! And the weekend has a little zip-zop shape in the middle that always gets me.

Elizabeth Grey

@olivebee Oh my word, there have been some problems. I have a bunch of different types of synesthesia, and mostly I think it's awesome and helpful (it makes it really easy to remember dates!). I ran into some trouble in school, though, when something would have a graph or diagram that used all the wrong colours.

The worst, though, had to be during a driving lesson. My concept of "right" is red (even though the word 'right' is brownish...?), and that was usually fine, because stop signs are usually on the right side of the road. One time, though, there was an island in the middle of the road that had a stop sign, and my instructor told me to turn right, and I was in the subconscious habit of turning toward the red stop sign on the right side of the road. Anyhow, I accidentally turned left and almost caused an accident. Eek.

Faintly Macabre

@olivebee I have sound-sight synaesthesia (and very rarely vice-versa, which is weird!), and it's never really caused any problems. The only time it's ever interfered with anything is that there are some songs that are musically calm but cause color/images that keep me from being able to listen to them and concentrate at the same time. Also, occasionally I will like the sounds of a song, but the images are too irritating (like spiky or hyper) to listen to it. Like many other synaesthesiacs, I thought everyone listened to music this way until I learned that it was a thing. Sometimes I think I've just convinced myself that I had it, but I noticed it before I knew what it was, so probably not.


@olivebee I've never had a negative experience with it (color-grapheme), in fact it helps me remember things like phone numbers by their color, and the way the colors of the individual digits come together.

Also, the letter w is obviously light-grey, get it right!


My Number Form is helpful actually, time and dates are very linear to me.
But, as I just posted above, I think it may have something to do with my trouble with history. The dates that I can't "see" have no context and don't stick.


@olivebee I have number form synaesthesia and I'm terrible at counting ("...five, six, seven--wait, did I already count seven? Did I just think about counting seven? OK, one, two, three...") 'Not sure if they're related. Maybe it'd be easier if the series of things I'm counting correlated spacially with how the number sequence appears in my head?


@Faintly Macabre I have sight/sound synesthesia as well, I don't typically encounter many others as it seems the number/word/letter color people are more prevalent, or at least more prominent on the internet. I TOTALLY know what you mean about music, there are some songs I CANNOT listen to while driving as the visuals get in the way of concentrating on the road!


@olivebee Various friends of mine are convinced I have it but I m not sure; these declarations always struck me as similar to the casual way actual conditions often morph in to pop-cultury terms--like when someone decides someone else "has OCD" because the someone else is very neat (I hope that makes sense).

Either way, with me, it's not a lot of color/number/calendar stuff, though it is there. (I will have you all know that Tuesday is almost navy blue!) For instance, I once had a cordless phone (and please forgive me if I recounted all this shit in that other thread you mentioned) with a ring that sounded exactly the way a lump of grape jelly from a jar would feel in your mouth (or my mouth, I guess). The taste of cilantro is a bilious, frightening yellow-green (like Mountain Dew, maybe) and I feel like I am being pinched if I eat it (accidentally, that is, because I don't like it). And people's names often have pictures or even whole moving scenes that go with them. This last one is weird because if someone asks me to tell them what I "see" with his or her name, I get a weird stage fright or something. But my BF's name is a flat palm slowly stroking the top of some green grass, and my friend Christine's name is a really brilliant, almost cartoonlike, red ruby with that white pointy star thing that indicates something is shiny and is often accompanied by a "ting!" sound. The song Do You Love Me? by Nick Cave makes me smell an impending thunderstorm on a hot day (yikes, how specific).

So, yeah. Typing that stuff out makes me feel kind of weird.


Sometimes I think I might do the personification thing, but then I'm not sure if it's me or just remnants of learning the alphabet via The Letter People in kindergarten. (Is it just me, or is that program kind of upsetting? I remember getting the story that Miss O stayed in the swimming pool too long because she was Obstinate and lost her voice, and Mister P was covered in patches because he'd been in a fire? I don't know if this is legit or just stuff my morbid baby mind came up with.)

Reginal T. Squirge

Yes! The Letter People! I listened to those records way too much growing up and now all the letters and numbers have genders in my mind! 1,3,5, and 8 are dudes. 2,4,6,7 and 9 are ladies.

I also have copies of some of the Letter People records somewhere in my collections. They're all scratched up and pretty much unplayable, though.


@frigwiggin Some mild extent of synesthesia is common to most, if not all people. For example, if you had to assign the names "Oh" and "Keke" to objects most people would name a rounder, softer object Oh and a jagged / more rigid object Keke. I think that was established as part of some study years ago.

I'm wondering if that would change based on one's first language, actually. Seems like a phonetic thing to me, vowels and consonants, etc.

forget it i quit

@frigwiggin Legit! Obstinate O and Mister P are actually the only two I remember. I later remember thinking Obstinate is an odd word to be teaching to 5 yr olds.


@forget it i quit Maybe it's so they understand what their parents are calling them?

fondue with cheddar

@forget it i quit I remember a bunch of them! But I forgot about O.
Miss A: Ah-choo
Mister F: Funny Feet
Miss I: Itchy-something?
Mister M: Munching Mouth
Mister N: Noisy Nose
Mister P: Purple Patches
Mister T: Tall Teeth
Mister V: Velvet Vest
Mister Z: something-Zippers?

Cat named Virtute

I feel simultaneously irritated and vindicated that it's common for colour-grapheme synesthetes to view A as red, because I have been hearing people say that A is red for years and I always want to yell at them WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT WHEN IT IS SO OBVIOUSLY GREEN?

fondue with cheddar

@Cat named Virtute I can't help but wonder if it's because when you learn the letter it's usually associated with an apple.

Cat named Virtute

@jen325 That sounds like something a red A synesthete WOULD say. :-P

fondue with cheddar

@Cat named Virtute Haha. Maybe your teacher just preferred granny smiths?

Cat named Virtute

@jen325 Oooh, but it's not a granny-smith green, it's a deep kelly green.

fondue with cheddar

@Cat named Virtute Oh, well in that case you're just plain wrong!

(Just kidding, of course. I completely accept the fact that all our synesthesias are different.)


@jen325 That's what I'm thinking... I mean, A, red, apple.
Friday, blue, because of ROYGBIV, etc etc.

fondue with cheddar

@MissO Hey, I never thought of the spectrum corresponding to days of the week! It doesn't work for me, though.


I was just thinking about it now. I said to myself "what colour is Tuesday? Obviously yellow. Saturday? It's purple. And Friday? Blue. Definitely blue. What about monday? Red. Oh yes. Sunday is obviously pink. Because, well... Sunday is pink."
But then I realized that
monday RED tuesday YELLOW wednesday GREEN thursday [undecided] friday BLUE saturday PURPLE sunday PINK.


fondue with cheddar

@MissO I'm not really a day-of-the-week synesthete, but I do think you're wrong about the red one.


The freakiest thing for me, as a synesthesiac, was finding out that not everyone's brain worked that way. And that saying things like "It starts with K or S, you know, something red" that it made much less sense than I assumed.


@lil_bobbytables Yes! I had no idea people didn't see dates and times as... the shapes they actually are. (To me.) It was a revelation.


@booksonmyhead I remember a conversation my sister and I had as kids in which we were shocked and intrigued to realize that we each had different mental colors for the days of the week. Took a much longer time for us to realize that some people didn't do that at all. (It's much fainter for me now than it was when I was little, though.)

New Commenter Name

I have a vague memory of myself as a young child telling my mother what color all the letters of the alphabet were, like I was hoping to get her confirmation that I had it right, and I recall she interrupted me with a confused look on her face and said, "What are you talking about?" I never spoke of it again and I no longer see letters in color, so I honestly have no idea what I was talking about.

Meredith Whitfield@facebook

@Curiouser and curiouser Nabokov has a line or two in Speak, Memory where he alleges that we are all synesthetes as children, but we unlearn it as we grow up.


My friend and I were having a conversation when we were maybe 5 or 6 about our favorite shapes, and I went on this huge diatribe about how circles were my favorite, because they were red, my favorite color. Squares (turquoise), rectangles (navy) and triangles (green)? Please.

My synesthesia is stronger in shapes and numbers than in letters, which makes math THE BEST. (But, for the record, W is hunter green.)


@large__marge Wow you just made me realize that I have colored shapes too that aren't related to their names. Triangles are different colors based on their measurements. damn.
This stuff is so second nature that to pick it apart you really need to think about it consciously.


Thank you, Nicole, for filling my brain with the specter of Nabokovian gangs roaming the streets, presumably terrorizing the citizenry by denouncing Freud, giving turgid lectures, and refusing to answer questions.


@stuffisthings And killing butterflies.


@Lucienne Setting out impossible chess problems on those boards in the park to baffle retirees.


@Lucienne I was in until you said killing butterflies. :(


My best friend's name is spelled in brown. But that's because she is brown, and my other close friend is teal, and my mother is a nice red. And a clear winter's night sounds like a violin and vice versa.

This is a different thing, but when I was in college, my friends made fun of me for having a rotating system of colors for note-taking: MWF classes were in red, blue, and black; TR classes were in green and purple, respectively. This isn't because the days are different colors themselves, but because I have ridiculously good memory for anything I've written in my own handwriting, and the colors made it easier to mentally flip through my notes until I got to the right page. (This system is also why Queen Elizabeth I will always be bright pink in my mind.)

tea tray in the sky.

So, question: I don't actually SEE numbers and letters as a particular colour (even in the sense that I still see their actual "external" colour but also see their "internal" colour), but they do have strong and consistent colour associations, and I have that thing from the Wikipedia article where I mix up people's names when the names are the same colour. Do I have grapheme-colour synaesthesia or no?


@tea tray in the sky. yeah you do! if it is consistent and involuntary then it is definitely syn. it's just not projected. mine is the same way. welcome to the club :)


I have know about synesthesia for a long time. I saw a show on the Discovery channel about it years ago and have read stuff about it on occasion, and have had some conversations about it.

I always thought it was just numbers, colours, and words that were related.

I had no idea that numbers and words or letters could be given personalities!


I remember when I was a kid and I would do math, I would want to avoid certain numbers because they weren't nice. 1, 7 and 9 were the worst I think. 6 was a kid and 8 would always babysit it, but 7 and 9 were rotten and would beat 8 up and tease 6. I don't think it is just circumstance that the bad numbers are often odd numbers.

The problem is, the harder I think about it, the more vague it becomes and I start actively making things up. Whereas if I just glimpse into the idea, it's all so clear and it makes sense.

Maybe I should write this stuff down or something.


@MissO Probably the second-biggest argument I have ever had with my boyfriend, in all our years of being friends, is over my conviction that odd numbers are sensible and stable and common-sense, and even numbers are flighty and sly and unpleasant, and his conviction that it's the other way round.

But then nobody ever agrees with me about odd numbers. Three is such a sturdy number, like a triangle. Three won't let you down. Eight, on the other hand, JUST KEEPS DIVIDING.

(Romantic harmony restored by TWELVE, because it has a three for me, and a four for him. Of course.)


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