100 Interesting Things: #2 Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a strange condition where the brain mixes up the senses. There are different kinds, the most commonly known is where people think that certain letters and numbers have certain colours. Obviously, letters and numbers are abstract concepts and do not have a colour, but synesthetes think they do, so there must be something funny going on in their brains right?

A more interesting form is where people actually think that letters or numbers have personalities. Like, they actually think that the letter “G” is a bitter grumpy old man who hits children with his walking stick, or like the number “4” is a kind and generous man in his thirties resembling Jesus.

Synesthesia can go beyond being best mates with the alphabet, and can be traced in, on the face of it illogical, simile and metaphors, like “bitter wind” or “sexy car” or “ignoble baboon”.

I have a form of the condition, which was “worse” during my childhood. I always had the sense that certain letters and digits were either male or female. I am not as sure about the sexes of all the letters as I used to be but here are the current standings:

A:female  B:male    C:female  D:male    E:female
F:female  G:male    H:female  I:female  J:female
K:female  L:female  M:female  N:female  O:male
P:female  Q:male    R:male    S:male    T:male
U:female  V:female  W:female  X:female  Y:male
1:male    2:male    3:female  4:male    5:female
6:male    7:female  8:male    9:female  10:male

It is only the small numbers who have gender though. I’m not sure what 17288 is. On second thoughts 17288 is obviously female…

The idea that synesthesia is a “condition” is bollocks. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and state that everyone has this to one degree or another. Surely everyone agrees that R, S and T are male, right?

Synesthesia is one of those phenomena that will one day help us to crack the mysteries of the brain because it must give some clues as to how the brain is wired up, or to the computer scientists among us, how the brain is implemented. It probably means that the brain stores information in some unintuitive way. I.e. the brain groups things together in ways that do not match what we see at the everyday level.


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4 Responses to “100 Interesting Things: #2 Synesthesia”

  1. Joyce Says:

    I associate names with colours, although the range of colours has dwindled over the years. To me, John = brown, Juliet = vermillion, Oliver = silvery grey, David = blue

  2. Tomas Nilsson Says:

    R and T are male, but S is female to me.

  3. Tonya Walsh Says:

    I am so relieved to know that I am not the only person who associates letters and numbers with a gender! R and T are male, but S is female to me, too.

  4. Marta Says:

    Funny, for me all letters are female but all numbers are male, although this can be a consequence of my native tongue, Spanish (you would say “la ese” = S and “el ocho” = 8). How would you know the difference if your language has gender for every word?

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