Until my mid twenties, I thought everybody saw numbers and days of the week in colour, and months of the year as concrete spots on an imaginary clock face. Then I had a very enlightening conversation with my sisters who told me they didn’t in fact see Friday as yellow or any other colour, and didn’t see words floating in the air, and I realised it wasn’t an everybody way of seeing the world. It was just something odd that had carried through from childhood – inexplicable but benign.
Then a few years later, I heard a discussion on the radio about something called Synesthesia – whereby people see letters and numbers and words in distinct colours, and time like a clock face or a tangible path. It’s hard to explain how amazing it was to find out that it’s a “thing” and that other people see words and time the same way. Now I had something concrete to google, and so I did.
Here’s a better description from Wikipedia – this is the kind of Synesthesia I have:
“In one common form of synesthesia… letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored. In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990)”
So for me for example, the days of the week look like this every time I think about them or say them or hear them:
Monday is deep blue, Tuesday is grass green, Wednesday is purple, Thursday is brownish-white, Friday is bright yellow, Saturday is brown, and Sunday is pinky-white.
When I talk about time, I picture the calendar months in a circle. At the moment for example I see January (which is brown) as physically behind me, I’m at May (blue) at around number 5 on the clock face, and June I can see just ahead – it’s yellow.
According to Neuroscience for Kids, estimates for the number of people with synesthesia range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000 and there are probably many people who have the condition but don’t realise what it is. That’s the funny thing about Synesthesia – most people don’t realise they have it, because they think everyone else sees things the same way they do – exactly as I did until my twenties. And of course it’s not really something that comes up in conversation very often.
But where I find it interesting again is listening to my kids – they claim to see days of the week in colour, and I keep meaning to write down what they say to see if it changes over time. I’m guessing if my daughter sees Monday as orange this week but yellow next week, it’s power of suggestion at work, rather than Synesthesia. As it happens, she’s been seeing Monday as orange for about five or six years now, but I don’t know if it’s memory and habit or real. Every time I ask the kids, I write down what they say on scraps of paper and then lose them. Maybe now I’ll write them at the end of this post so that I can keep track.
And really it means nothing at all – it’s just an interesting way to see the world. But I’m curious – does anyone else reading this have it? Or is there anyone reading this who has it but didn’t know the name until now? Let me know in the comments!
For me to finally keep track and check back in the future:
Eight-year-old: Monday is orange, Tuesday is mushroom, Wednesday is indigo and lilac.
Six-year-old: Monday is green, Tuesday is pancake yellow, Wednesday is purply-blue.
Four-year-old: 4 is gold, 2 is yellow, 3 and 6 are red
Edited to add: two years later, I asked the youngest, now six, what colour he sees each number, and he gave the same answers as he did above! I’m fascinated now by this and want to check his days of the week, so tracking here in June 2018: Monday: yellowy-orange, Tuesday: yellow, Wednesday: orange, Thursday: red, Friday: red, Saturday: blue, Sunday: yellow.
2022 updated: just asked him again and same answer, age 10. So I guess he has it!
My friend Naomi wrote this feature on Synesthesia for the Examiner – she is a scientist so knows all the science-y bits.