When I was in the second class of primary school, one day my mother was listening to the radio when I came out of school. I had to be quiet for a while because she wanted to continue listening to a topic on a popular science radio program. It was about people to whom numbers and letters had colours….

At that moment, I found out that numbers and letters did not merge with a colour for everyone.

I turned out to have a characteristic called synesthesia. ‘Synesthesia is the neurological phenomenon in which a sensory perception unintentionally evokes one or more other sensory impressions as well’. (wikipedia)

For instance, someone can see letters and numbers in colour, but there are also people to whom music has colour. There are even more variations, like people who combine tastes and shapes. I once read about a man who said: ‘The chicken tastes square’

I have the most common form of synesthesia. I combine colours with numbers and characters. The days of the week have colours too and in a much lighter way, the months of the year. When I read a book I can see that the letters are printed in black, but it is like there is a colour filter over the characters that gives each letter its own colour. I see the days of the week in my mind -more or less- in order and each day has its own colour.

Main features of synesthesia

Synesthesias are:
-individually different;
-have “always been this way” for the person concerned, i.e. for as long as one can remember;
-involuntary, i.e. occur outside the will of the person concerned;
-experienced without the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication;
-not tied to any specific situation, memory, or impression.

The experience is consistent over the years. The colour of my letters and numbers has always been the same. I don’t know why I got these specific colours. If I had been allowed to choose them consciously I would have chosen other colours…. (Too much pink)

To me, it’s a kind of brain gadget.

Like most people with synesthesia, I am happy with my sense mixing though. It’s not bad, it’s not harmful, and one doesn’t need a coach ‘to deal with it’. It’s just funny. I don’t need it, but it makes my life a bit more fun and easier, and I certainly don’t want to be without it. It feels just like having a cool gadget.

I do find it an advantage that I can remember phone numbers very well…But then again, that’s not entirely true…Since the advent of the mobile phone which remembers everything for you, I became less successful at remembering phone numbers. I don’t know if there are any disadvantages to having synesthesia.

Scientists do not yet fully agree on the origins of synesthesia. The most common explanation is that babies have many brain areas connected in many ways. These connections are present in everyone at birth but are normally partially severed during development. In a synesthete, however, some connections remain intact, so that perceptions through one sense lead to simultaneous perception of features belonging to other senses.
It is reportedly more common among people who have creative professions.

Very occasionally I meet someone who also has this ‘gadget’. I once spoke to a man for whom numbers and letters also had colours. I remember his 4 was blue, unlike mine which is dark green. That felt really weird ;-)

If you recognize yourself in this story, I really would love to hear your reaction.

What senses do you combine? Do you taste shapes? Do you hear yellow? Does your Wednesday have a colour? Tell me, I’d like to hear from you.